Apr 16, 2014

The Phoenix Chooses to Ignore the Spider's Web

Olive was kind to spiders.

She sang to her spiders when nobody else was around.

Olive would monitor the fly population in the biome and snatch the occasional bluebottle and feed it to the spider living in her ear.

It would be foolish to let Ship Management know about it.

Concealment
by Mariya Olshevska

Not that I want to delve into the subject of spiders that much, but I stumbled across these steampunk-themed spiders by Justin Gershenson on Etsy and honestly, I find them beautiful. Just take a look:

amechanicalmind


amechanicalmind

Apr 11, 2014

Spontaneous Time Travel Is Worse than Spontaneous Human Combustion Somehow



1

Sully Abramowitz walked out of his “time machine” intent on killing his grandfather, only to become his great-grandfather. It goes something like this:

Nobody has ever traveled back in time. There’s a gatekeeper — one of his names is Aglamethorvderigzd, and I swear that’s the easiest one to pronounce — a gatekeeper with an inhuman sense of humor (inhuman perforce) who takes pleasure in routing travelers to alternate realms where time simply hasn’t caught up with the travelers’ home dimension.

To keep up with the demands of its job as time travel overseer, Aglamethorvderigzd possesses eighteen hundred dedicated brains.

Sully Abramowitz never got to test the Grandfather Paradox.

2

Amsterdam DJ da br00t gets a peculiar superpower from drinking blackberry vodka: time moves much, much slower and, if he concentrates, he can revisit certain moments of his childhood.

He can’t figure out why these arctic foxes follow him around in his “astral journeys,” though, or why their number keeps growing.

3

Flora’s left hand is slightly out of phase with the rest of her life. It either exists a couple of minutes ahead of time, or a couple of minutes behind.

She never knows which version of her hand she’s looking at: the one stranded in the past or the one that’s yet to be. This turns common daily tasks such as typing or washing her hands into a complex guessing game. Flora may stand by the washbasin and her left hand may have left for the office cubicle already, or still tarry at the keyboard, struggling with the remainder of a sentence, perhaps entering duplicate data into a form, maybe even clicking a submit button twice and starting a small revolution in the office.

Retreat
by Miranda Meeks


Apr 9, 2014

Just Try Not to Eat my Boots In Your Sleep

Travel to the Orchard takes days now that Wiseman’s machines patrol the sky. It’s fifty miles of mud and mosquitoes and swamp rot.

After dinner, Cobble and I sit down to memorize the forbidden words. If we speak any two of them within twenty-four hours, the world will unravel somehow.

Art by Rodney Matthews

Before I wrote the actual prompt, I sat down and put together the table of forbidden words.
Diatom
Deliquesce
Disinter
Obsolete
Ingrained
Turnstile
Phrenologist
Travail
Iridescent
Garbled
Covalent
Jockey
Palladium
Singsong
Defenestrate
Mentholated
Odoriferous
Terminus
Neurotic
Phosphorescent
Proem
Impertinent
Schadenfreude
Aquifer
Piquant
Cormorant
Euphoria
Forecastle
Stigmata
Procrustean
Calaboose
Gallant
Mercenary
Recidivist
Panglossian
Encomium

I thought to myself as I conceived this prompt: Wouldn't the act of memorizing so many unusual, infrequently-used words make the characters more likely to blurt them out?

Phrenologist, Schadenfreude, Panglossian and Procrustean are indissociable from Western culture on Earth, so this story-seed does not necessarily play out on a different planet. Maybe an alt-Earth in the future? Your choice.

Phrenology was, by and large, invented by Franz Joseph Gall (d. 1828), whose most remarkable ideas have now been discredited. The main tenet of phrenology was that a shapely head indicated a healthy, well-adjusted personality; criminals and the mentally disabled, therefore, would exhibit misshapen skulls. In short, ugliness was a crime, a disease, or both.

"Franz Joseph Gall examining the head of a pretty young girl."

Schadenfreude is a German loan word. When you take pleasure in someone's bad luck, what you feel is Schadenfreude. When you watch compilations of driving accidents in Russia on YouTube, and derive a certain glee from that, I guess schadenfreude is involved as well.

Panglossian refers to Dr. Pangloss, a character in Voltaire's comedic bildungsroman, Candide. Pangloss maintains that this world of ours is the best of all possible worlds. Candide faces great adversity throughout the novel to finally conclude that the world is mostly OK. 

Procrustean is an adjective derived from the fabled Procrustes, who only liked people of a certain size, I suppose. If his overnight guests did not exactly fit the bed Procrustes had for them, he would either have them stretched or chop off their lower extremities. An expedient man, though far from an ideal host. But they didn't have Yelp or Metacritic back then! Alas.

And I sign off with a video for people who like to play with words, from the crazy imaginative Rathergood.

Apr 6, 2014

Sunday Art Flood: Photography Edition

Do you own a camera? Have you ever tried to learn all the things it can do?

If you always shoot on AUTO, you're missing out. More than a simple tool, the camera is a portal. It is a vehicle for learning. It is, no less, an instrument and channel for vision. Forget "capturing" moments -- the camera doesn't capture moments, you do. And you can even create moments, as many of the photos below will attest.

But I don't intend to give you a crash course on DSLR (Digital Single-Lens Reflex camera) photography today: you can find plenty of learning resources online, such as 

Andrew Schär's DSLR Photography 101
Or my personal favorite, Ken Rockwell's huge archive on How to Take Better Pictures

-- although, I must say, no online course or learning material will teach you as much as taking your camera out on the field and making a ton of mistakes. You'll be amazed at how much you can learn from your mistakes.

This Sunday, let's you and I explore the countless worlds of photography, that sublime art form which has most definitely not killed painting, as the painters of old prophesied, but is instead merging with it and creating a playful dialog that rejuvenates both disciplines.

Dog, Running
by John Magnet Bell

Photo flood begins after the jump. Are you ready for this?

Apr 2, 2014

Fight On, for Pixie-Land and Glory

Echo Sonoris was conceived to defeat the wind troll Fladimir, but fell in love with him instead. So much for prophecy.

Sonor Acutis, Echo’s long-suffering lover, decided enough was enough and apprenticed himself to Ram Awals, inventor of war machines.

Spring light came: Fladimir heard rumbling in the woods.

Femke Hiemstra

Sticks and stones worked great, but you can't stop the march of progress. /sarcasm/
Hand axes go back at least 1.7 million years. Somebody threw the first stone-tipped spear half a million years ago. Around the 9th century BC, the Assyrians invented battering rams

Human history presents several constants: one of them is the arms race as a driver of progress. After all, better weapons mean better food and superior means to dominate your competitors. Who wouldn't want superior armament in a cruel, unforgiving world? 

You have two kinds of arms race: military and evolutionary. All species compete, exploit, collaborate and/or benefit from other species. Intra-species warfare is common among ant and primate populations. BUT, as the Seville Statement on Violence clarifies, right on the first page, 
IT IS SCIENTIFICALLY INCORRECT to say that we have
inherited a tendency to make war from our animal ancestors. Although
fighting occurs widely throughout animal species, only a few cases of
destructive intraspecies fighting between organised groups have ever been
reported among naturally living species, and none of these involve the use
of tools designed to be weapons. 
Full PDF of the statement here.

War is inextricably involved with economics. Non-human animal societies do not have economies in the human sense of the word: ants don't trade futures, sheep do not print money, a parrot can't take out a mortgage. They don't build weapon factories. 

War both drives, and is dependent on, technological progress. Sometimes I think that the pace of technological evolution outstrips our maturity as a global civilization. The Holocaust exemplifies just that, with companies like IBM helping to list people targeted for extermination. So does the attack on Pearl Harbor, or the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Erin Kelso

Now, I don't have a very clear idea of what wind trolls are, or what they can do, but I conceived of Echo as belonging to a different species than the wind troll. So the conflict lies not only in the fact that Echo chose to ignore prophecy, but also in that she sided with "the enemy" -- a demonized, alien "creature."

Mar 28, 2014

The Art of Interpreting Pulp Book Covers like You Have Nothing to Lose

Once upon a time, there was a little boy who read comic books, ate lots of cookies and wanted to be Dictator of the Galaxy.

Me at the age of seven.
I was precocious.

That little boy grew up, kept reading comics and eating cookies, but gave up on his childhood dreams of galactic dominance; after all, it’s 2014 and we don’t even have affordable jetpacks, let alone the interplanetary infrastructure that would give rise to a galaxy-spanning empire of absolute evil.

And you just know the first galactic empire would be founded by seriously nasty people. I mean, look at Genghis Khan or Ivan the Terrible. Look at Napoleon. Look at Ming, the Merciless!

Look at him!

Anyway, you ask, “What’s the point of all this?” 

The point, my faithful reader, is that pulp contains enormous potential when it comes to inspiration. True, potential doesn’t always lead to accomplishment, but… The freedom to create unselfconsciously, with a child’s delight in the ridiculous and unlikely, doesn’t that appeal to you?



When I was a child, “Internet” wasn’t even a word in my household, and covers provided my first encounter with a book or magazine. I don’t remember reading any book reviews between the ages of 6 and 14. So, setting aside for now the books that relatives gave me, I bought my own on the strength of a particular cover. As you may imagine, I saw little beyond the awesome.

I now see so far beyond the awesome that I’ve come full circle — well, no, not full circle. I’ve done a 359°, not a 360°. You could say I’m through the looking glass, privy to a strangeness that few can behold. 

And that strangeness is the place where stories come to life. Nothing is more personal than midwifing a story into this world; and what a messy business that can be, full of blood and guts and screaming and passing out and…


Anyway. Shall we begin our educational tour?

Mar 26, 2014

Still Looking for the Right Words to Fill a Void

I am still mourning my father. That means no written story prompt today, but I can bring you art and let pictures do some of the talking for me. Maybe I’ll throw in some music at the end.

Pendul City
by Sparth (Nicolas Bouvier)

My old man didn’t especially enjoy science fiction. He found it silly. The hardships he suffered dulled his imagination and warped his sense of humor. He started helping out with the family business when he was seven or eight. No allowance, no money for comics, no TV in the house. What do flights of fancy mean -- what does your fantasy turn to when you don't have enough to eat?

Not to the stars.

Science fiction is silly, but noble at the same time. Science fiction and fantasy as genres represent fictional spaces where authors can indulge in silliness and tell good stories all the same.

Simon Fetscher

I wish he had seen that.

He found refuge only in sleep. He’d sit down to watch a movie and doze off in twenty minutes at the most, but often complained of insomnia.

powenart

Certain contradictions did not bother him in the least. He pretended not to like cats, but every cat we ever had felt drawn to him and would nestle in his lap for hours as my father read an issue of his beloved Time magazine.

Marco Patrito

The passing of days claimed him. Where he goes next, if he goes, that I don’t know.

Mar 24, 2014

The Day I Lost my Father, and the Day He Died



I trusted him too much.

The funeral took place four days ago; he didn’t live to the age of 65. My father never got to meet any grandchildren, or —

When I was little my father told me how traffic lights worked and I marveled that he knew everything and I felt very small. It was a dark night and it rained. The red light resembled a glowing red flower, petals flowing down the windshield. We were two blocks away from home.

I got my love of books from him. He was a WWII buff and collected several volumes on the subject. I heard tell of figures like Patton and Goering at the dinner table. He was the first person who named them to me. But his intellectual appetite didn’t stop there. Photography, archaeology, cabinetmaking, landscapes, the cosmos… he hungered for a connection with the universe, with the world of ideas.

He had a hard life. Youngest of eight siblings. Grew up in Portugal under a right-wing dictatorship that glorified God, Homeland and Family. Poverty was a virtue and you bowed your head to judges and doctors and priests — you bowed your head to everyone. To hear him tell of it, there were no equals, only rivalry and submission.

Sure, in the 1950s and 60s other people had it worse. At least my father ate three times a day. One of his childhood friends had to spit on his day-old bread at school so that no one would try to take it from him.

I begged him to write a memoir because the world he grew up in is alien to me. He never got around to it. I don’t know why. He always said he didn’t know where to start and I would tell him, “Start with your earliest memory.” I would also tell him not to worry about coherence or chronology. I would edit, would help, but that did not suffice. He never got around to it.

Now I mourn two losses. Most of his memories die with him. Could it be that hard to recall the adversities of childhood in writing? The time he fought in a war nobody thought was fair or winnable?

Because I trusted him too much, I couldn’t bring myself to believe he didn’t have all the answers, didn’t possess all the secrets of the universe. I rebelled against him merely at surface level: grew my hair two feet long, wore a nose ring, got myself tattooed. Played loud music at terrifying volumes. All of these attempts to say, “I’m not like you! Not like you at all!”



You know what, I should have spent more of my energy trying to figure him out and the lessons he really wanted to impart.

I dedicate this to all the men and women who, like me, never quite understood a parent, or figured out how to make themselves understood. Despite all my father’s failings — and they were many — he only wanted me to prosper.

Worth a shot.