Redheaded Neanderlady

Redheaded Neanderlady
This is a photoshopped version of something I found in National Geographic about the time I started researching

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Redheads forever

I knew it! Iknew it! According to this article in Nature, a respected science journal, some Neandertals had red hair, just like my Neanderlady picture! The reason? They had one variety of the MC1R gene, which under certain circumstances, produces red hair. Of course, the authors of the article are quick to point out, it wasn't "the same" as the "modern" one(I think they were probably a little too quick on this, but that's another story), but it had the same results.

Personally, I think that since MC1R seems to come in several different "varieties" or "strengths", as I understand it, it is hardly surprising that Neandertals may have had another "variety". But it is also not surprising that this "variety" seems to have more or less worked the same way as "modern" types of MC1R. Apparently, as I indicated in a post last week, Neandertals were "chatty" too, because they had the same version of FOXP2, which is one of the genes involved in speech. The more genes these people recover, the more Neandertals seem like "us"(or at least some of us), in important ways.

Anyway, I'd like to end this "newsflash" with a hint, related to my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals: the heroine, Illg, is not unlike my "Neanderlady". And her Neanderfriends who accompany her(sometimes) in her adventures through medieval England, are rather chatty, though none of the others are redheaded.
Anne G

What books do you never finish?

I was going to write about something else, something that I saw yesterday, and is one of my "writing" bugaboos. But I have been invited, so to speak, to tell about the books I don't finish, and the reasons I don't finish. There are many, both books and reasons.

Let's start with the books. As I say, I have read so many books I didn't finish, that I can't remember them all, either titles or authors. Usually it's because their style or writing, or the subject matter just doesn't interest me. Often, I can tell within the first few pages if this is the case. I recently attempted to read a science fiction novel, whose author and title now escape me, but which looked interesting on the library shelf. So I checked it out. Unfortunately, it was one of those science fiction novels which can only be read by "aficionados", and it's also one of the reasons why a lot of people hate science fiction! This wasn't full of "techy" stuff, exactly, just full of strange names and situations, and there was no obvious plot structure that I could see. I tried valiantly for a chapter or two, then closed it up, never to open it again. I took it back to the library at the earliest opportunity. The other book was one of those "guys adventures". Now I like a good thriller from time to time, and if the author of such a book has an idea that makes at least some logical sense, and writes reasonably well, I will read it. To the end. But this book(again, by an author I don't remember, and I can't remember the title, either), could write well. The trouble was, his idea made absolutely no logical sense, and furthermore, it was full of all sorts of military style "hush hush" "secret" stuff that just made absolutely no sense to me, even given the military mind's penchant for secrecy. It was supposed to be happening underneath a purported oil rig off the coast of Greenland. . . .and there were things about the description of that which didn't make sense at the time I was reading them.

In short, I don't put up with anything that defies logic too much. A story has to be readable, and it has to be believable. If these two qualities aren't there, it doesn't get read.

The other problem I have with some novels is, they simply don't engage me very much. For this reason, I have trouble reading most literary fiction, because by its very nature, literary fiction is designed not to have any of the kinds of "resolution" I'm used to. Call me lowbrow if you want, but that's the way I feel. But even a lot of "genre" novels may get this treatment, if they don't engage me, and this is usually a problem because of the writer's skills(or lack of them, more usually). And I tend to avoid anything, in any genre written in the present tense!(more oh this in another post). But these, I don't bother to read at all.

Finally, if it's in a historical context(again, no matter what the genre), if the writer makes glaring mistakes, either as to what might be called "cultural accuracy", or as to the events involved, the author doesn't last very long with me. The last experience I had with this was with a book that came highly recommended. It was Lawrence J. Brown's Cold Hand, Cruel Heart. The man was writing about the period my Great Science Fiction Masterpiece is set in, but he made some absolutely glaring "cultural accuracy" mistakes, which could have been easily corrected. And he had one "clownish" villain, and one villain that was so stereotyped he could have jumped off the boards of some 19th century melodrama, twirling his mustache! I don't suffer these kinds of novels, either.

Do I sound picky? Well, maybe. But I've read an awful lot of stuff, and an awful lot of what' I've read is just not that good. And I wonder why it gets published at all.
Anne G

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Re the previous post:

Here is the article I mentioned in the previous post. Don't be put off by the silly headline or the equally silly picture, though.
Anne G

Chatty Neandertals

It seems some European geneticists have found the "modern" version of FOXP2 genes(which control speech), in Neandertal DNA. Which would suggest they could talk as well as "we" can. But we already knew that, didn't we? They talk quite well --- in several languages in the first two books of my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals, and they will keep on talking in Book 3, when it gets written!
Anne G

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Time-specific mindsets

Over at Historical Fiction, a forum for writers and readers of historical fiction, an interesting discussion has been going on about "historical" mindsets. One author at this link had quite a bit to say about people in historical novels having the right "mindset" for their times. She gave the example of a heroine in medieval times who goes riding around on a stallion and gives baskets of goodies to peasants, etc., and then acts like a "modern" woman when she's required to marry someone. I don't have any problem with this author's overall objections, per se. But I really don't think that a woman in medieval times(or a man, for that matter)would have just "bowed their heads and obeyed family dictates" if they truly didn't like the idea of the match. This doesn't take into consideration the fact that most families "back then" at least attempted to make compatible matches, just as, say, families in India try to do today. Of course, attitudes to and about marriage were different in, say 1350 than they are now. For everyone, marriage was a practical affair. It didn't mean that people didn't have some affection for one another, but it did mean that "love" as we understand it today, wasn't thought to be synonymous with marriage. People married for "alliaances", to obtain property(usually through a female), for security, among other things. Their expectations were different. In this sense, the author is correct about "mindset". But I don't think she's correct that everybody was "obedient". Cultures just don't work that way. And even in more "restrictive "times and cultures, there is usually a certain amount of "allowed" wiggle room.

So what does this have to do with writing? Well, everything, if you're a historical novelist(or even writing science fiction set in a historical period, as I am. Some writers are simply not careful about the more general elements of "mindset" and therefore will often make egregious mistakes that even I can spot. But then, there can be "gray areas", especially if you're writing about fictional characters. You, the writer, do not have to be rigid about these things, if you have done halfway adequate research. And that is important. If you know something about the customs of the time and place you are writing about, you can play with things a bit. Of course you will always probably get some criticism from scholars about these things, but that's to be expected. Just don't make your heroine act like a 21st century Queen Bee . . . unless, of course, she is a queen. . . .
Anne G

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Cavemen, the TV show

I am not going to make a habit of doing TV reviews, particularly of situation comedies. Mostly I stick to books. But I'm making an exception for Cavemen. Why? Well, the lead characters on this show, for which you can find a review here , suggests that this is another Hollywood bright idea which has turned into a stinker.

Cavemen is basically a spinoff from the Geico "caveman" commercials, where some Geico representative cheerfully tells us "it's so easy a caveman could to it". And then a "caveman" appears, showing how completely insulted he is, to be deemed so utterly stupid. Oh, and he doesn't like Geico Insurance, either. These ads, appearing as "spots" on various TV shows, were actually quite clever. The actors in these ads were made up to look like Neandertals, but they were dressed as "modern" humans would be. I don't know if the people who dreamed up these ads know anything about the way Neandertals tend to be portrayed, both in "reconstructions" and as a group of prehistoric people, but the Geico ads captured the ambivalence we "moderns" feel about them, very, very well. And that was what made the ads so popular. It made them so popular, in fact, that some Hollywood types got the idea that they could do a "spinoff" comedy about them.

In a way, this is actually a good idea. It might be possible to create a TV series around a group or family of Neandertals living in the present time(let the creative Hollywood types figure out how they got here in the first place). But it would have to be completely independent of any "advertisement" tie-ins. And I think it would have to make them both "different" from "modern" humans, in some ways --- and I'm not talking about the obvious anatomical differences, but things that are likely to be more subtle, e.g. cultura values, etc. And it couldn't just focus on guys, which would be tempting, but it wold miss the point. It would also have to demonstrate, in some way, what they would be likely to have in common with "modern" humans.

Yes, there could be "racial" or "ethnic" issues --- if you want to put it that way. And these issues could be framed in such a way as to highlight our own, shall we say, imperfections, in a comedic way.

But such a TV series would have to dig deeper in order to have any lasting impact. And it would have to be a "dramedy" rather than the kind of comedy that the producers of Cavemen have opted for. It's unfortunate that this seems to be beyond the imagination of the producers and the scriptwriters of this show. But I suppose that's Hollywood.

In any case, if there are any Hollywood types out there reading this blog, I have a potential script for them. It's about a teenage Neandertal girl and her family, who live in a former Western Washington timber town that has been partly "invaded" by yuppies, among other things. Oh, and nobody knows she and her family are Neandertals; they keep quiet about this, and besides, they're supposed to be extinct. So yoo-hoo, Hollywood! If you want a show that might have a chance of succeeding, get me in touch with somebody, and I'll find someone who will help me write a script. It can't hurt anything, and it might even be successful!
Anne G