Apr 30, 2014

A Fragrant Bouquet of Whats, Whos and Whys

What happens when a child finds a giant skull in the basement?
What will religion look like in a thousand years, assuming humanity is still around?
What happens when the first elected woman president of an unnamed country turns out to be a man? (And, uh, how do you get to have an unnamed country, because I’d like to know)

Ford Smith

Who is the writer that supplanted Shakespeare in the 22nd century, and what historical circumstances led to his or her appearance?
Who was the man who passed through New Sweden in 1642 and tried to sell a rectangular golden chip which he claimed could cure all ills, from scrofula to indigestion?
Who is the swordswoman that married the Queen of Lys and named their first child Silverfoot Crow?

Evgenija Gapchinskaja

Why did the ancestral chicken spirits compel Riley the Rooster to go in search of the Primordial Egg?
Why does Atari want you to forget about the ET video game, going so far as to dig a “mass grave” for game cartridges in Alamogordo?
Why did the Sword of Blasted Souls carry the inscription, “Never Give Up Hope”?

Nelly Tsenova

I made up the Sword of Blasted Souls, the visitor to New Sweden, the Queen of Lys, Silverfoot Crow, etc. You can do with these ideas as you please. These are intended as jumping-off points for stories.

New Sweden was a Swedish colony in North America between 1638 and 1655, and a "new" New Sweden exists today in Maine.

I wish I had created Marutaro, though. Behold, the coolest hedgehog in all of existence.

Apr 25, 2014

Pardon Me, Sir -- Have You Seen my Wife's Mustache?

Greta decided to shave off her moneymaker without consulting me.
“It’ll grow back, yes? Please say it will grow back.”
“I don’t know,” said Greta. “I don’t care.”
“What will we do for money now?” I asked.
“I’m divorcing you and taking a post at Gresham as a psychiatric nurse.”

A portrait of Madame Devere, the beardiest bearded lady on record.

I joined Pinterest so I could collect pictures of bearded people and the odd barnyard animal. Why? You mean, I actually have to explain? Well, reason number one -- beards look great!

Even on rabbits.

And as it turns out, there are numerous health benefits to growing a beard. A bushy beard will protect your face from the sun, reduce allergy symptoms and maybe even get you a promotion.

Although opinions differ on the subject of promotions for bearded men, let alone bearded ladies; some say that men looking for high-paying jobs ought to shave, while others claim the exact opposite.

Coda: Mozart didn't go for the bearded look, but he wrote great music.

Apr 23, 2014

The Afterlife Is Really Crowded, Don't You Know

My first memory of life after death: A door with a gilded sign on it. It read

The Ministry of Pleasant Things Would Like You to Have a Pleasant Afternoon in Hell

— Which I found solecistic.

I was to find out later that things would not improve. Not exactly.

Forest Rogers: Venetian Harpy (back)
At this stage, the Harpy is a work in progress.

Bangsian fantasy concerns itself chiefly with events that take place in the afterlife. It will often employ historical figures as characters. The first one I ever read was Inferno by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. 

Cover to the 1st Edition

Solecistic is a ten-dollar word that I chose to employ because the main character in this prompt spent most of his childhood memorizing the Chambers Dictionary.

In Real Life™, the Chambers Dictionary, 1994 edition is my favorite dictionary of the English language. Not for completeness, as it would be hard to beat the Oxford at that game, but for the obscure, 16th-century words and the inclusion of many linguistic gems from Scots, such as... as... hmm. Memory fails me now. More on the Chambers later, I guess.

Side note: I like Scotland. Especially Edinburgh. 

Apr 18, 2014

What Does the Grump of Grumpforest Truly Desire?

The monster wanted a balloon.
“Bring me a balloon,” said the monster to Barry, “and I will prove to you the Earth is flat.”
“And you promise not to eat me after?” asked little Barry.
“You watch too many movies, kid,” said the monster.

Map by Orlando Ferguson, 1893, via Wikipedia

The text on the map reads:


Four Hundred Passages in the Bible that Condemns the Globe Theory, or the Flying Earth, 
and None Sustain It.

This Map is the Bible Map of the World.
Copyright by Orlando Ferguson, 1893.

The four corner angels each have the note: "Four Angels standing on the Four Corners of the Earth—Rev. 7: 1."

The Orlando Ferguson medallion note reads

The Globe Earth medallion note reads
These men are flying on the globe at a rate of 65,000 miles per hour around the sun, and 1,042 miles per hour around the center of the earth (in their minds). Think of that speed!

The footnote on the left reads

And his hands were steady until the going down of the sun—Ex. 17: 12. 
And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed.—Joshua 10: 12–13. 
The world also shall be stable that it not be moved.—Chron. 16: 30. 
To him that stretched out the earth, and made great lights (not worlds).—Ps. 136: 6–7. 
The sun shall be darkened in his going forth.—Isaiah 12: 10. 
The four corners of the Earth.—Isaiah 11: 12. 
The whole earth is at rest.—Isaiah 14: 7. 
The prophecy concerning the globe theory.—Isaiah: 29th chapter. 
Woe to the rebellious children, sayeth the Lord, that take counsel, but not of me.—Isaiah 30: 1. 
So the sun returned ten degrees.—Isaiah 38: 8–9. 
It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth.—Isaiah 40: 22. 
He that spreads forth the earth.—Isaiah 52: 5. 
That spreadeth abroad the earth by myself.—Isaiah 54: 24. 
My hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth.—Isaiah 58: 13. 
Thus sayeth the Lord, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the moon and stars for a light by night (not worlds).—Jer. 31: 35–36. 
The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood.—Acts 2: 20.

The footnote on the right reads

Send 25 cents to the Author, Prof. Orlando Ferguson, for a book explaining this Square and Stationary Earth. It Knocks the Globe Theory Clean Out. It will Teach You How to Foretell Eclipses. It is Worth Its Weight in Gold.

via cncntrc

So... Who would this monster be? Professor Orlando Ferguson himself, who, having secretly discovered the Earth is flat, also learned that time is Ouroboros eating its own tail, and found a way to leap off his timeline and into the past, thereby prolonging his life beyond a reasonable span?

And what toll would that take on his body and psyche? 

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.

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:



Apr 11, 2014

Spontaneous Time Travel Is Worse than Spontaneous Human Combustion Somehow


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.


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.


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.

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.

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, 
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."