Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Hang on a Minute: A Discussion of Execution

Recently, I found myself in the oddest discussion. At work I began talking about hangings with someone after we had been discussing the punishments of the earlier eras. How exactly the conversation got to this point I'll never know, but suddenly we were discussing hangings.

The concept of execution by hanging has been around for centuries. It is still the go to method of vigilante mobs, and the method of execution in Japan (where in July the plotter of the Tokyo Subway attacks was executed). In concept it is remarkably simple. In its more 'scientific' form, the condemned is dropped from a height calculated to break their neck and kill them instantly. In its simplest form, it chokes off the airways of an individual via strangulation. Either way, absent intervention, you're dead.

These kinds of executions were often carried out in public, and are a staple of films for just that reason. From the classic Clint Eastwood Westerns, Pirates of the Caribbean, to the oldest films first made. Heck, the last public execution in the United States was in 1936, the execution of Rainey Bethea in Kentucky, drawing a crowd of 20,000.

Public executions were common spectacles. Going as far back as society itself to show the power of the state. They were seen, apparently commonly, as a macabre form of entertainment. It was an interesting dual purpose in keeping the masses happy and showing the power of the state in one event. An interesting example in Canada is the execution of Patrick Whelan in 1869 at Ottawa. He was accused of killing Thomas D'Arcy McGee, and it is almost undeniable he was railroaded through a trial aimed purely at establishing his guilt. Some 5,000 people turned out to watch his execution.

It is interesting that, in my hometown of Perth Ontario, we also had a series of public hangings.

The story I am the most familiar with is the hanging of Thomas Easby in 1829. Easby, whose wife and four children were found dead in the charred remains of their log cabin. Only one child survived, and with rumors flying that Easby had killed his family, he was promptly adopted by a neighboring family. The story goes that the child would beat dolls and say "This is what daddy did to mommy" or when seeing a fire built, remark something similar. This led to Easby's arrest.

He was tried and convicted, and finally sentenced to death. It led to a public holiday in Perth allegedly "Schools were closed, work of all kinds suspended, and settlers came from all parts of the District, bringing with them their families to witness an event which it was hoped would have a great moral influence on the community." There was a sort of carnival atmosphere I have read, and many brought picnics to witness the spectacle.

The second public hanging took place in 1851, when Francis Beare was hung in front of the court house. Apparently many 'well dressed females' were in attendance for this killing. It seems as though people were eager to see justice done. Though it is mentioned there was less of a carnival atmosphere at this execution.

Now, what I did not know, was that the last execution in Perth took place in 1910, though it was not public. Rufus Weedmark was convicted of strangling his wife in 1910, and sentenced to hang. Since public executions were now no longer allowed, he was hanged inside the confines of the county jail. Apparently a 'great crowd' gathered around the jail, but could not see anything.

These are the only hangings that took place in Perth, but at no point did they fail to draw a crowd.

It is interesting that we are drawn to such grizzly spectacles, and that we can find so much fascination in reading about them. Now, not everyone does, as the woman I was having this conversation with felt that it was rather ghastly and moved on from it. Maybe we are heading away from such fascination with it.

However, considering I've just written this piece pondering on the subject of hangings, and you're reading it...maybe not.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Retro Review: Kagemusha

Set in feudal Japan in the sengoku jidai period, Kagemusha follows the story of the Takeda clan as they battle with the fearsome warlords Tokugawa Ieyasu and Oda Nobunaga. It is a story revolving around the historical drama leading to the end of that particular struggle. Those familiar with history will know how it ends from the start. For those without knowledge of it, I will refrain from any spoilers of the ending.

The story is a jidaigeki film (literally period drama) directed by acclaimed Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa of Seven Samurai fame. It won the Palme d'Or at the 1980 Cannes film festival, and was nominated for other awards.

Our story here opens with the daimyo of the Takeda clan, Takeda Shingen, and his brother, Takeda Nobukado, looking at a condemned criminal who bears an uncanny resemblance to the daimyo. It is decided, that despite his insolent nature, they will keep the criminal alive to act as the daimyo's body double in time of need. He becomes, the kagemusha. Meanwhile, the Takeda are engaged in a battle with Tokugawa Ieyasu, one of Nobunaga's prime supporters. Shingen, feeling that the fall of the castle is imminent, travels to oversee the siege. While watching the siege one night he is shot and mortally wounded by a sniper.

Despite being on the cusp of victory, Shingen orders a withdrawal of his forces. Nobukado is able to maintain the ruse by posing as his brother, but realizes this is a failing strategy. Shingen gathers his closest generals and allies, including his son Katsuyori, and orders that if he dies, the clan cannot be allowed to fall to the plans of their enemies. He orders that they must stay neutral for three years in order to recuperate. Dying from his wounds, Nobukado orders the thief to be used as a body double to fool the clans enemies. Meanwhile, his foes ponder on what this sudden change of strategy in the Takeda clan means.

This deception will not be easy. The thief is uncouth, ill educated, and does not know the ways of the noble families. He will have to fool Shingen's allies and family, as well as dealing with the bitterness of Katsuyori, as he fumes at being unable to take his rightful place at the head of the clan. His enemies too are on the lookout for anything that undermines the clans position.

At its heart, Kageshuma is a family drama. It revolves almost solely around the issues affecting the Takeda clan, the internal family, and its struggle to survive. Nobukado tries to keep the wishes of his brother in place while protecting the clan, while Katsuyori is struggling to understand his role in his father's plan, all the while feeling as though he has been slighted through his fathers death and delayed inheritance. The thief himself must navigate the world of concubines while preventing the old lord's son from discovering he is an impostor.

The film itself is a visual spectacle though. Medieval Japan is brought to life in costuming, scenery, and battle through the use of well dressed extras, amazing costumes, and fascinating battle scenes. The work has clearly been done in bringing this era of history to life, and you see that in the little scenes where men are relaxing, and the scenes where soldiers clash on screen.

The small actions of the actors might be baffling to those unfamiliar with Japanese dramas, but the way they use subtle facial expressions and motions to portray events are amazing in my opinion. If you're even remotely familiar with Japanese culture you will get a pure joy from seeing how the movie turns out.

However, if you aren't familiar with Japanese drama, history, and culture, this may be a difficult movie for you. If you don't like movies with subtitles, that is doubly so.

Personally, knowing the history, I enjoyed the film and what it has to offer. As a historical drama it is excellent, and I think it should be applauded for how well it captures the era. The work that has gone into the costumes, the set design, and the appreciation for the culture is amazing. It is worthy of any awards it was nominated for. The film was spectacular.

All in all, this is an excellent historical piece. I recommend giving it a watch even once to truly appreciate some of the fantastic imagery we owe Japan, and to get an understanding of Japanese culture.

Saturday, 11 August 2018


After a few days of editing, and getting the word count to 22,133, I have finally submitted my short story Integration to Tor. Now, they say that the proofreading process will take up to six months due to the sheer volume of submissions so I don't expect any news until at least February 2019. Either way, this is an exciting time for me as I submit my first story to an actual publishing company.

Then in all likelihood receive my first rejection letter!

But I'm happy, and I think this will be a good first step into the industry. Hopefully you'll see this story in print sometime!

Friday, 3 August 2018

Writing Update: Integration

Today, at precisely 9:04 AM, I typed the words "THE END" onto the first draft of my recent manuscript. My sci-fi short story Integration is now complete. For the last month and a half, I've been hammering away at this story almost every day. As of completion, this draft numbers 21,767 words over 51 pages.

Some of you might be wondering why I've said so little about this, or decided to only now make an announcement. Well the reason is simple, ever since last October when I penned off my piece of flash fiction The Disappearance of Wilson I've been hammering out other short stories either for practice, or for hopeful submissions to publishing houses. In creating this story I had set for myself a goal of writing at least 20,000 words, and I had determined not to say anything about it until I actually properly finished the piece. Now that is done.

Now I am excited to share with you my sci-fi short Integration and my plans for it. I had already been punting around in my head a story set on Earth far in the future, but not one that dealt with the difficulty of adapting to a new life. Reading the story, The Hummingbird decided the issue for me.

Writing this was a challenge to complete a work by a deadline and now I have completed the first part, and now I will be submitting it to beta readers while editing the first draft. It is for submission to the Tor slush pile which opened to accept short stories of between 20,000 - 40,000 words in the science fiction and fantasy categories. My goal is to have a complete and edited submission forwarded in the next ten days.

The story itself is following Faisal Williams, who has settled on the edge of the badlands in Old Texas. He has a troubling past, and it seems to be creeping up on him. Meanwhile, he deals with internal conflict over his religious views and the struggles of his one good friend, a recovering soldier, with nightmares of his own past. They all collide one night in Texas and Faisal must make a fateful choice.

With this story submission I will be making my first submission to a professional publishing house. While I don't expect much to come of it, it will be an accomplishment to have this story complete, and submitted to someone.

I'm told this process will take over six months, so it will be a while between submission and any news of progress on this story. Until then, the early draft is finished, and now for the editing to commence!

Other news revolves around two other stories I'm working on, with the intention of self publishing in October.

The first is called Priests of the White God set in a fantasy world where a nautical chase takes place between two factions. However, things are far darker than a simple naval action on the high seas as both parties become desperate.

The second is called Finiphobia. Two authors are trapped in a high school during an outbreak of a terrible epidemic, and to pass the time collaborate on a story between them. Jealousy and paranoia however, begin to take hold among them as they disagree on how to complete their story.

Hopefully I can have more regular updates for you on those stories as the next month progresses. In the meantime, the editing commences in a pell mell rush to meet the submission deadline!

So until next time!