Friday, January 27, 2012

Pearly Whites

As I understand, having dreams about one's teeth falling out is a pretty common occurrence. Usually, the dreamer's teeth rot and detach in large handfuls, leaving the dreamer distressed as they think their dental faux pas is actually happening. The most common explanation for this kind of dream is that it's a manifestation of social anxiety and lack of confidence, as much of our personal appearance is tied to our smile. Naturally, this isn't good enough. My brain and I have agreed that if we're going to have such a common, lowbrow dream we're going to do it in style...

Last night's dream started innocuous enough, I was sitting on some couch talking to someone-or-another, it might have been Henry Kissinger. I remember it was dark and gloomy wherever we were, like we were in a haunted house of some kind. Suddenly I go upstairs and go to bed. As I pull the covers over me I feel a strange sensation in my teeth, like something is pulling on them. I open my mouth as a sickening crack echoes and my tooth violently tears itself out of my mouth. I could see the gaping hole in my gum as the tooth crumbled to ash on top of the bed.

Suddenly, I feel one of my molars ripping itself in half inside my mouth, accompanied by the same loud cracking, like a mountain being torn apart. One by one my teeth painfully explode. Enamel shrapnel flies around the room and ricochets off the walls as my mouth fills with blood. Eventually, I'm completely without teeth, only a painful throbbing were they uprooted.

Against all odds, I manage to fall asleep and start dreaming. I find myself in an abandoned elementary school in the middle of a forest. I start to explore and soon find more people, aimlessly wandering in the ruins. I scan the landscape for anything useful. All I find are the dazed, purposeless people. They walk around the buildings without any agency of their own, quietly gibbering in their nonsense language.

A bicycle materializes and I ride it up one of the mountains surrounding the school. The woods are thick and the forest floor is covered in soft moss and early morning dew. I climb higher, the peak is impossibly tall and an almost completely vertical ascent. Near the top is a little town where the forest ends and the icy peak begins. Unlike real resort towns, there are no quaint cabins here, only brutally modern coffee shops, post-modern expressions in glass and steel. Fey looking hipsters skip in and out of the largest one as I feel my blood boil. In my rage, I steal a car and drive off the cliff.

When I wake up, I'm delighted to find that my teeth haven't exploded. At least I assume I've woke up.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Magic Missiles! Magic Missiles! MAGIC MISSILES!

Every so often, Ramzca asks me to design something for projects of his. Whether it's extradimensional cities, psychedelic octopi or children's card games, I'm the one tasked with giving it a back story, a design, a voice. Most recently, I've been asked to help in the world-building process for a tabletop role-playing game/get-rich-quick scheme. As you remember, a while ago I tried to make one myself. That's still being developed of course but he thought that it would be better if we joined forces for the time being.

So, for better of for worse, here I am, drawing a map for the fictional city of Adelphon. An ancient self-contained world of art deco street cafes, cobblestone streets and the all-mighty telepaths that rule it with impunity.

As I understand the setting now, there's no magic in the traditional sense, but many citizens of Adelphon are telepaths that can move objects with their mind and summon fireballs. Think Bioshock mixed with Scanners. At least that's how it is now, these sort of things are subject to change.

The whole setting has a strong relation to old film-noir detective fiction, something I tried to emulate in a little vignette I wrote so both Ramzca and I understand each other's idea of what the setting should be. So, it is with slight hesitation that I present...

Dirk Travis: Telepathic P.I.

Quarter to midnight; Harry's Place, a rundown joint on the edge of the river. Home to all sorts of scum balls and lowlifes; dealers in forbidden lore, practicers of black magic, the works. This was their lunch hour, when they would come out at night, when the cops were asleep. This was their witching hour when it was safe to walk the streets and trade in their unspeakable knowledge. In every alley you could find a coat trying to sell books detailing the finer aspects of telekinetic duelling, all on the black list of course. On the river walk were burnt out wise men, in a haze of fragrant incense, lost in their own secrets.

And here I was, sitting in this street cafe, downing shots of the strong stuff. Something smelled, not unusual for Harry's Place. But this smell was kinda nice, maybe amberwood, blue thistle with a lot of curves. That's when she walked in. My newest client: a dark looking broad with a perpetually arched eyebrow, hiding behind an expensive looking fox boa. Obviously someone who wasn't accustomed to the night shift. Her black satin overcoat barely fluttered as she strode over to my spot on the bar.

"What am I paying you for Mr. Travis?" I heard her say.

It was answer I knew fairly well. But as far as I was concerned her boyfriend was already dead, taken. He disappeared almost two days ago and that meant only one thing: He was taken by the Black Guard. Who they were was a mystery, but not what they intended. They took known practitioners of the forbidden arts away under the cover of darkness. "Disappearances" like these were common in my line of work. All my colleagues knew about the Guard but it was never something to mention in polite company. Certainly not something you'd mention to a pretty young thing who didn't know what her prince charming was getting his nose into.

"I told you, I'll find what I find." I said. "But I ain't gonna lie: this investigation isn't looking pretty."

"I'd prefer if you didn't talk down to me Mr. Travis. I can handle the truth."

That's what they all say. But in my line of work you start to give up on the truth. Getting by is enough for most suits after they turn over enough rocks. I didn't have the heart to tell her Chesterton probably skipped town, or worse, was lying in a gutter somewhere.

After a brief chat we went separate ways; a cushy penthouse for her, the beat for me. The night was still young and Adelphon puts on a new face for anyone who stays up for it. The lights on the trees and cafes come to life and so do the streets. I decided to make my way to the Borges Plaza. There might not be a lead there, but there's plenty to see. Every gazebo is home to a fortune teller and snake charmer of some persuasion and you were bound to lose your dough if you didn't keep an eye on it. I had informants here, plenty of them street kids who gave the Guard the slip and made a living conning young university hotshots out of their wallets and whatever fried-thing-on-a-stick they happened to have in their hands.

Clouds of perfumed smoke wafted through the air here and everything smelled of burning herbs. Vendors tried to entice passersby with useless trinkets. Even someone as hard boiled as myself could sense the intense telekinesis at work here. Plenty of powerful brains hiding out here, not one doing a good job of it.

That's when it happened. From out of the crowd came two of the Versettie boys, trying to settle a personal vendetta after I made off with the Don's prized melon-sized ruby. The one on the left was holding a ball of fire in his hand, obviously concentrating to keep the thing from blowing up in his hand. The other was packing a different kind of heat, a .44. They meant business, but so did I. I snatched a hot dog out of some chump's hand and threw it at the telepathic one. The weenie beaned him right on the face. Loosing concentration, his arm went up like a cheap New Year's firecracker. Sparks flew and lit the nearby tents on fire. In the confusion, the other thug fired, missing me by a mile. I ran up and tackled him as his friend rolled on the floor, yelping like a hyena.

I didn't make a habit of telling people, but I once learned how to create weak psychokinetic fields on an old case. It involved large bats and a weird cult, again, I didn't tell people about that. But there I was, imagining a an orb of telepathic energy forming in my hands as the thug scrambled for his gun. I concentrated, feeling the energy working from my brain down to my fingertips, like the buzzing of a weak electric shock. I never got used to seeing the sphere emerging from the space in my hands. Pushing outward on my palms as I worked it into smaller space. It didn't look like much, like the waves of heat on a road on a hot summer's day. But I could feel it, a ball of own self, a part of my mind forced outward and given physical shape. With all my might I swung it like a bowling ball, in an instant it beaned him in the head, crushing it. I felt drained, dazed. Like I just stood up after sitting for hours. The other one ran off in the panic. Off to tell the Don of his shame.

I went back to the cobblestone streets of Adelphon. This case had reached a dead end. If he was lucky, so had Chesterton. But that's just how it goes.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Blob Versus A Shoggoth

Yesterday I was watching The Blob on TV and I got to thinking; who would win in a fight? The Blob or a Shoggoth?

On the surface it seems like a pretty even fight. Both are seemingly indestructible, indescribable space-amoebae that few earthly weapons can resist. But what if the two were pitted against each other? Let's take a look at the competitors...

The Blob:

Arriving on Earth in a meteor, the Blob introduces itself by breaking open it's meteoric vessel and painfully attaching itself to an old farmer's hand, inevitably absorbing him. The Blob then goes on a nigh-unstoppable rampage (mostly off-screen), absorbing more and more people until it's large enough to menace a whole movie theater. It's reign of terror comes to a tragic end when it's puny Human enemies discover it's aversion to cold. Gathering all the fire extinguishers they can, they freeze the Blob long enough for the military to banish it to Alaska, where it remains frozen until the sequel.

Besides it's ability to absorb people and grow, the Blob has no outstanding powers. It's offensive capabilities are limited and it doesn't seem particularly intelligent. The Blob is little more then a wild animal in this regard, an exceptionally gelatinous wild animal.

The Shoggoth:

I've mentioned Shoggoths here before, the unspeakable primordial horrors in At The Mountains of Madness by one Mr. Lovecraft. Created by the Elder Things for manual labor, the Shoggoths are mindless protoplasmic blobs of bubbling black goo that can form body parts at whim (just like the Thing, we'll get to that later). From their sticky acidic surface forms hundreds of eyes and tentacles. The whole creature is so obscene and blasphemous that mere Humans go insane just looking at it.

Truly such a cosmic horror is more then a match for a mess of silicone and food coloring...or is it?

Like the Blob, Shoggoths have little intelligence. In At the Mountains of Madness, they endlessly parrot an ancient set of instructions, or possibly an incantation, tekeli-li. Likely left by the Elder Things. But the Shoggoths have no agency of their own, they're completely mindless, much like the Blob. Plus, their ability to form spikey-bladed arms or crushing tentacles means little to the Blob's superior surface tension.

Either way, splitting the Blob in half or smashing it would only make the Shoggoth's job harder, since it would have two or more smaller Blobs to deal with, rendering the Shoggoth's many tentacles, suction cups and other aquatic implements useless. Likewise, the Blob has no way of harming the Shoggoth. The more I think about it, the more it seems like this fight wouldn't really be a fight, more like two gelatinous masses harmlessly trying to engulf each other...or so it would seem.

If they were fighting on the Shoggoth's home turf of the Elder Thing's windowless basalt cities in Antarctica, it would have the obvious home field advantage. The Blob's infamous aversion to cold would doom it as it would quickly freeze in that harsh wilderness. All the Shoggoth would have to do it sit around and wait for it to turn into a giant blob-sicle and declare itself victor.

However, if the fight took place in, say, Valley Forge Pennsylvania, the outcome might be very different. Because the Shoggoth's ability to absorb other lifeforms is never a focus of the stories they appeared in, we can assume that it wouldn't have an spectacular advantage over the Blob in the assimilation department. Plus, the Blob's only stated weakness is cold. It might be able to overcome the Shoggoth's acidic goo and engulf it's enemy in spite of it.

Also, explosions would only help spread the Blob. If someone were to blow it up they would only succeed in blasting thousands and thousands of tiny bloblettes over a huge area, giving them ample opportunity to spread general chaos and terror. This is very different from the Shoggoth. If we take the video game Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth as canon then the Shoggoth actually has a weakness to explosions and can be killed by them outright. I'm not saying our two combatants would have access to explosives, but the point still stands that the Blob is the more physically durable of the two jellies.

In the end, I'm going to have to say that the two are pretty evenly matched. Both are depicted as extremely durable, and while the Blob might win out slightly in that category, the Shoggoth gets bonus points for having no obvious weaknesses and for being the more obviously horrifying of the two. Of course, anything can be scary when it's compared to a ball of bright red silicone. Still, I can't shake the feeling that the Blob would win out in the end. Through sheer tenacity it would manage to absorb the Shoggoth until nothing was left but an oily black stain on the ground. I know this to be true because the Blob has the superior theme song.

Alright, so the Blob won, and receives the entire town of Valley Forge as a prize. But what if it had to fight off the Shoggoth's even more malevolent doppelganger, The Thing?

Well then it would be in serious trouble. The Thing has a malicious intellect the Blob can't hope to match. However, like the Blob, it has serious trouble getting used to colder temperatures, but I don't think that would be a problem because the Thing would have access to sweaters during the fight.

Also, it's never explained exactly what the Blob is made of. If it's not made of cells as we know them the Thing might have trouble assimilating it, but not vice versa. In fact, the Thing might be in the same boat as Steve McQueen from the Blob's debut movie. But then again, it's funny to think of a mass of mismatched alien limbs scrambling to scrounge up fire extinguishers.

The way I see it, it all works like this: the fight between the Shoggoth and the Blob is a brutal fight to the death, with the Blob just barely winning out against it's eldritch nemesis. But in round two, the Thing easily outsmarts the Blob and freezes it, claiming all of North America as it's smorgasbord of biomass to assimilate. Meanwhile, Da Huuuuuuuuuudge would probably be stealing Strong Bad's fondue pot again.

Feel free to continue the debate in the comments. Or not.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Sting of the Manticore

So it's been about a week now, I have new projects to keep me occupied in the absence of maps. For example, a secret writing project I've referred to only as The Mars Thing. I give it this bland name because I'm very superstitious about naming my literary works. Whenever I think of a cool sounding name for something I'm working on it almost never gets finished. I attribute this to a gypsy curse and I blame it for why my previous magnum opus Dr. Donovan Slate: Man of Steel or The Claws of Doom: The Illustrated History of the Killbots haven't been picked up by a publisher yet.

Either way, the Mars thing will be a great, with lots of hard science fact and outrageous predictions of fashion trends in the late 21st Century. I'm telling you people, beehive hairdos are making a comeback in 2084, just you wait and see!

Thankfully my life hasn't been completely consumed by my quest to be the next Kilgore Trout, not yet at least. I've also been hard at work making my own homebrew tabletop RPG system. If all goes well, it will be both elegantly simple enough to fit all the rules onto a notecard and versatile enough to run any campaign in any setting (including My Little Pony). Plus, every dice roll will be made with the common d6, as in the dice used in Monopoly or in the alley behind the liquor store.

Progress has been slow so far, mainly because I've never played a tabletop game myself and have no idea how they're supposed to work. So far, I've only managed to get a small test campaign with my sister running. The plot, such as it is, is that she needs to deliver a TPS report to her boss who happens to be an evil wizard. Results aren't looking so good, we haven't even bothered to follow the rules I've worked on and both times she's died when she's confronted the aforementioned wizard. But you can't stop progress and by Jove, I'll make millions off this idea yet!

Speaking of which, I've been antiquing again. As I've already told Idontknow, I've struck figurative gold. One of the local antique stores has a venerable gold mine of god awful album covers, several of which have already appeared here. It really must be seen to be believed, there's no way to describe seeing the likes of Yes, Focus and even Thomas Dolby in one place. With the possible exception of "hideous". But all that's dwarfed in comparison to the crowning achievement of the trip, I've found a copy of the Tarkus album by none other then Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

Look at that, imagine that sitting on my desk right now. Because that is exactly what it is doing. It's glorious (if a bit water damaged) and comes complete with the inner sleeve depicting Tarkus doing battle with several other baffling cybernetic animals. Sure, I don't have a record player and therefore can't listen to it. But hey, it's not like I could already listen to the whole song on Youtube already...

...except that I could. I still don't regret my purchase.

As far as I'm concerned Tarkus is now the official mascot of my blog, seeing as how he's referenced to almost as much as the Daleks.

For more predictions of fashion to come in the world of tomorrow, be sure to check out Tales From Future Past.