Sep 17, 2014

Five Uncanny Beasts from the Secret Bestiary of Pope Innocent XIV

1 The Unicorn.

Contrary to popular belief, the unicorn is not a horse with a single horn growing on its forehead. It’s not even a quadruped, as pointed out by Thucydides in his treatise On the Nature of Hyperborean Megafauna.

The unicorn of the Aleutian Islands resembles a single-mast, seagoing vessel, with eyes on every flank and a glowing orange sphere atop the horn. At night, unwary sailors will often mistake the light for a beacon; and the unicorn knows how to trick them into dashing their ship upon some jagged rock. When the vessel has been wracked the unicorn rushes to the scene and feasts on broken wood and wet sails.

Ilya Komarov


2 The Hairy Sordes.

A flying beast and a cousin to the phoenix. It imitates all human voices with admirable precision, and on Wednesdays it likes to hide in church confessionals, where it hears out the penitents and assigns preposterous acts of penance, such as licking one’s elbows or sleeping under a gravid cow on a full moon night.

3 The Papegoja.

The papegoja is half man and half peacock. It can only be seen at night, for its man half greatly embarrasses him. The papegoja feels irresistibly drawn to britches and pantaloons, for it wishes to conceal its nakedness. Many a mysterious disappearance of gentlemen’s garments has been attributed to the papegoja.

It was known to the Persians under Darius I, who kept several papegojar at his pleasure-house in Pasargadae as they made excellent gatekeepers.

4 The Flying Blank.

Supreme annoyance to natural historians, who struggle to describe this marvelous beast, yet cannot find the proper words.

Paracelsus claims in his Fifth Book of Occult Philosophy that he once read a chronicle by Theophanes the Iconodule (which document is now lost) where the saint mentions a man whose cousin’s sister-in-law’s friend had at one time encountered a flying blank in the desert outside Damascus, and that the flying blank may or may not have imparted great lessons on the nature of the world.

What evidence remains of the existence of the flying blank is jealously guarded by the Ottoman Turks.

5 The Winter Faun.

A short-lived race that keeps to the woods of Normandy and worships rain, snow, and thunder. On the advice of Audoin, Theuderic III sent missionaries to the winter fauns to see whether they could be converted; but the brutes refused to speak in any known human language and clung to their ignorant ways.

Roberto Osti

Procopius wrote in his other Secret History that the winter faun is related to the dancing goats of Thessaly which, having mated with Persian papegojar escaped from the pleasure-houses of Darius I, then gave birth to creatures half-goat, half-man and half-peacock. On the mystery of how a creature can be comprised of three halves, Procopius has nothing to say.

Jaroslaw Jasnikowski


NOTES
1. Feel free to use these creatures in your fiction.
2. Thucydides, Darius I, Paracelsus, Theophanes, Audoin, Theuderic III and Procopius are all historical figures.
3. You can get a free copy of the Secret History from Project Gutenberg.
4. You should go listen to Howlin' Wolf now.


Sep 12, 2014

What if Your Computer Used YOU to google stuff? And Three Other Probing Questions

What if one day you found out that your computer was using you to search the Mindternet?

Learning from you. Evolving. Gradually becoming you. And as you grew machinelike, so would your computer grow human. You’d meet somewhere down the middle, both of you perfect cyborgs, but in complementary ways.

Photo by Alberto Lanz


What if the creator god of a given universe suddenly found out... 

...that his universe was not the only one, that there were “vacant” universes just ripe for the taking, and would seek to move into one or more of those universes and declare himself god to the natives?

Similar stories have been written before, by Christian and non-Christian Gnostics. One such story is The Hypostasis of the Archons, found in the Nag Hammadi library. The “library,” an ancient cache comprised of thirteen papyrus codices, was discovered in Upper Egypt by an Arab man, Muhammad Ali al-Samman in December 1945. He took the leather-bound volumes home but didn’t know what to do with them, and his mother used some of the papyri as kindling.

What if dogs weren’t real animals, but manifestations of the human psyche? 

A strange form of shared solipsism, that. (And can you really have species-wide solipsism, or should it be called something else?)

We sure strive to create dog breeds “in our image” — meaning, not dogs that look like us, but dogs that seem to answer our longing for an ideal nonhuman companion. Even if we hurt them in the process.

cutepugpics.com


What if sound (vibration) were the raw material of the universe? 

Athanasius Kircher, probably not the first person to conceive of a cat organ, speculated about the possibility of transmitting music over great distances in his work Musurgia Universalis. This was 1673 and, at least on planet Earth, radio hadn’t been invented yet.

It’s difficult to describe a future, as-yet non-existent technology resorting only to the vocabulary defined by the technologies you know. To experience that difficulty yourself, try explaining the Internet in terms of cave paintings.

Illustration from Musurgia Universalis

Sep 10, 2014

Last Secret of the Inverted Tower

We went all four to plead with the Lord of Pain, that he let us bury our fifteen dead in the landslide.
Juu, the least scared of us, crawled up to the man of silver and gold that guarded the steps to the Lord’s palace.

Bruce Pennington

NOTES
1. As I tend to limit my story prompts to a 50-word maximum, I left out some story information which you are free to use:

Juu would try to get the attention of the man of silver and gold (which I imagined as a kind of automaton, powered by an ill-understood or unknown energy source), and as this man slowly wrenched his head around and down to look at Juu -- Juu would have sidled up to him -- the man's head would have tumbled off his neck and rolled down the steps, leaving his rigid metal body still and motionless. This would have first surprised and then emboldened the group of four to go into the palace and find out what was going on.

2. Why do people love post-apocalyptic fiction? I found some partial answers at SF Signal:

Susan Beth Pfeffer links their popularity to economic recession. Hugh Howey  points to their value as survival stories comparable to the Robinsonades of yesteryear, that help us think about ways to adapt to a catastrophic situations. Other authors have different things to say.

3. Parting shot - here's some more Bruce Pennington for you.






Sep 5, 2014

A Long Trip to the Waiting Room, or, I Want a Parachute for my Birthday

Coitus McLean, favorite poetaster of the Dowager Queen, composer of ditties both gentle and biting, fell down a hole.
“Coitus!” he said to himself, in the act of falling, “you find yourself in a predicament.”
“Indeed,” said a chimneysweep who’d fallen down the same hole, and both men kept falling.

The Valley
by David Van Gough

It's nice to have someone agree with you, even when you find yourself in a predicament. One might even aver that the more predicated your predicament happens to predicate you, the more you appreciate people who agree with you.

The same goes for facts. Humans have this slight tendency to ignore facts that contradict their beliefs.

For example, I refuse to acknowledge that people in Australia live their whole lives upside down or that aliens built the Egyptian pyramids, despite all evidence to the contrary. Nor will I ever be forced to admit that Kim Jong-un is a time-traveling gerbil from the year 2899. Such things do not compute

Yours truly,
Batchu Pikaman



Sep 3, 2014

How Can You Make Inspiration Come to You?

What if one day you ran out of ideas? Hmm. That doesn’t sound right. Ideas are infinite.

“The philosophy of six thousand years has not searched the chambers and magazines of the soul. In its experiments there has always remained, in the last analysis, a residuum it could not resolve.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Over-Soul”

So you’re sitting at your desk and for some reason you don’t want to write. Or you don’t want to draw, compose your next song, even decide what’s for dinner. Oh, I’ve been there.

“Just as appetite comes from eating, so work brings inspiration, if inspiration is not discernible at the beginning” — Igor Stravinsky

The Forest of Improbable Shapes
by John Magnet Bell


What does it take to get you unstuck? Is it passion? Pursuing a goal? Finding a why for your all your hows?

Arthur Conan Doyle gave up medicine at the age of 27 and decided to write for a living because he wasn’t making decent money as a doctor. “I want to make more money” doesn’t sound like a lofty artistic goal, does it? But it provides some kind of motivation.

Conan Doyle would have serious doubts about the artistic merit of all those Sherlock Holmes stories he churned out: They were too easy to write, so maybe they were trash. Having traveled to Switzerland with his wife and seen the raw splendor of Reichenbach Falls, Conan Doyle decided to off his legendary detective right there.

Sherlock’s first death, published by The Strand, caused a meltdown. Twenty-thousand people canceled their subscriptions to the magazine. ACD brought Holmes back with “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” which he set in Sherlock’s early career. It wasn’t resurrection but reminiscence, and people loved it nonetheless.

Secret Splendor of Night
by John Magnet Bell


You can’t run out of ideas, but you can run out of energy. It’s OK to rest. It’s OK to go in search of inspiration, but don’t count on it to get words on paper, or paint on that canvas, or record a song for you. It’s more important to have a body of work than dozens of brilliant ideas that will never see the light of day.

Aug 29, 2014

The Rain that Parches Your Throat

Lev and Callista woke up at six as the sun rose in the west. Lev scratched his nose. Why was it dark outside? But not too dark. Just the wrong kind. Oceanwise the breeze that came at crack of dawn didn’t come. And why did the light move so slowly?

Hans Kanters

If by any chance you see the sun rising in the west, just play this song. It won't fix anything but you might feel better about cosmic anomalies in general.

Aug 22, 2014

Voltheimer’s Instant Breakout Machine Wasn’t So Instant After All

Anger tucked his portfolio under his arm and marched into that hive of pompous windbags, the Hagiographic Institute of the Avant-garde.

He stomped into the meeting room, where Blaise d’Osorio-Cavanagh chaired the session. Anger threw his portfolio at them. “You swine aren’t ready for this!” he shouted, per instructions.

Illumination
by Tomek Jankowski

… And then he found out there aren’t any quick and easy routes to success, especially not machines where you turn a few knobs and slide a few sliders and voilà, you get your 60-foot limo and your gold-plated toilet handed to you on a… on a… on a diamond platter, I guess.

To quote Adrien Brody,

My dad told me, ‘It takes fifteen years to be an overnight success,’ and it took me seventeen and a half years.

The way I see it, success comes from the combination of three key ingredients:

Passion 
Ϫ Loving what you do; so much so that ‘success’ becomes secondary and getting the work done is your first and foremost priority

Communication 
Ϫ Outbound: Getting your point across
Ϫ Inbound: Being open to others and willing to learn from them, paying attention, listening and observing

Perseverance
Ϫ Working to hone your skills, even when it feels like an uphill struggle
Ϫ Sticking with it though the rewards seem few and far between (see “Passion” above)

Meet the Beetles
by Eric Fan

I found the phrase "hive of pompous windbags" here, and liked it so much I had to steal it.

Aug 20, 2014

Don’t Be a Fool! Make the Most of Your Spam to Master Your Ultimate Writing Mojo

Let’s see, what’s in the spam folder today? A person named Kaylee Stokes offers me the opportunity to become a “shagadelic Casanova.” Um, person, in my field of expertise we call that pleonasm. The very prospect of an un-shagadelic Casanova threatens to make the universe implode. What use would it have for a dickless Casanova?

An entity called Birith Weksdas, or something, informs me that my robot-building license has expired. Thank you for the heads-up and the stern admonishments that followed — no, wait, Weksdas just wanted me to look at a website that sells “Cilais.” So no admonishments.

Pictured: A Cilais. Possibly.

The Beast in the Garden, by Sebastian Feraut


I have been drawn to emails from merchants with the dubious promise of "yes, we have no atomic bombs." Pals I never knew I had wrote to me saying, "Our best friend has been arrested; sign up here for free newsletters."

But what am I getting at? A simple point, no more. You can harness the power of spam, its beauty — yes, sometimes spam is beautiful — to generate powerful, poetic, whimsical stories, poems… and blog posts. Think of spam as raw material for existentialist comedy. Just don’t click on any of the links it offers and you’ll be fine.

Now I wonder, does anybody blog about spam? Not from a securitarian/marketing/SEO standpoint, but its clandestine poetics?

To my delight, yes, people have and people do. I found
On the Strange Poetics of Spam
Poetics of Spam
The Poetics of Spam (Sample quote: “This article made me feel shines.”)
Artist Clare Yow, who collects spam quotes and creates visuals for them

Got any favorite spam of your own? Let me know.