I Just Read Vallista and Now I’m Hungry


I’m fat, mostly because I read a lot, and you can eat while you read.  I blame my parents, really; once they discovered that I was the only one of their progeny with any interest in words or edumacation (and therefore, by extension, the one who would have enough money to support them when they were old) they encouraged my reading habit by buying me endless quantities of both books and food, so that Moby Dick, in my Cheeto-stained fingertips, became something like a live-action roleplaying experiment in preventable diseases.

But part of the blame has to go to the people who write fantasy novels, because I’m not the only one apparently obsessed with literary food porn.  Take The Hobbit, for instance; I’m pretty sure there was some stuff about rings and goblins, but mostly what I recall is a lovingly detailed fifteen course meal including three cheese dishes.  Also, I seem to recall Tolkein rhapsodising at length on waybread, which inculcated in my adolescent self a craving for baked goods, which is why a normal meal for me consists of another person’s normal meal, and then two or three loafs of artisanal bread, which is why they had to invent a new numbering system to measure my blood sugar.

Not to mention that scene in Hawk: the Slayer, where they’re eating beef and cheese and onions and the barbarian shares his with the dwarf.  That scene still makes me hungry.  That was Hawk: the Slayer, wasn’t it?  Might have been Beastmaster.  One of those interchangable 80s Conan ripoffs.

Okay, I’ll admit that my book-induced hunger pangs might be a case of taking from an experience what you bring to it … which segues nicely to my next topic, which is the Death of the Author, and not from coronary artery disease.

The Death of the Author, at least according to the five minutes of lit-crit theory I can usually get through before passing out, basically says:

neener neener wurds don’ matter, we can pretend what we want hahaha

I’m not really fond of postmodernism myself; it’s generally be my experience that no matter your personal belief system, bad code still won’t compile.  Similarly, antibiotics work – and homeopathy doesn’t – and clapping your hands for the Alternative Medicine fairy will not make the reverse true. There may not be an Objective Truth, but there is certainly correct and not correct, and Huckleberry Finn does not have much to say about post-colonial feminism, nor bauxite mining in Uruguay, and anyone who says otherwise is more interested in political activism than literature.

On the other hand, here are some pictures of Disney princesses in Fallout.

Just the fact that we can use phrases like “Fallout universe” implies there’s some mental construct that exists beyond the actual words on the page.  Larry Niven calls them “Playgrounds of the Mind” – the rules and laws by which our hypothetical worlds operate, and a book is an entry ticket to that playground.

But more than that – any story, poem, song, or work of art interacts with the audience’s personality and history, so that what I imagine when I read Kay Ryan’s Turtle isn’t the same as anyone else; for one thing, I picture turtles with jet packs.

Or take, for example, Vallista, by Steven Brust.

Now, the Vlad novels are already basically the drunken love child of Zelazny’s Amber and the Food Network, so you can imagine the angst I have whenever I read one without also having immediate access to an all night cafe.

(Which is also one of the things I love about them – how many other fantasy characters have opinions on the poetry they read?  It’s those little details that make a world feel lived in.  Other franchises try to do that with encyclopedic extended universes, but Brust does more with one restaurant than Star Wars does with three prequels.)

But Vallista, for a change, isn’t about food – it’s about the lack of it.  A pivotal plot point in the story is Vlad’s discovery that the kitchen in the castle has never been used.  For me, that is the central image in Vallista, and it ties together all of the mental imagery that I took from that book and into my life.

That might, at some deep English major contextual level, be metaphorical of something or other, but at the not-very-deep level where I live, it’s because at the same time I was reading Vallista, we were remodeling our kitchen at the casino, which means that for a day, and around the same time I was reading Vallista, our kitchen was likewise empty.

Also, we cut back our prep counter by about a foot, so the kitchen appears a lot bigger than it did; big, and shiny, and empty, just like the castle in Vallista feels big and empty, even though there are people living there.

Vallista, for me, is about emptiness, and echos of the past spilling over into the present, and things unfinished.  Oh, and construction accounting.

Now, the question is – is that because it’s what Brust intended, or are those the themes I picked up on because I personally am obsessed with empty, lonely places, and have spent too much time in old server rooms and vacant buildings?  Would someone else think it was mostly about family, or even creepy demon children who remind me of Christina Ricci?  Would it remind me so much of a haunted house video game if I didn’t play video games?

But it’s not just the images we take from a work – literature shouldn’t be static.  Whenever I enter an invoice from our cafe now, I think of Vallista; as I check down the various itemized entries for their appropriate codes (napkins – cafe supplies, non-edible; limes – bar items, edible) some part of me is still living in that story.  When I visit my friend’s house renovation project, those two worlds come together – the art of concrete and foundation, and the art of numbers, and now Vallista is living somewhere in my head in a place I don’t think Brust could have imagined.

And that’s true of every single person who reads that book.  Or any book!

The beautiful thing about science fiction and fantasy is that it makes that experience explicit – fans take those worlds and make them their own, and then we have Fallout fan movies, and poetry about video games, and of course, we have cosplay.1

But I’m still not admitting the postmodernists are right; I don’t think you can dissociate the author from the meaning.  I don’t know what, if any, the deeper meaning of Vallista is; while I have occasionally been accused of being shallow, I don’t read to seek out topics for English dissertations.  I read because it makes pretty pictures in my head.  The more I learn about writing, the more I think a writer’s job is to provide those worlds and images.

Or maybe not.  I’ve been told (usually by my therapist) that I’m not like the other children.  I don’t know.  What I do know is, whenever I think of Vallista, I will think of an auditor doing a cost estimate on an empty, haunted kitchen before leaving to get some chicken nuggets2.

  1. You thought it was going to be weird, didn’t you?.
  2. We have awesome chicken nuggets at the casino.



From Hell’s Heart I Stab At This Blog

Haven’t updated this in a while, partly because I’ve been doing what will hopefully someday become paid writing, if I can get an editor liquored up enough to buy it, but also because the fans in my video card decided to go all crakhed and burn themselves out – which, since the entire point of shilling out over a grand for this machine was to be able to play video games, was, to say the least, suboptimal.

I was researching new video cards, and occasionally ogling the new gaming machines on Dell (the only outfit shady enough to give me credit) when I realized: dropping half a thousand dollars every two years on new gaming stuff was exactly why I got out of gaming, way back in the days of the console wars.  (Which were shortly after the Punic Wars, for you youngsters in the audience.)  Not only that, but ever since I got the new machine, my old one, which up to that point had worked perfectly, threw some sort of computer snit and now runs about as fast and efficiently as a brick.  And not Brick for Windows, either; I mean, like, Brick 1.0.  Brick Vista.  iBrick.  (Rim shot.)

I started getting migraines, and after the third day I woke up strangling my Bill Gates Realdoll, I decided to take a break from technology and drive out to the coast and eat donuts (seriously, they have some really good donuts in Arcata) and I almost didn’t come back.  After a pub crawl with an old buddy, I have to tell you, I was strongly tempted to just wander out on the dunes, strip naked, and live out my days grazing placidly on the seagrass.  But I didn’t, because I hate seaweed.

So I’m back, and I also have a sweet new desk, which is inspiring me to get back to writing, and I have some ideas that work best as blog posts, plus someday if I’m famous, this will be where I pontificate wildly about random conspiracy theories.

This is how writers pimp they cribs.  Did I say that right?

But at least until I can get a new graphics card, I’ll be blogging less about video games and more about writing and whatever other randomness crosses my cerebral cortex.

Next up: postmodernism, the Death of the Author, and kitchen remodeling, as applied to Steven Brust’s Vallista.




Old School D&D: Grampa’s Gettin’ His Geek On

Once again, I find myself thinking about old school Dungeons & Dragons (mostly because Facebook threw a Blackmoor movie page up as a sponsored post).

I have some inchoate thoughts, and since I am trying to turn this blog into something a real writer might call a “daybook,” I thought I would share them with you.  You’re welcome.  Whether you like it or not.

I don’t think I’m actually qualified to talk about “old school,” because apparently the “Golden Age of D&D” actually occurred when I was around 2 years old.  I’ve been told I was a precocious child, but even as a toddler, I don’t think I was thinking too much about THAC0; I was probably more concerned with giving up the bottle.  (Still having trouble with that one, but now it’s alcohol.  Hell, I was 2.  Maybe it was alcohol back then.  That would … explain a lot, actually.)

Ain’t that always how Golden Ages work?  You should have seen it when … there’s a poem there somewhere, and hopefully after wrapping this up, I can go write it.  But I don’t wanna get too sidetracked … D&D.

For me, there are a series of images or impressions that come to mind, but I can’t put my finger on what, exactly, those images are or represent.  Computers are definitely a part of it; while I might have missed gaming’s Golden Age, growing up in Silicon Valley in the 70’s, I was definitely at the epicenter of the personal computer revolution.

That’s one angle of it: the unformed nature of both gaming and computers.  There were no boxed sets (or at least, us neophytes hadn’t heard of them) or Internet.  Copyright protection for games usually consisted of a book or pamphlet with commands you had to type, or answers to puzzles; they called them “feelies.”  It was a strange, primitive form of multimedia, and it was confusing as hell.

No, awesome, I meant to say awesome.  OK, it was both of those things.  It seems like the 70’s were full of little pamphlets – Watchtower magazines, feelies, copies of album lyrics, D&D modules … there was so much more paper, back then.

As you can tell from how disjointed this is, I’m still not zeroing in on what I want.  Paper … no hyperlinks.  No depth.  No, at the touch of a button, having access to more information than you can possibly process.  Because paper cost money, details were limited; there was always some unanswered question.  Maybe that’s the “unformed” aspect of it.  Like Zelazny’s worlds, they’re only painted in enough detail to leave you wanting more.

But more than that: they hadn’t been codified.  There was no particular reason, back then, that gaming defaulted to the vaguely Northern European feudal landscape that it did.  If anything, the primary images are Middle Eastern: Dunsany and the Arabian Nights, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser in some fantastic desert in a magical analog of Afghanistan.

That’s all a piece of it.  There is also a powerful sense of the “dungeon,” not the least of which is because when you’re 10, giant worldscaping political adventures aren’t as gripping as kicking down the temple door, killing everyone, and taking their stuff.  What I imagine, what I always keep coming back to, is a room underground – and most powerfully, the lack of windows.  Maybe because I worked 911 so long, that “boxy” aspect has a powerful resonance for me.

The museum I worked for had the same quality: rooms with rooms, a nested box from which there was no escape.  Here’s a picture:



that doesn’t really show anything.  Kinda creepy, though, isn’t it?  You don’t know what’s there, but whatever it is, it won’t have a stat block, or a name, or a definable power.  It will be the embodiment of the unknown, and that is the frightening and appealing part about it, the mythic power that gets lost when you have to translate “medium sized humanoid” to a STR modifier.  Here’s another one:


From the heart of the temple … museum, sorry.  I meant to say museum.

The question is, for me: what started this fascination with buried rooms?  I can’t actually recall being on any dungeon crawls.  Maybe the old Compuserve fantasy MUDs, the ones that were so primitive the graphics were printed in ASCII characters?  Perhaps.  I know I read about enough dungeon crawls; back then, I spent many more hours reading the old school D&D picks than I did actually playing.

Ugh.  This is rambling on and on.  It’s 10 on a Friday night, and since I have no actual life to speak off, I should probably crawl into bed and finish watching that documentary about chickens.

I plan on coming back to this, though, because it’s going to drive me crazy if I can’t eventually connect these images, and then hopefully get a poem out of it.

And if you’ve played, tell me in the comments when you started, and what your first impressions were.

In the meantime, here’s some more old school art for your viewing pleasure:


Notes on the Robot Apocalypse: Part I

Because when the machines finally decide to kill all humans, these guys won’t be on our side …

It’s gonna be like a Terminator-Planet of the Apes crossover, and I for one think it will be freakin’ awesome, assuming I am not busy fending off vicious human-terminating attacks by my various household appliances, because of course once we’ve driven all of nature into the arms of the Robot Army, the next wisest step is to create an Internet of Things so that the only safe places left once the Robocalypse comes will be the Ngorongoro Crater in Africa, and then only until the drone swarms come for us.

So yeah, we’re pretty much screwed.

Well, you guys are screwed.  I, for one, welcome our new RoboMonkey Overlords.





Skyrim: Ooh, shiny!

I couldn’t have been more than seven or eight, I guess, when I saw my first UFO.  Maybe not even that old, since Star Wars came out when I was around four1, and I define everything in my life from that moment, and I wasn’t thinking about Stormtroopers when I saw it.  Call it 1978, then, when I saw the UFO gliding silently back and forth just above the backyard fence line.  Back then, there was nothing but vacant lots behind us, so I had a clear view, and there was no mistaking it: it was a narrow band of white lights rotating vertically in the air as the craft itself moved silently back and forth, almost as if it was looking … or, maybe … hunting … for something.

It was night, and I’d never seen a UFO before, so I had no way of knowing how far away it was.  At one moment it seemed little more than a speck in the distance; the next, it might have been hovering directly over the fence.  And while that would have made it a very small UFO, that wasn’t much comfort to a pre-K rugrat who was witnessing an alien invasion in his own backyard.

Naturally, I ran inside screaming at the top of my lungs.  Fortunately, and further proof that life rarely meets its full potential for comedy, the babysitter didn’t faint or have a panic attack.  Instead, she pointed out that what I was seeing was a night-flying advertising plane:

dns-header (1)
But it’s an alien plane, I tell you!

I don’t know if they even have them anymore, but back in 1978, advertising planes were the hottest thing next to the G Channel Saturday night movie2.  During the day, they’d tow banners for for insurance companies and tire stores.  At night, using esoteric technology we still do not fully understand3, they’d use a lighted banner that ran across the wings:


Tell me that isn’t a UFO.  OK, maybe the propeller noise gives it away, but my personal UFO was too far away for me to hear that.

Ever since that day, I’ve had a fascination with lights in the sky, like the reflections of car headlights across low-lying clouds (my second UFO sighting) or the test-firing of a Polaris missile of the Pacific Coast (seen at the drive-in, which went the way of the Edsel, the dinosaurs, and the G-channel movie).

Which is why Skyrim is messing with my head.

Fallout, too:

So … SHINY … 

But I think Skyrim’s visual style makes those lights more tempting – I’ve walked through parks that looked a lot like Riften, but I haven’t yet walked through the urban ruins of a post-apocalyptic city4,, which means there’s less to relate to in the darkness of Fallout.

So very often I’ll be roaming around Skyrim late at night and I’ll see, off in the distance:

And … I … just … can’t … help … myself!  Like a moth to the flame … and usually with the same results, ’cause it’s not like anything wandering the wilderness of Skyrim is looking to sell you Amway insurance5.

Granted, the light isn’t in the sky, precisely, but it makes up for that by reminding me of a jack o’ lantern.  In fact, maybe it’s not just lights in the sky, but lights in the darkness, or unusual lights in the darkness …  the actinic glare of streetlights, or the dull tint of taillights; even the cheerful glow of a porch light is too common, too expected.  But the flickering orange grin of a jack o’ lantern in the warm velvet night of October, or the electric flash of a radio tower aircraft warning beacon… something is happening with them.  There are secrets to be found.

In Skyrim, those secrets are usually fatal:


But I just can’t help it! I see a flash in the darkness and I wonder if it’s a video glitch, or maybe the alcohol is beginning to dissolve my optic nerves … then I see it again … is something there …?  There is!  And it turns out to be a pyromancer hurling flaming death at a dragon, all of which had nothing to do with me.

That’s part of the appeal, I think – you don’t expect to come across activity at night, in the wilderness.  You’re not expecting anything to be happening, out there in the woods, except for the occasional wolf.  Fantasy is about the forgotten, the lost and lonely – ancient dungeons, untravelled wilderness.  And especially at night, when horrors abound, you don’t expect to see people about.  And the glow in the distance is the mark of something active, often something intelligent.

Of course, when those others are a void demigod and an Elder dragon, that’s probably a party you don’t want any part of:

So I’m trying to restrain myself, although I’m not sure why, since in any video game, the general rule is, if you can see it, you’re gonna have to kill it.  Which makes me wonder why Lydia is always screaming “I’ll kill you if I have to!” ’cause, c’mon Liddie Bug, it’s not like there’s some other way this fight is gonna turn out.

I thought I had a pretty good handle on my peculiar obsession, until I moved up here to cow country.  From what I hear, there are more UFOs than people up here, and the only reason we have any cows left is because the aliens won’t go near all the secret military bases.  Now I find myself listening to the police scanner and watching the horizon for that telltale glow.  Which is when Skyrim decided to go meta on me, because I went outside last night and discovered …

… my neighbor has a drone.

Yeah, this is not gonna help the schizophrenia.

  1. Yes, the original New Hope one, back in 1978. I’m old.
  2. The G-Channel was the cable company’s TV channel. Back when cable had those A/B switch boxes. It played a movie on Saturday night. One movie. Usually five years after it was out in the theatre. And that’s what was happening, on Saturday night. Nothing like the G-Channel movie and a big bowl of popcorn drowned in butter, salt, and MSG. Then you’d go play Space Invaders on your Atari 2600 with the wood paneling. Hey, all you kids get off my lawn!
  3. Roswell space alien technology, is what we now think.
  4. Post-apocalyptic suburbia, yes.
  5. Do they even have Amway anymore?  Or is that another of my antiquated 70’s references?

Filler Killer

It’s been four days, so I really oughta get my blog post up, but I seem to have come down with a severe case of the don’t-give-a-sh^ts, and that was before I found out Guiness was on sale at the casino.

So to while away the time while I play Drunk Fallout, some chewy chewy filler from back in the day…

You know what I like about beer?  Beer makes you stupid.  And it seems like the best way to deal with the world, some days, is to add a handicap to my brain.  I mean, I’ve never claimed to be Einstein (for one thing, he’s dead) but I will admit to being a little smarter than the average bear, but to continue the bear metaphor, some day the other bears are just so fucking stupid it makes me want to burn down the forest.  So when I have to devote a portion of my brain to such complex tasks as not falling over, or trying to not drool while I’m talking, it kind of puts me on an even keel with the rest of humanity.
Take shopping.  I hate shopping.  I go into the store, I am like a heat-seeking missile.  I am completely focused on my target, which happens to be cat food and Count Chocula cereal.  I budget, barring trouble locating the Count Chocula, 15 minutes, tops, to complete the mission.  But then you have to deal with the people squatting in the aisles, like tiny pieces of human cholesterol, peering at the cat food labels like they were chimps staring at the monolith in 2001.  And you want to grab them by the shirt and scream “IT’S NOT THE ROSETTA STONE!  IT’S FREAKING CANNED CAT FOOD!  IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT YOU BUY, THEY’RE NOT GONNA EAT IT ANYWAY!  AND EVEN IF THEY DO, THEY’LL PROBABLY BARF IT UP AGAIN LATER!”  But they stand there, peering anxiously at the calorie count on a package of Whiskas Temptations treats, their carts blocking the aisle, and yet somehow the store employees are not allowed to cane them with broomsticks obtained in the housewares department.
Or even worse are the Radio people.  I call them Radio people because that’s the only explanation for why they STOP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE AISLE AND STARE AT NOTHING.  You’re pushing your cart dutifully along from the coffee to the multigrain cereal, trying to grease the wheels of commerce, and the nimbob in front of you just stops.  And stands there, eyes wide, as if they’re trying to remember their locker combination.  They must be receiving transmissions from the homeworld.  That’s the only explanation I can think of … somewhere orbiting Alpha Centauri, is a human-robot factory, and occasionally they beam instructions to Earth: “JUST STOP IN THE AISLE AND STARE AT NOTHING” they say, their antenna quivering with mirth.  “THEN GO STUDY THE CAT FOOD PACKAGES FOR HALF AN HOUR.”
You know what?  Maybe it’s better that I leave town.  I have an axe and a knife.  I will flee civilization and live by my wits in the wild.  I will stalk the wily elk and grapple it into submission before carving great elk steaks that I will roast over a fire made from old growth redwoods I cut myself.  Forget humanity.  I will become like a beast of the forest, with only my intellect to sustain me.
At least until it starts to snow.  Then I’m kind of fvcked.

HPL: Original Hipster

We here at Orange Cat Productions are pleased to announce a new field of lit. crit. theory that we’re calling Experimental Literature.  Not Fight Club kind of experimental, or non-Euclidean poetry kind of experimental (although that would be kind of cool), but the hypothesis-testing kind of experimental.  We may even possibly  bust out some statistical analysis, but not Bayesian statistics, because I’m having a protracted nerd war with a friend over his obsession with socialist postmodern assume-your-conclusion Bayesian foolishness.  (Not that I have any bias there.) Anyway, here’s the theory:  I’m going to make a prediction, and then write a whole bunch of words about what the prediction implies.  If my prediction comes true, then the rest of the words must also be true.  I don’t do this seeking fame and fortune, but for the betterment of all humankind.  Although I wouldn’t complain if a grateful nation rewarded me with, say, a Caribban island.  I’m thinking Curacao.


Here goes: Jon Snow from Game of Thrones will live, because Game of Thrones is really science fiction.

Now, at this point in the traditional essay, I’m supposed to seque into the topic by busting out with Webster’s definition of science fiction, but fVck that.  I don’t know why essay writers do that, except to make word count.  Go look it up if you’re that interested, but if you’re reading my blog, I’m guessing you’ve probably already got a pretty good idea what science fiction is.

Anyway, it’s not the definition that’s important, it’s the tropes and storytelling techniques that come along with it.  You might think SF is robots and aliens, and fantasy is elves and wizards.  Or you might not think that, and I just created a straw man for the point of this essay.  Whatever, invisible person.  I have two words for you: Roger Zelazny.

The genre-bending of the 60’s New Wave showed that what a story was about wasn’t nearly as important as how it was told.  Zelazny’s Creatures of Light and Darkness is a fantasy novel told in a science fictional way, while Lord of Light is a science fictional novel told in a fantasy way.  Similarly, Christopher Stasheff’s Warlock series is high fantasy grounded in a science fiction setting.

And science fiction’s fundamental premise is about exploration and learning.  There’s a big mysterious universe out there, and we’re gonna go check it out.  Science fiction’s catchphrase might be “there is nothing we cannot know” – while in fantasy, there really isn’t anything to figure out; it’s all magic, which almost by definition, is unfathomable.  Fantasy series may play at the “Laws of Magic,” but really, if you could figure out what made magic work, it would become science.

In fantasy, you have “powers” – the magic sword, the birthmark, the gift of magic, whatever.  In SF, you know stuff.

The crucial, crucial difference between these two is that anyone can learn something.  Heroes are made, not born.

And therefore, the hero in a SF story is the guy (or gal, or robot, or sapient cyborg octopus) who knows what’s going on.  Sure, Kirk gets the Orion girl, but Spock, McCoy, and Scotty are treated by the script with the same level of respect.  (Nor was Kirk, despite memetic mutation, a he-man womanizing moron.  He played 3D chess and quoted Shakespeare.  But I digress.)  The person who can figure out, adapt, and make use of the Cool New Thing is not only the hero, but the superhero – the one who wields seemingly magical powers over the environment.  Think Valentine Michael Smith from Stranger in a Strange Land (a fantasy told using SF tropes.)

In Zelazny’s Amber series (the drunken love child of SF and fantasy) for all that the story is told from Corwin’s point of view – gothic, poetic, epic Corwin – he’s actually, um … kind of a chump.  He gets used and manipulated by every person he meets until nearly the end of the series.  The ones who really drive the plot are the wizards – Bleys, Brand, and Fiona.  And that’s because while Corwin was off being all Lord Byron, they learned what Dworkin had to teach them.  Amber is, by one way of looking at it, a 5-volume dissertation on the value of education.

Which brings us to Game of Thrones – Martin was a close friend of Zelazny, and I think the same tropes apply.  Westeros starts out as totally non-magical.  And then … magic!  And while politics and force of arms are still the main sources of power, I think this is going to change as the books go on.  As the power of magic grows and its practitioners become more skilled, magic (and by extension, spooky ice people and dragons and stuff) will become unstoppable.  It’s a SF world, and SF rewards the curious.

The three “early adapters” of magic, or at least POV characters who adapted, were Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, and Caitlin Stark.  None of them are wizards, as such, but Caitlyn became some sort of creepy undead preacher thing, Daenerys has her pets, and Jon Snow …

Jon Snow is the hero of the books because even though he doesn’t actually shoot fireballs, he was one of the first to accept that reality wasn’t what the others thought, and also because he is the most democratic of all the main characters – renouncing his nobility, marrying a wildling, leading by force of character.

I knew there was a reason I wanted to work the democracy angle in earlier, but I forgot ’cause they got a keg of Fall River Brewey’s Kilty Pleasure in at the casino.  Okay, so in SF, if power comes from learning, and not from being born the Seventh Son or being touched by a wizard or whatever, then the unspoken assumption is that anyone can be the hero.  That gives science fiction a fundamentally democratic streak that is the antithesis of most fantasy.

Nobody but Gandalf could be Gandalf.  The same goes for Luke Skywalker, once Lucas introduced those moronic midichlorians.  But while Kirk might be exceptional, he’s still human.  Anyone willing to work hard enough and sacrifice enough has the ability to attain what he did.

And that’s just what Jon Snow represents – not the divine magic of Caitlyn Stark or the luck of the Targaryens, but a willingness to embrace the hidden mystery of the world while treating everyone equally.

Plus, I mean, Caitlyn’s a freakin’ zombie.  No way is she the hero.



Okay, so what the heck does this have to do with our man HPL?  Well, by his own statements, Lovecraft wrote science fiction.  He wrote that what he wanted to do was instill a sense of “cosmic wonder” in his readers, and horror was the best way of doing that.  He peppered his writing with references to mathematical equations: besides the hoary old “non-Euclidean geometries,” you have the differential equations that so bothered Mr. Gilman in “The Dreams in the Witch House;”  you’ve got scientific expeditions to Antarctica; you’ve got, HPL says quite forcefully, aliens, not monsters.

So if we take him at his word, and look at his work from a science fiction perspective, we need to consider the rules of his world – i.e., man is a worthless speck of protoplasm afloat in a sea of infinite darkness surrounded by unfathomable aliens to whom we are less than insects.

Hang on; writing that calls for a drink of beer.

Okay, I’m back.  We need to consider how his world works, and then look at who knows this?  Who are the early adapters, the ones who see the world for what it is?

Those very same subhuman, mongrelized miscegeneated races he hated!  The swarthy-skinned and shifty-eyed immigrants in Red Hook, the Southern blacks in the Louisiana swamps, rhe inbred hillbillies of Dunwich.

For all HPL hated these people they were, by his own rules, the ones who actually knew what was going on!  They were the heroes!  His own stuffy, straight-laced, tea drinking hyper-repressed professors were as ignorant as the savages they disdained!

You could, in that respect, view HPL’s writing as a way of him coming to terms with the fact that Victorian-era morality was a failure, that the future belonged to those teeming masses who drove him mad.  Indeed, as the scion of a fallen family, HPL might have subconsciously realized he had more in common with Wilbur Whately than Professor Armitage.

I don’t think that’s entirely true, but I can’t help but think that there is an element of tension in his writing because of it.  Perhaps that’s what horrified him about the universe – he loved the fading world of Revolutionary New England and its idealized inhabitants, and knowing it was dying, sought to pollute it in his imagination with monsters and hidden, horrible secrets, perhaps as a justification for its failure?

And the terrible irony of it is that what appeals most to us about HPL are the very same icons that represented what he hated – the monsters, the madness, the gibbering mad modern refutation of tradition and decorum in favor of techno-anarchist chaos …

… because, in the end, maybe we were meant to go mad.  Time and again, Lovecraft’s straightjacket version of sanity is shattered by what, we must more or less admit, is the real world.  We have come to the time when everything he feared has come to pass: non-Euclidean geometries?  I teach them to my students.  Hideous gulfs of space?  The Planck lengths of the atom.  Monstrous cities of stone and nightmare?  They cover most of the world.

And certainly, neither I nor any of my friends have any place within Lovecraft’s lily-white pantheon – perennial outsides, whether by choice or accident of birth, our fates must intertwine, inevitably, with the so-called “monsters” – Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep, even Azathoth, who is nothing more than the uncertainty principle given shape.  It is time to realize that, in the end, what Lovecraft foresaw with horror was … the future.  Our future.
The stars are right.  Raise Them Up.





Deadly Tower of Monsters: MST3K, The Video Game

Ugh, you kids these days with your franchises and your spinoffs and your action figure sets!  We didn’t have none of that when I was a kid!  We had to use our imaginations!  Also powerful narcotics!  And we had to walk three miles uphill to play Bard’s Tale!

OK, maybe not.  But coming from the ancient days of 1973 (yes, 1973 AD) you can’t imagine the impact that Star Wars had on toys.  Before that, you had your 50 cent bag of plastic army men from Walgreens, you had a cowboy capgun revolver, you had some dinosaurs … it was all, to be technical, higgledy-piggledy.  You didn’t know what the hell you were playing.  It was awesome!  Free-range unstructured childhood.

And then …


… suddenly there were these things called action figures, and there dozens of them, hundreds!  With an entrenched backstory and collector’s sets and different editions to make sure that no matter how many you had, there as always more money to be spent.  Imagination became structured.  You weren’t “playing” (which, being boys, normally meant setting your toys on fire) you were playing Star Wars.

Of course, I could be wrong.  I was … wait, lemme bust out the abacus … like 5 when Star Wars came out.  Maybe there were GI Joe action figure sets in 1970, and I only see it from this perspective because the release of Star Wars was perfectly timed to when I started building memories.  It is sometimes difficult to distinguish reality from how we perceived it at the time.  For instance, I’m not sure if Skyrim perfectly captured the fantasy imagery of my youth, or if my imagination was shaped by some common frame of reference that Skyrim also tapped into.

I guess that’s true of all art – artists walk the line between being specific enough to resonate with the audience without being so specific they lose the reader.  And I’m not sure, anymore, how much of that is just blind luck.

I’m also willing to bet that whatever insane genius came up with “Deadly Tower of Monsters” didn’t play with the same random toys I did, but he still somehow managed to capture both the insane eclecticism (is that a word?  It is now.) and, more amazingly, the color scheme of my childhood.

I’m pretty sure he didn’t have my toys because most of my toys came from the dump.  Oh, don’t worry, this isn’t some Serana-level sobfest.  My family owned the salvage rights to the municipal landfill, where we repaired and sold what we could, and sold the scrap to the recyclers.  Being 5 years old, all the worthwhile toys went to me.  Trust me, it was better than the matchbox cars at the Woolworth’s.

But it did mean that very often my plastic army men would be assaulting giants dinosaurs on a “jungle is adventure” playset, none of which were designed to be played with together.  There just wasn’t, back then, a shared set of images that kids had the way toys franchises have now.

So it baffles and frightens me how much Deadly Tower seems teleported straight from my 1970’s-era bedroom.  For example, I had one playset that was just a giant plastic 3D hill, with tunnels and earthworks, that I think was supposed to be some form of WWII battlefield set, but ended up being the setting for everything from dinosaur island to Tatooine.

And it was exactly this shade of brown:



Unless it wasn’t, and my memory is just painting it that color now that I’m playing DEadly Tower, or maybe that’s a very common kind of brown, like, I dunno, “dirt” brown or something … but it hit the nostalgia button so hard I went out the next day and bought sum Lincoln Logs.

Deadly Tower of Monsters is presented as a DVD rerelease of a cheesy B-movie, complete with “Director’s Commentary” worth of Mystery Science Theater 3000.  You play Alec Baldwin … I mean, Dick Starspeed

Who is Alec Baldwin

who crash-lands on Planet X (I don’t even know if it has a name, but if it does, I’m willing to bet cash money it’s Planet X) where he must, for reasons that still are not clear, blast the everloving hell out of everything.

Oh, and there’s a Tower.  Also, you have the assistance of the Emperor’s Beautiful Daughter


’cause you gotta have an Emperor’s Beautiful Daughter.  It’s union rules.

I’m playing mostly as Stacy, because it’s a 3rd person shooter (and smasher, and, uh, whipper) and if I have to look at someone that much, I’d rather it was an attractive blonde rather than Alec Baldwin (I use the same philosophy when choosing dentists.)

but basically, Deadly Tower is a hodge-podge of every B-movie trope ever made, all mixed up in a cheesy 70s aesthetic, including plastic palm trees and dinosaurs.

Man, they don’t make movies like that anymore … because in the 80s, crappy exploitation “suspense” movies took over that market niche.  In fact, in my mind, “B-movie” really means “50’s sci fi flick,” which is why I was actually kind of surprised to see Lizard People –


who are definitely “Planet of the Apes” era monsters.  Then I read that the “Director” was supposed to have been a fan of 50’s B-movies and channeled that spirit into a movie made using 70’s imagery and technology.

Which brings up back again to Art … it’s clear the studio did their job here, because playing this is like being a kid again, except of course for the parts with Stacy and the whip.

But to be able to channel a backstory so well I can work it out just from the color scheme and artwork …


Also, the game is pretty fun.  I should mention that, before I go completely off the rails here.  If it weren’t for the fact that I’ve been sick for 2 days and doing nothing but playing Skyrim, I’d tank this post and try again tomorrow, but I’m sure the new day will only bring further beer-related diversions, and I really want to get back to Skyrim, so … here’s a picture of Kong, because of course, this flick is gonna have Kong


and while I was gonna go into how some of the traps and puzzles of the game also evoke 70’s era playset nostalgia, I’m just gonna drop this here video instead:

and close with mentioning that while the game did evoke some heavily awesome associations for me, it also managed to be cinematic in a way I don’t get with Skyrim or Fallout. There’s a point where Stacy has to run up some stairs while Kong is pulling them down behind her, and I felt like I was simultaneously watching a movie that I was also in, and it was frackin’ awesome.

So in conclusion, as I go play Dragonborn before dropping into blessed unconsciousness, go play dis game.


Fallout 4: The Great Atomic Power

So I’ve been playing Fallout 4 for … hang on, lemme check … 48 hours, and I’ve already encountered three mad scientists1 –  which makes me think that’s just the tip of the mad science iceberg.


It’s good to see Fallout 4 is really kicking up the weirdness, with both the mad science and the horror – between Dunwich, Pickman’s Gallery, and whatever awful thing is waiting for me at the Salem Museum of Withcraft, this is starting to look like some abominable hybrid of HP Lovecraft and Ed Wood, which, come to think, pretty much encapsulates all that is good in life.

After all, life in the Wasteland is hard enough:

You know there’s a tiny skeleton clutching a teddy bear behind that wall.  You can’t see it, but you just know it’s there.

mad science is the only way …

… hang on, epiphany time.  I shall now proceed to speak cathedra ex gluteus, or, as they say, talk out my a – nyway,

I submit to the committee that true Mad Science – goggles, Alton Brown hair, crazed German accents – didn’t become a thing until after WWII.

I could look it up, I suppose, but between being called in to work this morning and the fact that it’s like -10 outside and I just want to hibernate until the thaw, I have been struggling to get this blog written all damn day, so I’m just gonna go with it.

It’s no coincidence, although I spent an hour today and couldn’t find the link, that UFO sightings correlate almost 1-to-1 with secret military bases, and that UFO sightings didn’t really become a phenomenon until after the Trinity Atomic Bomb test.

I think UFOs are a sublimation of our real fears, and a symbolism of that fear – after 1945, we had cause to fear things in the sky.

(Also, of course, most UFOs are just secret test aircraft, Venus, swamp gas – yada yada.  But secret aircraft themselves are a manifestation of the Cold War, so the thesis still stands.)

The use of nuclear weapons was a watershed moment in human psychology.  Not only did we now have the power to destroy the planet, but that power was vested in a small group of select individuals: soldiers and scientists.  Anyone with a little training can grasp at least the rudimentary aspects of a gun, or even a bomb, and every guy thinks he could secretly be Chuck Norris if he really had to – gods know I’ve seen enough of them on Friday nights at the casino.

But nuclear physics is another story.  Nothing about nuclear weapons2 can be intuitively understood, and even nuclear physicists will cheerfully admit it doesn’t make sense to them half the time.

When we look at images of the 1950s with our modern eyes, we see the innocence of a childhood too young to understand what’s happening.  I wonder how much of that is reality, and how much is our perception?  Or, to put it another way, how much were they truly ignorant of what was happening in their world?  This was a generation that went from WWII to Korea to Vietnam, from victory to defeat, all the while living with doomsday hovering over their collective heads.  No wonder Levittown rose from that era – it was a generation-wide case of shell shock.

And like Cthulhu plushies or Santa Claus3, we deal with fear by making it funny. Humor is the best weapon we have against the ultimate indignity of death. Also, it’s easier to demonize this guy:

Ve hav vays of makink you tock.

than it is to realize that the people who gave us the bomb were people, with wives and children clutching teddy bears, and that they weighed the cost of their war and found the price worth paying.  Because if they could do it – the best of us – what does that mean about ourselves?


Some links of interest:

The National Atomic Testing Museum – I suppose there are other things to do in Las Vegas, but why?  Be sure to check out their Area 51 exhibit.

The Los Alamos Historical Society – the ranch house where the first nuclear scientists were housed at the beginning of the Manhattan Project.

Roswell, NM – just because.  And also it’s a really, really nice town, and everyone should visit.

Bert the Civil Defense Turtle – historical irony at its campy best.


  1. Well, two mad scientists and one homicidal doctor, but a maniac with a scalpel and an Alton Brown haircut is mad science enough for me
  2. I am trying hard to not say “atom bomb” because ALL bombs are made out of atoms, and they all rearrange atoms. A fission, fusion, or multi-stage nuclear weapons alters the atoms themselves.
  3. That’s another blog post.