Dark Universe details: The Mummy

Okay, this one’s complicated by the fact that there’s no consistent story. Dracula is always a vampire pursuing power and a woman; Frankenstein’s monster is always a huge, rather childlike creature seeking love and vengeance. Both are based on novels, and almost every version at least pays lip service to the books.

But there’s no original book for “The Mummy.” Reportedly, when Carl Laemmle decided to make a mummy movie he tried to find a suitable novel to base it on, and couldn’t, so his scriptwriters just made it up. The 1932 version was a one-shot; the 1940 version, which launched the series, had no source material but the earlier movie, which it didn’t follow very closely. Later versions didn’t keep much of anything from any of those.

The elements that did stay fairly consistent are these: An ancient Egyptian sorcerer was involved in a forbidden love and was buried alive and cursed in consequence. Restored to life in the 20th century, he tried to find or create a reincarnation of his lost love, but was defeated by modern-day folks who disapproved of his scheme. Everything else, even the mummy’s name, is variable.

And we have a problem here in that I think the reincarnation plot is dated and silly. I want to discard one of the only two consistent elements, and alter the other. About the only thing I want to keep is the idea of a living mummy freed from its tomb.

And even that… well, archeologists operate somewhat differently now than they did in the 1920s, they don’t go casually breaking into tombs without lots of preparation and recording, and I’m not interested in doing a period piece. I also don’t think that the ancients would have put a traitorous heretic in a fancy tomb. I think they’d have buried him in an unmarked grave in the middle of nowhere.

So… modern-day Egypt. Islamist terrorists set off a car bomb someplace that has heretofore been of no archeological interest to anyone. Soldiers, cops, and rescue personnel rush in to help the wounded, and find that the explosion has blown open a mysterious crypt, previously undiscovered, beneath the street. There are signs that it was a burial place, but there’s no body. Our protagonist, an anti-terrorism specialist named Karim el-Masry (I am not going to drag a British or American hero into a story about Egypt), investigates the crypt, thinking perhaps it was a weapons cache or some such thing, and finds himself caught up in a mystery. Every indication is that this burial vault is thousands of years old, and that it hadn’t been touched until the explosion caved it in, but there’s nothing to indicate who was buried in it, or what happened to the body. El-Masry gets hold of some archeologists, who aren’t much help.

Then the murders begin. But they aren’t targeting corrupt officials or foreign tourists or Coptic Christians or any of the usual victims el-Masry would expect terrorists to go for. In fact, terrorists start turning up dead, along with police, clergy of assorted faiths, drug dealers…

Our ancient sorcerer, you see, wants to remove foreign influences and restore Egypt to its ancient glory — which means no Christians, no Muslims, no foreigners, no secular government. He intends to set himself up as a new Pharaoh, and is using his magic and immortality to build his power base. For now, he’s establishing himself as master of a hidden empire of crime.

El-Masry figures this out, but doesn’t dare tell anyone the truth, because who would believe him?

And we go from there.

Dark Universe details: Frankenstein

Warning! May contain spoilers for books I’ll probably never write! Also contains spoilers for a classic 19th-century horror novel.

In Universal’s recent “The Mummy,” they gender-flipped the original and presented us with an immensely powerful female mummy — or at any rate, that’s what I saw in the trailers and TV ads; I didn’t see the movie or read any reviews. (They also had her magical powers be an open threat to the entire world, which is one of the things they did wrong if they want to build a franchise — where do you go from that in a sequel?)

I didn’t see any reason to do that. Yes, ancient Egypt had some powerful queens, but… well, we’ll get into that more if and when I talk about my mummy plans.

If you’re going to gender-swap someone, though, I think it makes more sense for Frankenstein. If you look at the original novel, it’s really about a dysfunctional father/son relationship; the monster is desperate to be accepted and loved by his creator, his father. Some scholars have interpreted this as being about man’s relationship to God, since the monster describes Dr. Frankenstein as his creator, but given that Mary Shelley’s mother died eleven days after Mary’s birth and Mary’s relationship with her father was pretty fraught, I tend to think she was more concerned with parenthood than religion.

And that’s a relationship where gender matters.

So if I’m reinventing the story, I want Dr. Victoria Frankenstein, professor of biophysics at the fictional Queensbury University, to create a monster with the assistance of a Russian grad student named Igor Morozov.

And if you’re creating an artificial being as proof of concept, why give your creation any sex at all? It’s a lot of unnecessary extra work.

So we have a creature desperate for its mother’s love, and it doesn’t want a bride, it just wants an identity — it wants to be male or female or something. It wants its mother to make it a full human, rather than a thing, and Prof. Frankenstein thinks that’s a terrible idea.

The departmental secretary at Queensbury’s bio department, incidentally, is named Beth Harker — gotta set up that crossover potential early on.

Anyway, previous versions have often added a little Oedipal complication, since the monster goes after Frankenstein’s fiancee Elizabeth, but I never really bought into that; I didn’t find Victor’s passion for Elizabeth very convincing. I prefer a Frankenstein who is focused on her work, and not much interested in romance, to the point she hasn’t even noticed that poor Igor has a huge crush on her. Igor, however, is 5’8″ and Victoria is 5’11”, which is a complication. The monster, meanwhile, is almost seven feet tall — I’m going to keep the idea (I’m not sure whether it’s in the original novel or from movies) that the creature is huge because it’s easier to work on larger structures.

Anyway, the creature is created, escapes, discovers people are terrified by its appearance — and then discovers that on the internet no one knows you’re a hideous monster…

Dark Universe details: Dracula

Warning! May contain spoilers for books I’ll probably never write! Also contains spoilers for a classic 19th-century horror novel.

As mentioned in my last post, I got thinking about what I’d do if I wanted to update the classic Universal monsters without infringing on Universal’s properties.

Exactly which are the classics is subject to some debate, but I think everyone would agree that Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, and the mummy are included, and probably the Wolfman. (Additional candidates would be the Phantom of the Opera and the creature from the Black Lagoon. The creature is the only one where the original source material is still under copyright.)

For Dracula, I’d start off with a close look at the end of Stoker’s novel. (I’m arbitrarily ignoring all stage and screen adaptations.) The king vampire is apparently destroyed by a group comprised of Abraham van Helsing; Jonathan Harker; Mina Harker; Dr. John Seward; Arthur Holmwood, Lord Godalming; and an American named Quincey Morris. This party is in desperate pursuit of Count Dracula as he is attempting to return to his castle in Transylvania, the seat of his power; they need to get to him before the sun sets, while he’s still relatively powerless. Dracula has a band of gypsies in his employ who delay the pursuers before being chased off by the greater firepower our heroes carry, so that they are only able to open the vampire’s coffin as the sun is on the horizon. They have come armed, but perhaps not fully prepared, as Van Helsing has made a side-trip to exterminate Dracula’s three wives and any other subordinate vampires he may find. With the sun about to vanish and Van Helsing not there to object, they do not take the time to drive home a wooden stake and behead Dracula; instead Mr. Morris drives a Bowie knife into the vampire’s chest while Jonathan Harker slashes the Count’s throat with a kukri. This appears to be sufficient, as the Count appears to crumble to dust.

But does he really?

Look at it from Dracula’s point of view. He is weak, confused, and in a state of berserk rage as he is awakened from his restorative slumber, but this is Dracula — he’s not stupid. He’s awakened to find himself surrounded by his foes, his defenders fled, and two nasty great blades coming toward him just at the instant that his supernatural powers begin to return.

But the one piercing his heart is steel, not wood, and he can survive any such wound. The big knife striking at his throat might be enough to decapitate him, which would be fatal, but Stoker’s novel never says that it actually strikes off his head; from the description it would seem he crumbles to dust when his throat is opened, before his spine is severed.

Dracula is playing possum. He has transformed himself to mist disguised as dust before his enemies can finish him off. He’s probably hurt, but not destroyed. His plan is to return to his original tomb to restore himself, and then emerge and dispose of these troublesome foes.

What he does not know, however, is that Van Helsing has found his tomb and sealed it against him, presumably by reconsecrating it. Garlic and holy water are probably involved; Van Helsing’s account is not at all detailed in how he accomplished his ends, but he’s quite certain that Dracula can never again enter his ancestral graveyard.

And of course, he can’t return to the coffin he traveled in, nor any of the boxes he took to England. He’s trapped in his transformed and weakened state, with no restorative refuge available; if he’s caught out in the sun in this condition he will probably be destroyed. And the local peasants know his powers and limitations; that was why he wanted to go to England in the first place. They won’t help him.

But he isn’t dead.

So there we have an explanation of how he survived, but also why he did not return to power in his homeland. It presumably took him decades to find a way to revive himself completely.

Meanwhile, the Harkers — Jonathan, Mina, and their son Quincey — survive and live out their days in the happy delusion that Dracula was destroyed. But after old Van Helsing dies childless, Jonathan and Mina feel it’s their duty to pass on as much vampire lore as possible, to protect future generations from other monsters. Quincey is their only child, presumably because Mina was debilitated by her experiences — well, I’m assuming he was their only child; at last report in the novel he’s six years old and has no siblings as yet — so it’s his responsibility to continue the line and preserve their knowledge.

And this is why my Dracula story would be called The Harker Heritage, and would feature a whole slew of Quincey Harker’s descendants, one of whom realizes that there’s a vampire active in post-Communist Transylvania…

More in future posts.

Dark Universe (not the old Daniel Galouye novel)

I was reading an article about how the recent “The Mummy” movie was intended to be the start of a “Dark Universe” franchise at Universal, reimagining all their classic horror icons from the 1930s. Only “The Mummy” was neither good nor successful, which put a crimp in their plans.

I started thinking about what they’d done wrong (a lot), and telling my wife how I’d have launched a “Dark Universe” series of movies if I ran Universal.

And I couldn’t stop thinking about it; I worked out the supporting cast for my remake of “Frankenstein,” the family histories for the new “Dracula,” etc.

And then I realized that while Universal owns their versions, all these properties are actually in the public domain, so I could write my Frankenstein story if I wanted, or my Dracula story, or my mummy or wolfman. As novels, since I don’t have a movie studio at my beck and call.

But the last thing I want right now is another open-ended writing project.

If anyone’s interested, though, I could post some of what I had worked out.

Trailer Park Again

Went to see Thor: Ragnarok, which was big and loud and lots of fun; Cate Blanchett makes a great death goddess, and the art department was respectfully faithful to Kirby’s visuals. The friend I went with pronounced it “the stupidest movie I ever saw,” which demonstrates two things: You can’t please everyone, and he hasn’t seen many movies. It wasn’t particularly dumb. (It was his first Marvel movie. His kids had dragged him to it.)

However, this post isn’t about the feature, but about the seven trailers that accompanied it. (Yes, seven seems to be the new standard.)

First, let me remark that all seven were annoyingly loud. If the feature had been that loud I might have walked out, but fortunately it wasn’t even close. And I’m old enough that (a) my hearing isn’t as sensitive as it used to be, and (b) I spent part of my youth listening to really loud music. (b. may be partly responsible for a. Particularly a Jefferson Airplane concert in 1969; it took days before I could hear clearly with my right ear after that.)

So, the trailers: First up was Black Panther, which, like Ragnarok, looks big and loud and visually stunning. The trailer was very choppy, edited into virtual incomprehensibility, just coherent enough to convey, “There’s this young king and lots of high tech and big cities and African imagery.” Since I’m familiar with the history of T’Challa, king of Wakanda, from the comic books I could make sense of a lot of it, but if I weren’t already a Marvel fan I think I’d have found it more off-putting than appealing. I hope to see the film when it hits the theaters because at this point Marvel’s track record is really impressive.

I’d already seen the latest trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi online, but it was cool to see it on the big screen. Of course I want to see it.

The New Mutants looks as if they’re remaking X-Men as a horror film, with a bunch of young mutants trapped in a haunted house/hospital. I hope that’s misleading.

Pacific Rim: Uprising was covered in my previous blog post, though I think this might have been a different trailer. Or not; I’m not sure. If so, it wasn’t all that different. I did notice this time that there seem to be robot-on-robot battles as well as kaiju vs. robot fights, which leaves me wondering about the storyline.

The trailer for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was the first time I’ve seen anything about the film that communicated more of the premise than, “It’s a sequel to ‘Jumanji’!” It seems that the board game from the previous movie has mutated into a video game, and four people get sucked into it, into the game’s four player-characters — which do not correspond all that well to their real-world selves. It’s a different premise than the game intruding into the real world, but it looks as if it could be fun, and it’s well-cast, so I’m tempted. We’ll see what the buzz is once it’s released.

Downsizing looks a bit weird. It’s science fiction comedy — or science fantasy, if you want to get picky. In the not-too-distant future a way of permanently and irreversibly shrinking people is developed, and “downsized” people are able to live very cheaply because they require far fewer resources — less food, less space, etc. People volunteer so they can live in relative luxury in downsized communities. Our protagonist and his wife sign up — and then our guy wakes up five inches tall, only to find his wife chickened out at the last minute. This trailer was the first I’d heard of it, but it looks decent. Comedy is so idiosyncratic, though.

12 Strong is the only one of the seven that’s not fantasy of some sort — except that it’s a Jerry Bruckheimer film. It claims to be a true story, and my companion remarked that “‘Jerry Bruckheimer’ and ‘true story’ do not belong in the same sentence.” So it may be fantasy in that sense. Mostly, though, it’s about twelve Americans sent to fight in Afghanistan in September 2001, before the U.S. had time to mount a serious war effort. It’s very hard to judge how good it is; about all you can say is, “It’s a war movie.” I’m not fond of war movies, so I’ll pass. It doesn’t look terrible, though.

You know, there are so many new SF/fantasy/superhero movies coming out these days I can’t keep up. It’s overwhelming. I remember when one big-budget SF movie was a good year! Nowadays my only complaint is that I don’t get to half of them.

And this batch of seven — I definitely want to see two, and four more look promising, which is a much better average than usual. Good stuff is coming!

Trailer Park

We went to see Blade Runner 2049 (which we liked, but I can see how not everyone would), and saw seven trailers (and a Coke ad) before the feature:

Ready Player One does not interest me. I liked playing 1980s video games, but I don’t look back on them with nostalgia, and the dystopic future doesn’t look interesting or believable to me, so… not for me, unless the word of mouth is amazing.

I’m not especially fond of disaster films of the subcategory “weather run wild,” but at least Geostorm seems to have an interesting backstory for its storms, in the form of saboteurs/hackers/hostile powers subverting a weather control system, rather than just saying Mother Nature’s gone mad (or humanity has ignored warning signs and brought an ice age/superstorm/earthquake/volcano about). I’ll still probably pass unless our friends love it.

Maze Runner: The Death Cure is the third film in a series where I didn’t see the first two, so I won’t be paying to see it. Julian tells me the first one’s pretty good, the second not so much, so I wouldn’t expect too much of the third.

Pacific Rim: Uprising I might actually want to see. I enjoyed the first one — giant robots fighting monsters with some drama among the robot operators, what’s not to like? It wasn’t exactly brilliant cinematic art, but I had fun watching it, and if this sequel has any decent buzz I’d like to check it out.

Why did they remake Death Wish? Who thought that was a good idea in today’s political and social climate? Admittedly, getting Bruce Willis for the Charles Bronson role was a very good choice, but I still have severe reservations about the whole concept. I confess I never saw the original, and I don’t go to a lot of crime movies these days, so I probably won’t see this one, either.

I had never heard of Annihilation before, but it looks interesting. The trailer showed us some very surreal, dreamlike landscapes with cool stuff happening in them. Natalie Portman stars. This is one I’ll keep an eye on.

And… I don’t remember the seventh (I always keep count, but don’t note titles), which is not a good sign.

You will notice that this list is all dark stuff, mostly dystopian futures. I don’t suppose they thought people coming to see Blade Runner were likely to be interested in romantic comedies, but there was a certain unappealing sameness to this string.

[Flashback] I’m an expert?

Okay, I think this really is the last one. It’s from January 7, 2006:

I hate being cited as an authority.

I love passing on odd bits of information, but it creeps me out when I see them turn up in reference works without any real authentication.

What brings this to mind is the Wikipedia entry on Lester del Rey, which gives his real name as Leonard Knapp.

Mind you, I honestly and sincerely think it was Leonard Knapp, but I would not state that as a fact, without qualification, if I were writing the Wikipedia entry. And yes, I’m apparently the source for that datum, as someone e-mailed me to verify it.

Note: Someone has since verified it through his sister, invalidating my complaint, but in 2006 they hadn’t done that yet.

But the verification was just, “How sure are you of that?” and my reply was, “Pretty sure.” No attempt to contact any of Lester’s old friends or legal contacts.

The way this came about: I started corresponding with Lester del Rey in May 1979, when he accepted my first novel, and back in those pre-net days I was an obsessive letter-writer, so the correspondence covered a lot more than business. I met Lester and Judy-Lynn in 1982, hung out with them a few times before Judy-Lynn’s death in 1986, talked to them on the phone, but we weren’t close friends or anything.

A couple of months after Lester died in 1993 I got a phone call from someone who gave his identity as the lawyer representing Lester’s estate. I don’t remember his name, unfortunately. Anyway, he said he was trying to track down any potential heirs, and told me that Lester’s story about having been born Ramon Alvarez, which I already seriously doubted, was bullshit from the word “go,” that his birth name had been Leonard Knapp.

This struck me as entirely plausible, and I’ve repeated it as fact since then — but I don’t actually know it’s true. I don’t know the guy was really the estate’s lawyer; I took his word for it. I don’t know he wasn’t bullshitting me just as much as Lester always had. I have no proof, no evidence except one unrecorded phone call.

I’ve also been cited as an authority on comic-book artist William Ekgren’s background, but that’s entirely based on an e-mail I got from a Swedish woman wanting to know whether the comic book artist I’d mentioned in an article was the same guy as her uncle William, an artist who’d gone to New York for a few years in the late forties/early fifties to make his name in the art world, failed, and come home. I said I didn’t know, but the times matched and the styles matched, so it was probably him.

Now I find myself being cited as the expert who identified the comic book guy as the fine artist.

I was once cited on WPRB radio as having explained the way all of Jim Morrison’s songs fitted together into a single huge suite, the implication being that I had some sort of secret inside information, when actually I’d made the whole thing up while drunk and hadn’t realized this idiot disk jockey was listening and taking me seriously.

(Years later, Patricia Kenneally, the woman who claims to be Jim Morrison’s widow but couldn’t produce a marriage license and lost out to Morrison’s parents in court, told me I had part of it right but that it was mostly bullshit — Morrison was never that organized.)

I hate this. Haven’t any of these people ever heard of things like “corroboration,” “confirmation,” “fact-checking,” “documentation,” or even “evidence”?

At least the Wikipedia article doesn’t name me as the source.

[Flashback] Guy Stuff

Okay, I said I was finished with my old newsgroup, and I am, but I’ve found a few things from other defunct newsgroups I wanted to preserve here. This one is from a private newsgroup, originally posted September 30, 2012.

Back in July, right around my birthday, I started getting mysterious packages in the mail. Someone had signed me up for a cosmetics trial offer, the Book of the Month Club, the North American Hunting Club, and several magazine subscriptions.

The cosmetics I returned — the first two packages included return labels, and the other two I didn’t open, I marked them “Refused, return to sender.” The books — I contacted BOMC and explained the situation, and they said to just keep the books, it wasn’t worth the postage to ship ’em back. The hunting people have been a pain in the ass — they won’t cancel my membership or take anything back unless I provide a membership number, name and address isn’t sufficient, and the only package from them I opened (it didn’t say who it was from on the outside) didn’t have a membership number. It’s probably in one of the subsequent mailings, but I haven’t yet gotten around to looking.

The magazines started showing up at various times, starting in July but at least one didn’t show up until September — hell, there may be more yet to come. So far, I’m receiving Yachting, ESPN the Magazine, Chevy High Performance, and Forbes. Oh, and North American Hunter, which comes with the club membership — which is apparently a lifetime membership, if I read one as-yet-unopened envelope correctly.

I’m not going to bother cancelling the magazine subscriptions — even assuming it’s possible, why should I? It’s easy enough to just trash ’em if I don’t feel like reading them, and I’ve had fun glancing through some of them. Whoever signed me up probably used surplus airline miles or something; I haven’t gotten any bills.

Anyway, when this first started, I had no idea what was going on, and was worried that it was some sort of attack. I noticed that a couple of items said stuff had been charged to “my” American Express card, so I checked both my AmEx accounts. (I have a lot of credit cards — I’m perfectly willing to take sign-up bonuses, then just toss the card in a drawer and let it sit until they cancel my account for non-use. Except some of them never cancel, so I have some accounts I have literally never used since the original sign-up purchase that are still open after twenty years or more. Two of those are AmEx.) No charges. Then I noticed that the BOMC slip gave the last four digits of the AmEx card, and they don’t match any of mine.

I put an alert on my credit reports anyway, just in case.

But as time passed, and nothing bad happened, I began wondering whether this was someone’s idea of a surprise birthday present. I now think that’s the most likely explanation, as everything started arriving the week of my birthday.

If it was any of you guys, this would be a good time to ‘fess up.

Anyway, whoever it was turns out to have done a favor for Our Boys in Uniform. A friend’s son-in-law is currently commanding a small outpost in the ass end of nowhere in Afghanistan, and his mother-in-law is putting together care packages — non-perishable snacks (we donated a package of jerky and a bag of mixed nuts), and stuff to read. “Guy stuff,” she said.

So I donated the three issues of Chevy High Performance, an issue each of ESPN and N.A. Hunter (I’ve only received two of each so far and I’d already tossed one of each), and a random copy of Guitar Player Julie had picked up somewhere. I didn’t really think Yachting or Forbes would go over all that well with a dozen enlisted men, so I kept those.

I hope some of the guys will enjoy them.

Incidentally, I did glance through everything before disposing of it. You need to be a serious fan of Chevy muscle cars to care about anything in Chevy High Performance — it’s in the running for “most boring magazine I ever saw” — but maybe some of the guys are serious fans of Chevy muscle cars.

ESPN was surprising — I’m not a huge sports fan, but I like baseball, so I read some of that, and it’s very well-written stuff that never descends into hero worship or excessive stat-crunching. Beats the heck out of Sports Illustrated, which I’ve read in the dentist’s waiting room. The survey of baseball players’ wives was really pretty interesting — only 10% of them admit to worrying about their husbands indulging in groupies.

N.A. Hunter wasn’t quite as boring as Chevy, but it came close; the writing’s a bit better.

Forbes is bizarre — their stuff is all based on a worldview I consider reality-challenged. And for such a prominent magazine, some of the writing is astonishingly poor.

Yachting is almost surreal — do you know what those things cost? Even a fairly moderate boat will set you back half a million, and an actual yacht is seven or eight figures. Most of the magazine is ads selling boats — if you ever want to drop $23mil on a hole in the water, I can now hook you up.

And Guitar Player I only had the one issue, but my Lord, it’s technically oriented! They interview a rock star, and instead of asking him any of usual crap, they ask stuff like, “What was the signal chain on that track?” Meaning, “exactly what was the sequence of devices from the guitar string to the final recording?”

Weird. They’re all glimpses into these strange little jargonated subcultures.

Follow-up, 2017:

There were indeed more magazines that showed up later: Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness. I forget which was which, alas; one was good stuff, the other fairly trashy with a faint homoerotic tinge that did not appeal to me. I kept the good one until the sub ran out, and gave the other away by sending a change of address directing it to the intended recipient’s home.

I also redirected Forbes to one of Julian’s friends who was studying business. Can’t remember whether I was able to re-home any of the others.

All the subscriptions ran out years ago. I still look at Yachting and ESPN when I stumble across them, though — Yachting turns up in medical waiting rooms, for some reason, and there’s an empty house down the street with a subscription to ESPN that Julie sometimes steals when the mailbox there overflows. ESPN is still one of the best-written, best-edited magazines around, far better than it ought to be.

The Last of the Newsgroup

I got tired of doling them out roughly once a day, and just transferred the dozen or so remaining progress reports from my old SFF Net newsgroup to the Serial Box, my other blog.

If you look through that list, you’ll see that I’ll never need another story idea as long as I live. (I’ll undoubtedly generate lots of them anyway, though.) People who think ideas are really important for writers, take note: Ideas are cheap. Originality isn’t necessary, either.

My biggest problem is finding the time to write the damned things.

Anyway, this means that sff.people.lwe is really, truly gone for good. Sigh.

Mission Accomplished

Julie and I have just completed a project that’s probably a complete waste of time, but which led to the discovery that one of my hard drives is totally dead, and also that Windows Vista is no longer supported. Here’s the story:1982

In 1982, on a whim, I decided we should make our own Christmas cards, rather than using store-bought ones. I drew up an all-occasion card, took it to a local printer and had 100 copies made (I think it was a hundred), and we used those for our holiday mailings.

That was well received, so in 1983 we did a card meant to look like an official notice that the recipient was required to have a happy holiday.

Pretty sure we skipped 1984. In 1985 we hired an artist for the first time and had William Levy draw us an elf with a raygun. (At the time I was writing a column called “Rayguns, Elves, and Skin-Tight Suits” for the Comics Buyer’s Guide.) In 1986 we had just moved, so we had note-cards made up with a picture of our new house, and as our Christmas card that year we hand-drew wreaths on the front door on some of the note-cards and used those.

1985Don’t know what we did in ’87 and ’88, but in ’89 we figured that as a writer I should write us a card, and we did the Dreaded Pun Card, and ever since then custom-made cards have been a regular part of our holiday rituals. Sometimes we hired real artists, sometimes we cobbled together something ourselves, and many years, once she was old enough, Kyrith provided the art. We did skip a few years. In 1994 we started doing family newsletters, as well. And three times we sent out chapbooks, rather than cards, with short stories I had written for the occasion.

And somewhere in there, Julie decided we should keep a complete collection of all this stuff. We hadn’t kept them in any sort of order, so it took awhile to compile an album, and it wasn’t necessarily complete, but we tried.

2000And then, when we moved in 2009, the movers “lost” one box of stuff — “lost” in quotes because we were pretty sure it was somewhere in the house, but we couldn’t find it. Most of it wasn’t anything to be concerned about — school supplies and the like — but the holiday card album was in there.

So we’ve been looking for the album ever since, and trying to keep copies of the cards and newsletters for when it turned up (or we made a replacement), but not being very organized about it.

And a couple of weeks ago Julian was visiting, and cleaned out his closet, and there was the lost box, including the album.

So now that we had it back, we set about completing it, bringing it up to date with everything from 2009 on and filling in any gaps from further back. In some cases we couldn’t find the physical cards or newsletters, but I still had the computer files and card stock, so I printed new ones for the collection. But we couldn’t find the 2010 newsletter anywhere, and there were some other problems and omissions.

2013I still had the hard drive from Chloe IIIB, my primary desktop computer from 2003 to 2011, remounted as an external hard drive, and I thought maybe the 2010 newsletter would be on there somewhere (though in theory everything had been copied off it already), so I tried to boot it up and found it was completely dead. Sigh. (Elsewhere I referred to that machine as Chloe 3.5.2; that was my memory playing tricks on me. Chloe IIIB replaced Chloe III, which replaced Chloe 2.6.2, and I’d forgotten the sequence. Long story; short version, Chloe III was defective and CompUSA replaced it six days after we bought it with Chloe IIIB. Chloe II had been custom-built and went through a lot of upgrades during the period I owned her — roughly 1994 to 2003 — and was Chloe II Version 6.2 by the time I replaced her, Chloe 2.6.2 for short.)

I found some of the old files we needed were in formats that can’t be accessed by any modern software. Fortunately, I still have Iris, a laptop running Windows Vista, which can run old versions of Microsoft Publisher and buttonFile and the like. So I booted up Iris for the first time in months and she went nuts trying to update her version of Windows, which is how I found out Vista is no longer supported. It took several tries to calm Iris down enough to run Microsoft Publisher and access our 2001 card.

But we eventually did track down pretty much everything except the newsletter file for 2010, and the album is now complete and up to date, unless there are cards from 1987 and ’88 that I’ve forgotten.

(And by the way, that 2013 card? I set up a real Kickstarter account and campaign to get that screenshot. Never took it live, of course.)