Category: Blog round-up

Medieval Bathing Link Round Up – watch out there’s nudity!

I knew almost nothing about how people in pre-modern Europe took baths at the start of yesterday and then fell down a rabbit hole and learned all sorts of things.

So to start:

  • Obviously, I knew the Romans had communal baths and England even has a town named after the fact (Manchester*)
  • Jewish and Islamic cultures had there own things going on with baths and bathing.
  • Russia, Finland and Scandinavia had a whole bunch of other things going on with saunas.
  • Yes, there are blogs about medieval baths.

This article seems to be a very good overview of baths and bathing

“The use of couple bathing as a romantic prelude to coition is demonstrated in 14th through 16th century illustrations. Legal history suggests that ordinary public bath-houses were often segregated by gender, or different times or days were restricted for each gender. Private bath-rooms in castles, such as the one at Leeds, could often accommodate multiple bathers as well.”

Running through this is history are several contrasting themes:

  • Baths as a source of cleanliness and the association of cleanliness with virtue and health.
  • Baths as a recreational activity, a luxury and a source of luxury.
  • Baths as sexy.
  • Baths as not-at-all sexy as you had to have your bath by yourself in clothes and with cold water.
  • Baths as social activities.
  • Baths as a dangerous source of disease (not without cause because people mingling but often based on spurious theories).

Fair to say that the messages around baths and bathing were a bit mixed for much of European history.

I don’t know how well sourced some of these claims are so please do your own due diligence. However, I liked this snippet:

“Meanwhile, the Anglo-Saxons believed that the Vikings were overly concerned with cleanliness since they took a bath once a week.”

And this snippet with accompanying picture:

“In her book Clean: A History of Personal Hygiene and Purity Virginia Smith explains,”By the fifteenth-century, bath feasting in many town bathhouses seems to have been as common as going out to a restaurant was to become four centuries later. German bath etchings from the fifteenth century often feature the town bathhouse, with a long row of bathing couples eating a meal naked in bathtubs, often several to a tub, with other couples seen smiling in beds in the mid-distance.””


The Wikipedia article has a broad survey of public bathing

This post is another broad overview:

“King Henry III even had a special room for the purpose of washing his hair.”

And here we get an overview that includes brushing your teeth:

*[OK not Manchester but it is funnier if it is Manchester]


Some Fantasy Map Links Round Up Thing

This article by Alex Acks at is nearly a month old now but I did mean to post a link to it because it is is very good: The article looks specifically at the iconic map of Middle Earth by J.R.R.Tolkien. (Also read this previous column which is less specifically about maps but more about geography )

More recently Alex Acks has written a more general set of geomorphological issues with fantasy maps in the provocatively titled I Don’t Like Fantasy Maps

A broader discussion of maps in fantasy literature appeared mid-August at Longreads here by Adrian Duab (and also links to Alex Acks’s article)

And chasing links in that article will take you to the website home of a fun Twitter account that generates plausible looking fictional maps Worth checking out other things there including the original Deserts of the West and the Emoji Map generator. Also, a write up on Martin O’Leary’s map bots at National Geographic 

Going back to 2015 a more manual way of making less dodgy fantasy maps: 

While I’m here and heading back further in time:

Wired article on Jonathan Roberts 2013

And his blog on how to draw fantasy maps

A different Jonathan – Jonathan Crowe – with a 2013 article on another problem with fantasy maps: they are anachronistic and follow modern sensibility of maps rather than according to the pseudo-medieval settings of the books

A collection of notable fantasy maps from io9 in 2013

And last but not least a how-to from i09 in 2015

[ETA This article by Sarah Gailey about her map of alt-history Louisianna for River of Teeth  ]

[ETA Paul Weimer has a new post partly in response to Alex Acks’s post ]

[ETA Fantasy city generator ]



Some Reactions to the Dragon Con U-Turn

The indignation industry took a bit of time to warm up but eventually the news that the Dragons had allowed some authors to withdraw was reprocessed into the “SJWs are out to get us” narrative.

To recap, we have had in the space of a few days these various claims:

  • That John Scalzi was nominated was evidence of an SJW plot.
  • That John Scalzi wanted to withdraw his nomination was evidence of an SJW plot.
  • That John Sclazi decided not to withdraw his nomination was…evidence of an SJW plot.

Here are some reactions from Scrappy-Doo arenas: The “injustice gamer” was a booster of Dragon Award campaigns. Naturally he is so committed to individual freedom that he says:

“Now, as to how I would allow for withdrawal if I were them. Make it permanent. Yes, if you’re going to allow for withdrawal from a fan award with a reputation for favoring fans over celebrities, deny them forever. Why? Right now, they’re also playing a game of the Dragons not being real, legitimate awards. The next step, to take it the rest of the way, is to deny them a professional presence at DragonCon in perpetuity, for denying the fans.”

Got to punish those authors for wanting to do their own thing it seems!

On that same post, there is this Facebook post that has an interesting comment thread:

Meanwhile here is a similar take from an author I’m not familiar with who cites Brian Niemeier as a friend: The writer gets some basic facts wrong

Less hysterical is this short post from Jeffro Johnson (who edits the Castalia House blog) on his own site: It has one of those nearly insightful comments where the writer just stops short of a revelation:

“But you do see the kicker there, don’t you? If you give this request your blessing, then you have basically agreed that Allison Littlewood was put on the ballot unfairly.

Gosh, if that’s the case… then maybe there are other people on the ballot that ought not to be there. Hell, you maybe even gave out awards last year to people that didn’t come by them honestly!

Seriously, did anyone running this thing give any thought to the implications of what they were doing here?”


[ETA: Brian twists his pretzel further]



Link round up

Too Like The Lightning – Other People’s Takes

I’m still typing up notes but I thought it was time to look at other people’s reviews and takes on Ada Palmer’s book.

Intellectus Speculativus has strong issues with how gender is portrayed in the book. They make a strong case that it is problematic in a number of ways. Obviously, there is a distinction between the book’s representation versus how Mycroft deals with gender (likewise with religion) but they look at it deeper than that: I’m back to the dilemma of whether this is a *good* book or a cynical one which partly hinges on whether the society here is intended to be (somewhat) utopian, or a disguised dystopia or a future history in which we are forced to draw our own conclusions (although then why has the author chosen this world to build?).

Meanwhile, Crooked Timber has gone full-in Ada Palmer with multiple articles on the book and some broader background by Palmer  This article by Lee Konstantinou offers a positive perspective by focusing on the Utopian faction in Palmer’s world

The Book Smugglers doesn’t have a review but it does have an article by Ada Palmer about why as a historian she writes SF

The book has TV Tropes page

Strange Horizons has a review by Paul Kincaid with a strong opening “Had Too Like the Lightning lived up to its aspirations, it would have been one of the most significant works of contemporary science fiction. That, perhaps inevitably, it fails in this ambition leaves a book that is engaging, entertaining, and interesting, but that contains too many confusions and contradictions to be fully satisfying.”  I wonder if that captures the mix of feelings here – an ambitious work that for some (many?) doesn’t fulfil its ambitions?

The New York Review of Science Fiction takes a different tack and directly compares Mycroft to Alex from A Clockwork Orange

WIRED asks ‘Should this book have an index?’ well it should have a set of footnotes by the time I’m done 🙂

How much of this doubt about the book a reflection of the doubts we have about Mycroft.

Well, it certainly rates 10/10 for ‘capacity to generate conversations’. I can’t doubt ‘ambitious’ as a description and I think ‘significant’ as well. ‘Good’? Aye, there’s the rub.

{ETA, thanks to Mark, Standback and Paul W}

A different take on the gender issues from Yoon Ha Lee This isn’t a reply to Intellectus Speculativus’s piece and doesn’t cover all of their arguments but does address some.

{eta again}
And another: A discussion at on the book as a commentary on utopias without being a utopia
{personal note}
I’m also rewatching Father Ted at the moment. I feel it balances things out nicely. It’s like the exact opposite of Too Like the Lightning – everybody is overtly religious but not remotely interested in religion and never leave one tiny island.

Links round-up

A bunch of stuff that has passed my way:



Blog Round Up

I haven’t done of these for awhile and so some of links have been sitting there for some time and are now a bit old. Sorry.

A review website I haven’t seen before popped up in my like Geekritique and

Alex Acks review of Captain America: Civil War is squee-tastic

A discussion of Bertrand Russell’s classic essay

Is the concept art for Wakanda in the new Black Panther movie too close to the international style? Interesting discussion  and from the same blog a Rogue One review

I’ve been reading Brooke Bolander on Twitter but hadn’t visited her blog before. Here’s a review of the The Last Guardian

At Eruditorum Press, Josh Marsfelder looks back at the Zelda game ‘The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask’

Alexandra Erin has been writing some extraordinary Tweet storms on Trump. Here is some blog commentary for those who prefer to avoid the sink-hole of Twitter

Ann Leckie discusses tea

Some other things:

William Henry Harrison, Beautician