Once upon a time, our fairy king in a rage betook a wife and she served him in goodness and kindness and with a child in time. It crawled forth from the red gate of her body and drew out her life with it as well. And the king laughed and howled and wept and carried on as he is wont to do and as the world permits, and silver beads of sweat stood out on the black curls of his dead’s wife hair. Her eyes as wide as the high-noon summer’s sky outside and her mouth agape with still and unexpected terror, from her frozen stare, they said, the summer ceased and snow began to fall on everything, and never stopped.

From the room then the king drove all his attendants—the midwives and nurses, the courtiers and his snake-mouthed scribe, summoned solely to record the blessed event.

But keyholes being made to fit a servant’s ear, those who crouched outside to eavesdrop in heard not only the wailing of grief in death’s embrace and a newborn’s how but also a bestial grunting that ended with a long groan.

Or so that asp, the scribe, scribbled it, since nothing could please him more than to spit venom in the eye that feeds him.

History knows the rest. The king’s grief covered his head like a velvet sack, and he set out to revisit on every mortal thing that breathed a long shadow of his own grief. In the body of Plague, he spread through the land until the wailing of the love-stricken as they stood by heaps of wide-eyed dead pealed at every corner of the globe, at the peaks of the tallest mountains and in the fathoms of the deepest seas—even the blind fish there turned the lantern-stalks of their false eyes toward the howling.

You must count my kith and kin amongst those dead. And if I lived, that is solely because for grief to leave its deepest wound, someone must remain behind to stand by at the grave-heaps.

But I was young, of course, as you know. So if plague’s dagger cut deep into my gut, I yet had time to grow it over. In truth, I did not grasp the scope of the destruction. Had more from my home survived the rigours of the plague to stand there and tell me, “Nothing worse than this could ever pass,” I might then have grasped it better. I did with my own eyes watch grown-up men and womenfolk alike, ripping off their cyst-speckled flesh as if to escape. It frightened me, of course, but how was I to know that I would never, once grown myself, have to perform this strange rite of passage?

But then I found myself swept up, transported with some other precious few I’d never seen before, to the aerial palace of the king.

I’ve never told you this—because no story needed it at the time—but mortal-born as I am (or so I’m told) I’ve always had second sight, of course: still ponds, pools of ink, or even tear-glassed eyes, but above all mirrors, will disclose the truth to me. But secretly—or superstitiously, more like, which is why I never told you—I harboured the thought, “Perhaps that’s why he spared me?” In truth, he never betrayed if he knew of my gift, never used or abused it. Maybe I’m only spinning out a fair lie to explain my fate. In any case, my memories of then have dimmed.

One wise old crone who years now has passed once said, “That’s what happens when you die.” But if all this world of spirits and light is mortal Death for me, what difference does it make? I’m here, and so are you. Your hands are warm and the fairy king is real enough for anyone. It’s enough in the end to say: he plucked me out and had me brought here. To serve him in goodness and kindness though I can bear him no child.

By the time I came, his grief had run. I saw him, as I first entered the court, slumped upon his scarlet throne, panting and pale, with his hand looped through the dark curls of his hair and his eyes hardly looking out at the court. I remember the height of the court’s walls then, their shining gold and silver that reached up into the darkness of the sky. And the snow that fell turned to mist before it reached us.

But I was not presented to the king there, but only later came into a chamber I’d been lavishly accoutred with. You may guess what I expected next, but instead he took me out into the snowy woods, across an old rope bridge that led to the far-wilds, and laid me on a copse of grass. The expected happen then, with on additional detail: the scribe was there to watch us, summoned solely to record the blessed event.

When I glanced back, I could see his green eye and ear cocked, could hear the slap of his hand beneath his robe and did not fault him—I am of course the fairest in the land, as you have verified yourself—but turned my haunches that he might better huff and puff and seize me with his fancy.

The king by then had taken out his rod to flog my unclothed flesh—he hadn’t brought himself as yet to use his sex on me—but as I heard him groaning still and pleased, I said, “Sire, if you’d disrobe as well, we both might find more pleasure.” He paused click, but that night only kept up with the corded leather strips that tasselled the end of his rod. He didn’t strike me hard—not then; it’d take some weeks before I could prevail upon his strength—but still he quickly lost his wind, and began to pant again.

Well do we know that some efforts take more from the spirit than the flesh. Even on that first of nights in the far-wilds, I could sense the crumbled ruins within the king’s heart. I knew nothing of his former wife except what I saw traced and distorted in the lines of the veins of his flexing arm as emotion so gripped his chest that he doubled over, panting, gasping, begging, “Air … air … air.”

And that—but listen closely now—that one fateful word is the whole and entire root of the scribe’s most stupid lie. There’s none deny—at least I won’t—that the offspring who’d robbed the king of his queen’s life had drained also what life remained in him too. Daily to look upon that child and see his dead wife’s eyes and face: how much can one ask of a father? Unjust or not, should hate spring from that poisoned ground in place of his love, must we really act surprised? Like a carnival balloon with its fires gone out, the king could only sink and sink and sink, his silks more wrinkled and slumped as he fell, until his sorry husk spread out across the all-accepting earth and moved no more. I don’t deny it.

But all the same, to hate your child does not ensure you’ll act with overt malice toward it. No doubt, even the stupidest of pups must eventually grasp that Papa has no love for you—and perhaps for some, a very lack of actual violence might do more harm than overt rape or beating—but nothing swaps these sordid insinuations by the scribe for the fact: never did the king touch his heir, not even in a fatherly embrace. So much so that he forbade even the servants and beasts to touch the heir and taught them to shun his child like the plague.

Some court gossips, with patronising sympathy, will say I say this because I’m nothing but a cuckold and deceived—for in certain kinds of families, they say, how often is one cheated as the other raids the children’s beds at night? But you well know my vanity is not the type to imagine that the king’s exclusive preference for the knout with me, and not his sex, must mean he’d never treat (or function for) some lucky other. But there’s no need to speculate. Gossip as people however will, still never—not in my mirror or a pool of ink, not in the snow-strewn oil of a night pond or the waveless stillness of the king’s eyes themselves—was there ever the least sign that the king touched his heir.

And if that snake-tongued scribe makes it out otherwise, that’s his fantasy, not fact.

No matter. Common-sense alone should mock such nonsense out of hand—which the king’s impotence confirms in any case—but here’s the further truth then: never did I plot to kill the heir for my jealousy or vanity and much less for sucking the life out of the king through his member or soul.

But truly! How easy it always seems to be to blame me or to come up with some still more far-fetched nonsense about the heir. The simple, brutal truth is, and has always been: the king commissioned his heir’s murder.

That’s not surprise or disbelief I see, is it, my sweet? You know I wouldn’t lie, but is it really quite so hard to take? Startling perhaps, I’ll grant you, but hard?

No.

Stop.

No. I only brought this up because in you alone … I trusted you to believe me! No, don’t. … It’s too late to protest.

No, I’ve made a terrible mistake. Forget I said—

This is not manipulation. You know the lies they tell of me. I not only have to live with them but deal their consequences to my reputation abroad. It’s not …

Stop.

Stop being sweet to mollify me.

Stop.

Let go. Don’t … don’t … Well, then, why was it really so hard to believe that the king …

What, truly? Startled?

Not doubt?

You suave rogue. If you’re slyly lying, then … then I’ll permit you to trick me, beast.

No, fine. I’ll go on. But it really should be easy for you. Forever eternally always more given to action than self-reflection, even the king eventually sensed the effect that the heir was having on him and chose to call it a curse. So, surely you can see then: having murdered nations of innocents with plague for no reason but the death of the woman he’d burdened with his own seed, why wouldn’t the king—once he felt the “curse” of his heir—not have murdered him as well?

That decision irreversibly reached, he chose a date eight days from then, one day before the heir’s birth-day of all things. All of this, of course, I oversaw in my mirrors and glass, as well as his commanding his most ancient and loyal huntsman to transport the heir to the far-wilds to do the thing.

“I will bring back as proof his heart,” the huntsman said.

“No, your word is enough,” answered the king. “Lest you bring me a pig’s, or a hart’s, or some otherkin’s to deceive me.”

The huntsman took no offense at that, but said, “Still, I would cut out the heart.”

“What you do with my heir in the far-wilds is not my concern,” said the king. “So long as it’s done.”

So that’s plain enough. And as for that quaint fib people love to repeat about heartless killers: that this huntsman—one who had for centuries slaughtered endless mortals and immortals alike in the name of the king—turned suddenly into an innocent ray of sunshine in the far-wilds and let the heir go out of sympathy? I promise you: any angelic bone in the body of that man came from having devoured one earlier. The heir did not escape because of him.

Having seen the king’s scheme in my mirror, with only vague notions of rescue in mind, I risked the king’s direct wrath and sought him out in his chambers. Wriggling into his good graces and knots, in vain I then plied him to let out some hint about the scheme, that I might propose an alternative to it. At my rope’s end finally, I dared to remark idly (lying) how I’d of late read in a book about the loyalty of poison—which steadfastly kills also any creature so brash as to devour a part of one’s victim—and that the humiliation of a corpse is that much more complete when left whole. There was hardly any logic to my words, but perhaps our proximity to climax lent some effective rhetoric to my ramble. In any case, I immediately could see in the pools of the king’s eyes that my suggestion had hit home, so much that I had next to remind him to untie my wrists and ankles before dashing from the room with a fire in his gait I hardly saw anymore. He had to tell his huntsman: change of plans.

From that, the rest was only delicate and tricky, and I felt continuously the crush of those only eight days to save the heir.

I first went to the huntsman. By habit a greater enthusiast of bloodbaths, he preferred the gore and intimate moments of hacking to any dullness and quiet of poison. And though the king had already commanded him, “I’ve changed my mind, don’t touch the heir,” I could see in his eyes—but even you could have seen in his eyes—he planned to disobey. How, after all, would the king ever know? And when, in fact, had the king ever demanded he deny himself his pleasures? If one more time he hacked off the limbs and head before using the heart to gratify himself, what reason could there be this time to change routine? In this way, the huntsman deceived himself he had a tacit, unvoiced permission from the king.

“You must enjoy the odour of your workshop,” I said as I entered, unable not to remark upon the stench of carcases and viscera of beasts and people slumped in heaps around the stone room. He wiped off offal from his hands on a once-white apron and stared down his bulbous nose at me, annoyed by the interruption. I knew of his appetites, and so knew also that they didn’t run to the likes of me.

“What are you here for?”

“I confess,” I said, tracing a finger with a shudder over the rows of used hearts on a cedar plank, “I have an interest in your work.” Looking up, I fathomed his pale blue eyes for disbelief. Seeing little enough, I added, “I’d like to study under you.”

“Still too young,” he grunted.

“Oh, yes,” I agreed hastily, “but the king hints that I have the heart for it, and I have found one does best to do the king’s desires exactly.”

He said nothing.

It was the vanity of his sense of duty, not his conscience, I’d appealed to. Preoccupied by the rigours of his work, I could still see in the blue glass of his eyes that I’d made my point.

“We can begin after the heir’s birth-day,” he affirmed, touching his hand to a pig’s heart on spit. “For now, go. I have urgent work to do.”

I went then to the dead wing of the palace to wait for the alchemist’s return. A fine young witch, forever up to her eyeballs in personal research or out in the forest grabbing ingredients, I found her spice-tinged workshop empty as expected. On glass shelves were rows of hand-marked phials and flasks of powdered hide and hair I knew nothing about, but the room itself was familiar: I’d overseen it when the king, in person, commissioned poison from her.

“Something that’ll do a foe in,” he said.

“There’re many slow and subtle,” she drawled, without taking her nose from a book. “What kind—”

“No, one that’ll drop him like an ox, in front of everyone,” the king said. “At a feast,” he improvised.

“In food?” she asked. “Then skin-poisoned apples will serve you best.”

“How you make it is not my concern,” said the king. “So long as it’s done.”

“Go away, then,” she barked and shooed him off like a flittering pest gotten on the rim of her tea’s cup and put her nose back in her book.

Longer I waited, and more. But at last she bustled in, carrying baskets of mushrooms and greenery from the forest. “Out of the way, out of the way,” she yipped, setting her haul gently on the floor and sticking her hooked nose directly back into her book, forgetting I’d ever existed.

I waited more, twice or three times cleared my throat, offered to help her sort her baskets’ haul, which she didn’t even seem to hear, then dared to touch the handle of one, at which she finally sprung up, “Ack!” and squawked and beat her wings while berating me in no language anyone speaks. I apologised but assured her I’d only come because she alone could help me.

“Too bad,” she hissed, sweeping up both baskets protectively in her arms.

“It will only take a moment,” I insisted, but she wouldn’t hear me out and put her nose back into her book, slowly turning the pages and scrunching her monocle back against one eye. I went on rambling anyway—concocting an improvised lie about desiring to write a ballad with a poisoning that required her expert advice. And though she made a show of being undistracted, she betrayed her interest in the shut ups and quiets she spat back over her shoulder at me from time to time. At last, however, she finally swivelled on her stool and glared through her monocle at me.

“Here’s the problem with you scribblers,” she hissed, her eye falling from its socket on its nerve with the monocle before. “You all have the most idiotic ideas about alchemy.” Furiously, she resocketed her eye and screwed the monocle back into place, and for more than a minute went on breathlessly in a tirade against all bards who’d complicate the simple nature and effects of spirit-poisons with innumerable stupid fictions. “All you need to know, if you want your facts straight in your fiction,” she yakked, “is don’t drop spirit-poisoned things into water. Running water,” she corrected, unbending an index finger to make the point.

“Running water? Like a river?”

“It dilutes the poison. Death instant gets protracted out to weeks or longer. While slower deaths will take up to centuries then. Very inconvenient if you want to drop a fellow like an ox.” I could see in the eyes of her remark she was thinking on the king’s commission then. “Just once, I’d like to see one of you hacks get the facts straight!”

“Well, that’s why I came.”

“Too bad. Go away. I have apple-skins to paint.”

“So, would a lot of running water neutralise the poison completely?”

“What would be the point of that?” she groused, her wings hunched over as she stared into her book again. “Not much of a poison then.”

“So there’s an antidote?”

“A spirit-poison that kills you instantly,” she asked, lifting her monocle to turn and glare at me. “And you want to know if there’s an antidote?”

“No, I mean for one that’s been diluted. If it puts you to sleep for endless centuries—?”

“There’d still be no such th—” she said, even as her hand of its own accord rose to pull along her chin. “Now there’s an interesting thought,” she said to herself. “Could you even make such an antidote?”

I slipped from the witch’s room then before she could drive me away in another fury of wing-beats, but by then I sketched the haziest of plans. I’d only have to fray the ties of the far-wild’s old rope bridge before the huntsman crossed, and down he would go, poisoned apples and all, into the running river below. And then the heir, poisoned unbeknownst to the king and huntsman alike only into a death-like sleep, would soon enough (I hoped) have the antidote from the witch that I’d bring to him, and then … and then something. I‘d work it out, but meanwhile he’d be safe. And I, meanwhile, relaxing, had simply to wait a few more impatient days.

The king came to me those days, and the heat of my own secret plot met the passion and fervour of his. It’d been years since he’d ever shown such passion.

Or hope.

When alone, I hourly watched the huntsmen and the alchemist at their works, fascinated, and finally feeling a thrill of things coming together as they finally met, the witch handing the huntsman three handsome gleaming red apples in a silver bowl.

“Don’t touch them without gloves,” she warned.

“They’re that deadly?”

“The deadliest,” she answered.

“Prove it,” he said calmly. “Eat one.”

“But it would kill me.”

“You’d better hope so.”

Carrying her corpse first back to his workshop, he set out soon after with the heir, who had no inkling of his fate, of course: lied to that some birth-day gift awaited him in the far-wilds. (A horse, they hinted.)

I followed far behind, knowing the talents and nose of the huntsman, but had already gone ahead to cut halfway through the bridge’s frozen stays. And when I saw the huntsman and heir more than halfway across, I cut through the rest of the ropes.

It occurred to me as they fell that either might look up to see me, or that the heir might drown below. It occurred to me I was lucky the huntsman hadn’t poisoned the heir before crossing, and that I had now no way to cross.

Deftly, the huntsman looped his arm in the bridge ropes to catch his fall, but the heir had no such presence of mind and tumbled down into the froth—rolling his eyes, the huntsman let himself go a moment after.

Swiftly, they washed down-stream. I lost sight of them, and crept the opposite way up-shore to find a place to ford, uncertain how I could follow or find the huntsman and heir now, if at all. Wet and cold in the sunlight and snowfall, I climbed up out of the river onto its opposite shore and followed it back to the broken dangle of the rope bridge again. It occurred to me then that the king may have already found me missing from my rooms, and that even if I returned now, it was already too late.

From the top of the broken bridge, I followed a footpath into the far-wilds themselves. Green light suffused the air as beams of white-gold pierced the leaves and snowfall. And in one molten pool of light I found the heir half-covered with snow on a copse of grass, as still as death, not breathing, intact. I let out a sigh of relief.

And then I heard a twig snap. The huntsman’s footfall returning.

And I ran and ran and ran and had snuck back into my rooms by nightfall.

My precaution wasn’t called for. From noon, the king had raged at the news of his alchemist’s death. And had, before the court and everyone there, pierced a dirk through the back of his huntsman’s mouth when the man tried to explain himself.

After that, with the body of the huntsman still gagging and dying on the floor, the king called for his horse and without any entourage set off into the forest. He returned later to the palace later than I had, his horse wet to the withers with river muck and mud dappled with snow.

By then, his snake-tongued scribe had penned already “The Huntsman’s Crime” and had it cried at every corner of the world.

Only to be found dangling by the neck from his room’s crossbeam the next evening. Some wanted to think his conscience killed him, but of all the deaths, no one could really deny the murder. But for all we might revile the huntsman and king, at least they both believed in what they did. No so the scribe.

The loose ends of the heir’s murder all tied up by the king, only then did he pay me a very generous visit. He asked what I’d known of the huntsman’s plot in advance, and his play with his knout edged quickly into torture. He spread my legs and flogged my groin until I came, used clamps and pins, my fairy king, but still I confessed him nothing.

Never again would I find him ever so ferocious and passionate.

The rest you know.

The king ruled long and hard and died finally, smiling, with his boots on. I ascended to the throne then for want of any others, and the whipped dogs the king had left behind began their gossips against me in earnest. Because they could.

That was when the rumour caught flame then, of a ghost of the heir wailing in the dead wing. And I still cannot thank you enough for your kindness then. That you’d denounce such nasty talk, when I could not have raised my voice without incurring further suspicion, was brave of you. And how I wish I could have told you at the time that I knew as fact, not guess, that there simply could be no ghost, that the heir still “lived” so to speak, if only amongst that horde of dwarves and forest-beasts who’d found both him and his deathly stillness so amenable to their predilections. But I’d still not mastered yet the poison’s antidote from the dead alchemist’s notes, and my own cowardice had made me loathe before the king’s death to secretly transport the heir back lest the king should catch wind of it. Or even to venture to the dwarves’ glade, in case I got missed or followed.

All that changed when the king passed, of course. Even at his pompous funeral—I saw your sly smirk at the spectacle and grinned inwardly to myself as well—I was silently making plans along with the requisite signs of piety as I mouthed the eulogy. At graveside, too, I saw that wandering prince, one of those charming faces with an empty mouth—or an empty face with a charming mouth!—who had just happened by, or so he claimed: petty royalty at most, the king’s distant nephew or somesuch, but plainly with his nose out on chance the throne proved up for grabs.

“It must be such a drag to be queen,” he leaned in to whisper as the pallbearers raised the king’s hearse-box with a grunt.

“Only if you have no glamour,” I replied, to put him off.

“Even so, I wish to help,” he persisted.

“Help yourself,” I smiled.

But I found his eager doggedness to help to my advantage and sent him on a task into the far-wilds that would chance him across the dwarves’ camp and the heir. He …

What? You can’t recall this “prince”? Well, it’s true. He never returned. They ate him.

And so forth.

I admit, I did have but very little faith in the amateur contrivance of that prince. What, really, could he hope to do? But all the same, it’d hurt me none to hope he might manage to spare me some small trouble. No matter. Back to plan A.

I met the dwarves and forest-beasts without an entourage and told them what they already feared: the heir was not quite dead.

“But him,” I said, and opened up the hearse-box of the king. “He breathes no more at all.”

A lie, but it’d be centuries or more before they found it out.

At my words, they grunted and sniffed the king and heir, and I could see in the darkness of their luminescent eyes that they’d caught the self-same scent: the relatedness of blood and poison both. “One never takes a thing without giving something in exchange,” I continued. “But I think you’ll find this king in every way larger than his heir.”

“But won’t he rot?” one asked.

“He’d better not,” I laughed. “Especially if you take good care of him,” I hinted. Since the humiliation of a corpse is that much more complete when left whole.

“O, we will,” one cooed, touching his hairy paw to the black thicket on the king’s chest. “We’ll lacquer him in milky glass and tunnel down.”

“Be sure you do,” I scolded gently, hungry then to be gone while the dwarves swapped out the king for the heir on the altar-slab of stone they’d strewn with leaves and boughs white not with snow.

The exchange complete, I returned with the heir.

I hid him in the king’s crypt without the help or servants’ knowledge to keep him from the prying eyes of gossips, and set about again to master perfectly the alchemist’s antidote from her notes. It took me years to learn the art and try get it right, of course, though even now it does not always work. I’m baffled why. Still, I’m pleased to say: of the last three criminals I surreptitiously poisoned instead and then brought back, only one rose up as a ghoul. The others showed their boundless gratitude by thanking me for my fairness and abandoning our kingdom with heartfelt promises never to return.

And I know I don’t have to convince you, but I swear I plan to fathom the alchemist’s art still more until I perfect the poison’s cure—you know I will. But the possibility of failure keeps haunting me. When I do go on to dare to try to wake the heir again, if the whole thing goes awry—if he crumbles to dust on the spot or worse, returns as something disgusting—you at least will not say, “See? Maybe we were wrong in the details, but were right in the spirit: all along we were right that you killed the heir.” Of course, you, in the wretched tortures of your sweetness, will instead just slyly grin and tease my vanity, “Look how much trouble you went to, just so people would not think ill of you!”

But even that’s hardly fair. I’ve troubled myself a lot, it’s true, but not only my vanity is at stake. Simple logic by itself insists that the heir, not I, more legitimately sits on the throne, but at the same time … Why dissemble? I love him.

He was always so alone! Even the servants made to shun him like the plague. From my rooms, I’d watch him—as white and hard as alabaster—at his baths or on the palace rooftop in the sun as it sparkled off the falling snow, touching himself.

Of course, you’ve guessed this already. The oldest story in the book, I know: the tried and true of trite and true.

But once I succeed an bring him back, the world will know the truth as well. And who could then deny it? Once heat flows again in his veins, and the eternal snow at last stops falling?

But just not yet. Not without a certainty of success.

Two of three of late is good, of course, but still not good enough. It’s not fair yet to try. I’ll only have one chance with him. Besides, there are criminals aplenty still in the docks glad to barter undeath or a pardon on the sly for execution outright. Their gratitude always touches me. Each who thanks me in the gloom of the dungeon before they slink away to foreign lands proves at least to me the fairness of my hopes and sends a rush of approaching success at last along my spine, as if it’s finally close.

But yes. It’s close at last. Like death approaching, can’t you taste it almost?

O mirror, mirror, on the wall: who is the fairest one of all?

Summary

We put into an image the unimaginable and thus deceive ourselves we now know the danger.

Pre-Disclaimer

Last year in 2012, I set myself the task to read at least ten pages per day, and now I’m not sure if I kept up. I have the same task this year, and I’ve added that I will write a book reaction (or reply) for each one that I finish (or give up on, if I stop). These will not be Amazon-type reviews, with synopses, background research done on the author or the book itself, unless that strikes me as necessary or if the book inspired me to provide one when I read it. In general, these amount to assessments of in what ways I found the book helpful somehow.

Consequently, I may provide spoilers, may misunderstand books or get stuff wrong, or get off on a gratuitous tear about the thing in some way, &c. I may say stupid stuff, poorly informed stuff. There are some in the world who expect everyone to be omniscient and can’t be bothered to engage in a human dialogue toward figuring out how to make the world a better place. To the extent that each reply I offer provides a here’s what I found helpful about this, then it becomes up to us (you, me, us) to correct, refine, trash and start over, this or whatever we see as potentially helpful toward making the world a better place. If you bother to take up your end of that bargain, that signals part of the problem that needs a solution.

A Reply To: Ian Culbard’s (2012)[1] At The Mountains of Madness: A Graphic Novel

Off the top of my head, I know that both Kurt Vonnegut’s (1969)[2] Slaughterhouse-Five and William Burroughs’ (1959)[3] Naked Lunch were both declared “unfilmable” and yet have received filmic realization—by George Hill (1975)[4] and David Cronenberg (1991)[5], respectively[6]—for better or worse. Lem certainly groused extensively about both adaptations—by Tarkovsky (1972)[7] and Soderbergh (2002)[8]—of his (1961)[9] Solaris (and presumably the widely unknown 1968[10] adaptation as well). And doubtless, fans and authors alike have lamented extensively what happens when a claimed-unrealizability of a book gets bowdlerized on the big screen.

We might look at this more closely, because certainly much of Lovecraft’s work and its mythos arguably seems unrealizable in visual form—a point that bears on Culbard’s attempt (or, less coyly, his failure) to do justice to Lovecraft’s text.

I want to distinguish first, though: the points I raise here do not hinge on the “what gets lost when one adapts from book to film”. I’ve long gone past the time of objecting to how something even as massive as Bondarchuk’s (1966)[11] War and Peace fails to “capture the book”. In general, I will willingly “play the game” of seeing in foreshortened, adapted form a book (that I admire) in film form. Film does not merely or automatically make a Reader’s Digest version of a book, though this clearly and destructively does happen at times: Redford’s (1988)[12] inadequate film-adaption of Nichols (1974)[13] The Milagro Beanfield War effectively destroys everything pertinent or of value in the book, while Streisand’s (1991)[14] serviceable and very watchable adaptation of Conroy’s entirely impressive (1986)[15] Prince of Tides loses an immense amount in the process of adaptation but not everything that matters. I would say that Spielberg’s (1985)[16] adaptation of Walker’s (1982)[17] The Color Purple (never mind the musical) similarly eviscerates the essential content of the book.

But these involve issues of content, as the limitless fan-complaints about any film adaption of Tolkien’s works shows. The objection involves sometimes changes to character but more usually leaving out essential subplots or introducing alien (seemingly unnecessary) elements. On this view, virtually every book becomes unfilmable, unless the author has politely written a (comparatively short) novella. One might invoke, in the translation from book to film, the objection raised about the translation of poetry from one language to another: all that gets lost in the process is the poetry.

However, this begins to point at the more essential “complaint” that happens in such translation. Objections to changes in content usually involve changes to the plot, literally to what happens over the course of events. Where an author might have carefully worked out a sequence of occurrences, a film brusquely or blithely compresses into a matter of seconds—the montage in romance movies has raised this to the level of kitschy convention—what took pages to arrive at in the book. And not only pages of development, but specific characteristic ups and downs related to the characters themselves, &c. All of this gets stripped away into an abstract encounter between “man” and “woman”—or, in the case of the epic fantasy genre, between “hero” and “monster”. In effect, to the extent that we accept life s comprising a journey not a destination, then the translation from book to film usually cheats us of the journey an thus the “real” pith and grist of the plot—assuming further that the screenwriter and director don’t butcher things in the first place.

However, Hollywood stands for too concerned with making money to actually stint on this essential fact of a journey. So the objection tends more to involve the substitution of a different journey (in the details) as the one proposed by the author in the book. In the case of Prince of Tides, the start-point and end-point in the book and film arguably remain the same, and in that sense crates the impression that the film adaption remains faithful; for The Color Purple, not so much—the divergences become too wide, though the film obviously still has an abstract power; with The Milagro Beanfield war, the relation between book and movie seems too severed to deserve the term faithful.

This reminds me about another quip related to poetic translation: “translating poetry is like a lover; if it’s beautiful, it’s not faithful; if it’s faithful, it’s not beautiful”.[18] And I mention this, partly to avoid quibbling about any specifics whether the films of Prince of Tides, The Color Purple, or The Milagro Beanfield War really deserve the term faithful or not. I choose them as examples because they seem to illustrate the point at hand, which points to how “faithfulness” typically hinges in people’s minds to the perceived fidelity to the events of the plot (as events and characters) and to the (admittedly nebulous) “spirit” of the book.

By contrast, I want to emphasize more what might actually make  book filmically unrealizable. But in the first place, one might argue all books become unfilmable. Certainly, the intense emotional grin of Conroy’s Prince of Tides comes nowhere across in the movie; something like Lumet’s (1962)[19] Long Day’s Journey into Night or Field’s (2002)[20] remarkable In the Bedroom occupy an emotional “space” akin to Conroy’s book, so we see that a director or writer may evoke such a space .

Similarly, the fact that Walker’s novel comes across in letters evokes an entire approach—to say nothing of long-standing novelistic tradition—that cannot come cross in a film; or, at least, to date no one that I know of has made a film that only shows a person’s responses to written letters and then the turmoil of writing responses, &c. An entire layer of the text disappears when we move from a world where what we see consists of something that another human being has represented on paper (in a letter) as compared to actually witnessing the events ourselves directly (in a film). I have not read Martel’s (2001)[21] Life of Pi, but I suspect that something similar works against his book as cast in filmic form by Ang Lee (2013),[22] lovely job that he does nonetheless. In the book, which all exists only on paper, we have only the words of Pi (and the author) to evoke any given reality—whether the events Pi narrates with the tiger comprise simply an alternative version of what really happened—whereas in the film, we see before us unambiguously a visual realization of those events. If Martel intends for us to doubt the nature of events—in essence, to have it become a matter of faith whether we accept Pi’s fantastic version of his story or the mundane one—then seeing the fantastic version of the story manifestly before our eyes makes it well-nigh impossible to have Martel’s desired level of skepticism about them. So too in a film version of The Color Purple—we shift, not at all subtly and very essentially, from a world where we ourselves (as witnesses to letters) find ourselves having to choose to believe or not. When Spielberg puts the images onscreen before our eyes, instead, that whole level of our personal involvement in the story disappears—we can hold events at arm’s length and merely feel sympathy or take pity on what we see. We become de-involved or de-implicated in a crucial way.

With this, we might reconsider Slaughterhouse-Five and Naked Lunch as unrealizable on film, then. Both hinge—the latter more so—on hallucinatory qualities or, to put it more simply, weird events. And we need only consider for a moment the brilliant success of John Carpenter’s (1982)[23] The Thing, or Cronenberg’s own success in Naked Lunch and other films, especially (1983)[24] Videodrome or (1981)[25] Scanners, to assure ourselves that filmmaker’s in the 1980s at least had no trouble calling forth miracles from their special effects guys.[26] The notion that one could not remain faithful to the events of these books—if partly because the events seem too weird to realize—does not constitute a sufficient complaint. This provides merely a technical challenge, which may or may not successful get resolved by the FX department.

This bears on Lovecraft stories especially, because his texts explicitly declare that people witness literally mind-bending, madness-inducing things—in At The Mountains of Madness, this particularly involves a city that Lovecraft describes as four-dimensional. To date, John Carpenter has perhaps most faithfully attempted to find ways to realize this sort of Lovecraftian thing—most explicitly in the Thing, and most directly in the spirit of Lovecraft in (1993)[27] In The Mouth of Madness, which nonetheless still surprisingly lacks the animatronic genius one finds so successfully in The Thing.[28]

Fairly enough, one must say that any visual realization of a literally madness-inducing thing not only poses an essentially impossibility but also an ethical no-no as far as liability in film gets concerned. But this at least points at what readers may, with complete legitimacy, call unrealizable in film—or (to keep this blog rooted to its source) a graphic novel.

Let me say then, briefly, that Culbard’s illustrations of Lovecraft’s Old Ones and the shoggoth that appears in the text fail entirely. More precisely, the book offers four instances of Lovecraftian beasties, two of which actually comprise illustrations within the text itself (i.e., a picture of Cthulhu included in a copy of the Necronomicon and some carved images of the Old Ones on a wall in the Antarctic city), while the other two offer direct realizations of those beasties: one where an Old One’s body get collected and dissected and a second where a shoggoth (basically only darkness an eyes) appears.

To contextualize this, Culbard generally elects for a very flat, semi-toony style for the book generally—at least when he draws human characters; he seems much more adept at drawing pictures of the vessels, airplanes, and icy landscape of Antarctica. One of the best illustrations, for instance, shows an exploratory vessel before a rising image of Antarctica’s Mount Erebus in the background, with its reflection showing and partly engulfing the vessel.

Nor should it seem small-minded to complain that Culbard misses the illustrative boat—one has a wholly reasonable expectation with a Lovecraftian work that the “ookiness” of Lovecraft’s original will come across. The fact that this involves tremendous technical difficulties gives one no excuse, especially as Carpenter’s The Thing demonstrates the possibility. Partly, it becomes a matter simply of putting forth enough effort.

Importantly, and I find this wholly appropriate, for the two depictions of Lovecraftian beasties that occur in the world of the story—i.e., on the walls and in the Necronomicon—both seem to directly allude to previous illustrations (in our current world). For how the Old Ones particularly look, it seems as if the genealogy of imagery may go back to Errol Otis’ original drawings for the Dungeon’s & Dragon’s Monster Manual—the original one that included the Lovecraft, Melnibonéan (Moorcock’s Elric series), and Lankhmar (Fritz Leiber’s works) mythoi prior to the cease and desist copyright violations that got such imagery pulled in subsequent versions. For the image of Cthulhu—a squid-headed thing half-raised in a sort of walrus-like gesture—I recognize the pose from somewhere I cannot name.

If this proposes a “theft” of previous imagery, it makes complete sense in a Lovecraftian setting, where no shortage of fell tomes full of mind-shattering imagery already exist in Lovecraft’s world. Precisely to encounter such dangerous works forms  key feature of his work. And with good reason. Lovecraft himself often takes pains to generate verisimilitude in his works. This occurs in many ways, the most common being—borrowed from any number of previous writers, perhaps most of all Conrad and his Heart of Darkness—the tale of horror related by a survivor, typically an indirect witness, of the event.

The very content Lovecraft wants to write about precludes direct narration. Even the Bhagavad-Gītā, which features surely one of the earliest and ballsiest of such depictions in literature—the direct manifestation of Kṛṣṇa (or Viṣṇu, if you prefer) in his universal form—resorts exactly at that moment to one additional level of narration, by switching the frame from the direct imagery we have witnessed for the last hundreds of verse to a reported narration from Sanjaya.[29] Literally, one cannot depict the impossible; one must resort to a report of someone’s experience of it, if we (as readers) will buy the depiction at all. This very type of narrative demands this extra layer of narration, which again points to why the visual realization of something like a Lovecraftian horror becomes so challenging. Unless the whole event gets wrapped in a haze of “hallucination,” we can hardly see what flashes before our very eyes on a very real movie screen—or the frames of a graphic novel—the actual depiction t hand.

Of course, Lovecraft already has the mediation of text; already, his material has a certain “protective layer,” because he only has words at his disposal to evoke anything in the reader’s min in the first place. Nonetheless, even here to generate a sense of reality—as also in the Bhagavad-Gītā—he correctly intuits the need to step back one narrative level. Thus, the reader (like the reader of Walker’s letters in The Color Purple) gets confronted not by unimaginable things but by another human beings report of unimaginable things. The situation more resembles listening to a friend claim to have seen a ghost than our seeing a ghost ourselves.

Sometimes this involves a cheap dodge in a work of literature or film—the classic case involves the lame effort by an author to claim some fantastic poet existed: well, provide some examples of this poetry.[30] But Lovecraft does not have this obligation, arguably, and the appeal of his mythos has everything to do with the sorts of anxieties or desires it evokes and nothing to do with any factual actuality. The nonexistence of Miskatonic University, in fact, paves the way to the most direct representation of Lovecraftian kitsch: the Miskatonic University T-shirt with the school mascot on it: an adorable squidlike thing with the caption underneath, “Go, ‘pods, go!” The various insinuations that the several bogus tomes marketed as the Necronomicon point to a more successful hoax, because in this case an actual book exists that paranoid-types may declare of, “But maybe it is real.” Similarly, the conspiracy theoretician’s claim that Lovecraft told nothing but the unvarnished truth, but of course the servants of Dagon (or whoever) have clouded over this fact to protect their cult, &c. The very non-reality of the Cthulhu mythos—its unimaginable four-dimensionality, so to speak—makes it that much easier to perpetuate as a hoax, i.e., to fin adherents who will attach (for real reasons or for market reason) to the “reality” of the stories.

This all does not simply invoke that commonplace often attributed to Stephen King, that the secret to horror involves opening the door, but only a crack. Not letting the reader or viewer see the whole horror too early does keep them stringing along, of course, but in the case of Lovecraft there never comes the moment when we get to see directly what’s what—by definition, we cannot or we would go md; even our narrator (in any number of Lovecraft stories) himself barely has much sanity left; even peripherally witnessing the events has dangerously impairing qualities.

By contrast, horror more or less promises we’ll get a whole view eventually, even if not all of the questions get answered. More specifically, Todorov’s (1973)[31] sense of the fantastic offers some insight here, where the fantastic comprises a literary genre that hovers between the two adjacent genres of the supernatural explained (the uncanny) or the supernatural left in mystery (the marvelous). Here, tales that hover in the fantastic for a while tend eventually to lapse by the end into one or the other of these side genres. (Radcliffe’s gothic novels, for example, provide a respectable version of the supernatural explained, or uncanny, but Scooby-Doo offers an extremely more familiar example). By contrast, a movie like Shyamalan’s (2000)[32] Sixth Sense,  Amenábar’s (2001)[33] The Others, or Friedkin’s (1973)[34] The Exorcist explicitly asserts the reality of the supernatural at the end. In fact, both Blatty’s (1971)[35] book and the film-adaption of The Exorcist explicitly rely on the viewer’s belief, embodied also in the character of Regan’s mother, that a rational (uncanny) explanation will eventually come up, but then does not. As for the fantastic itself, then, Todorov’s (1973) puts it:

The fantastic requires the fulfillment of three conditions. First, the text must oblige the reader to consider the world of the characters as a world of living persons and to hesitate between a natural or supernatural explanation of the events described. Second, this hesitation may also be experienced by a character; thus the reader’s role is so to speak entrusted to a character, and at the same time the hesitation is represented, it becomes one of the themes of the work — in the case of naive reading, the actual reader identifies himself with the character. Third, the reader must adopt a certain attitude with regard to the text: he will reject allegorical as well as “poetic” interpretations (33).

Henry James’ (1898)[36] “The Turn of the Screw” probably offers the most frequently cited example of the fantastic in literature, though Kafka’s Metamorphosis, much of Stanislaw Lem’s major fiction, Cronenberg’s Videodrome, and above all Gogol’s “The Nose” provide apt examples as well. The key point in all of these being that characteristic hesitation Todorov identifies and the fact that at the work’s end it remains difficult, if not impossible, to determine the “ontological status of events” or, more simply, to what extent events did or did not occur.

Lovecraft’s choice of “material” puts him squarely and probably unavoidably in the domain of the fantastic, since by definition the horrors he proposes lurk beyond our capacity to imagine. And this makes them, literally, unrealizable directly. What we may encounter, however, involve the reports of those who survived and/or their experience. Hence, one finds lots of similes and metaphors in Lovecraft’s prose; things continuously sound like something else but what they actually consist of cannot get reported, &c.

In conventional films, what I called the cheap dodge above also becomes a leverage point for affect and effect. In Demme’s (1991)[37] Silence of the Lambs, when filming Agent Starling’s description of a corpse, we do not see it, but rather the reactions of people to it, as well as Foster’s face and tremulous speaking as she describes into a tape recorder what she sees. But in a Lovecraft setting, we never have anything but this sort of indirect depiction. The success of Carpenter’s The Thing (I mean, of course, specifically the brilliantly realized “dog-thing” scene) hinges overwhelmingly on the successful creation of something weirder than we can make sense of, but such an achievement remains very rare; Scott’s (1979)[38] Alien being perhaps the next closest example. Even so, this moment in The Thing itself presupposes the depiction of something we can, in theory, make sense of—the inexplicable fusion of dog and human; a moment that Culbard channels in illustrating the horror that Lovecraft’s Antarctic explorers encounter.[39]

Rather like the interviewer’s naïve and seduced question at the end of Rice’s (1976)[40] Interview with the Vampire—a book that most significantly loses much of its essential experience even as well-enough translated into Jordan‘s (1994)[41] film—Lovecraft’s stories similarly tempt his unwise readers; our curiosity makes us want to look upon the mind-bending city of R’lyeh or the gibbering horror of Yog-Sothoth, or simply to peek into the pages of any number of fabled fell tomes, the Necronomicon most of all. That, exactly, makes the trap because that, exactly, led to the untimely end of whatever antagonist the protagonist of a Lovecraft story reports about.

An so perhaps for that reason we continue to try to depict these things, besides the more mundane aspect that a market exists for it. We will risk that slippery slope down into madness in the real world, believing a conspiracy exists, repeating ad infinitum ad nauseam that Lovecraft told the truth but no one believed him[42]—making him ultimately, with respect to his body of work, simply the near-mad one who witnessed the horrors, now come to warn us, “don’t be that guy.”

Fine, and this does not mean we may adequate represent the unrepresentable, or at the very least that whatever horror obtains from a Lovecraftian tale, it does not consist of the reveal. As soon as we see it, we move out of the genre of the fantastic and into the uncanny or the marvelous, depending upon the mood or temperament of the author. Immediately, Cthulhu and its ilk become classic monsters rather than horrors; they become, as often in Lovecraft’s imagination, images or symbols of racial miscegenation, or sometimes adequate (symbolic) embodiments of the age of anxiety.

As part of the Lovecraft “game” (as also the premise in Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, but none of the subsequent vampire books), we want to succumb to temptation but both Lovecraft and the Rice of the 70s assure us, in adamant tones, no, you don’t. So long as we think that Cthulhu seems “cool,” then we have succumbed to the spell. A tumblr image, now long gone, showing a squid-headed malevolence declared “telepathically inspiring images of Cthulhu in the popular imagination to pave the way for his apocalyptic return”.

We put into an image the unimaginable and thus deceive ourselves we now know the danger, just as George Zimmerman decided he saw danger in Trayvon Martin.


[1] Culbard, I., & Lovecraft, HP (2012). At the mountains of madness: a graphic novel. New York: Sterling, pp. i–ii, 1–124.

[2] Vonnegut, K. (1994). Slaughterhouse-five, or, The children’s crusade: a duty-dance with death. 25th anniversary ed. New York, N.Y.: Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence.

[3] Burroughs, W. S. (2001). Naked lunch: the restored text. 1st Grove Press paperback ed. New York: Grove Press.

[4] Universal Studios Home Video (Firm)., Hill, G. R., Geller, S., Monash, P., Sacks, M., Perrine, V., & Vonnegut, K. (2004). Slaughterhouse-five – DVD. Widescreen ed. Universal City, Calif.: Universal Studios Home Video.

[5] Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation., Cronenberg, D., Thomas, J., Weller, P., Davis, J., Holm, I., Sands, J., Scheider, R., Burroughs, W. S., & Criterion Collection (Firm). (2003). Naked lunch. [United States]: Criterion Collection.

[6] Someone also has pipelined a remake, scheduled for 2015.

[7] Tarkovsky, A., Bondarchuk, N., Banionis, D., Gorenshtein, F., Lem, S. (2002). Soli͡aris: Solaris. Special ed. [United States]: Criterion Collection.

[8] Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Soderbergh, D., Clooney, G., McElhone, N., Davis, V., Lem, S. (2002). Solaris [United States].

[9] Lem, S. (1987). Solaris. 1st Harvest/HBJ ed. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

[10] Iz Sobraniya Gosteleradio, Studio “Orlenok”, Central Television, USSR, Ishimbayeva, L, Nirenburg, B., Lanovoy, V., Pilyus, A., Etush, V., Kemarskiy, N, Lem, S (1968). Solyaris [Russia].

[11] Moskovskai͡a kinostudii͡a “Mosfilʹm.”., Bondarchuk, S., Savelʹeva, L., Tikhonov, V., Skobt͡seva, I., Stanit͡syn, V., Tolstoy, L., & Kultur International Films. (2000). War and peace. W. Long Branch, N.J.: Kultur.

[12] Universal Pictures (Firm)., Redford, R., Esparza, M., Ward, D., Blades, R., Bradford, R., Braga, S., Carmen, J., Gammon, J., Walken, C., Griffith, M., Greenberg, R., Allan, D., Miller, J., Grusin, D., Nichols, J. T., & Focus Features. (2005). The Milagro beanfield war. [United States]: Universal.

[13] Nichols, J. T. (2000). The Milagro beanfield war. 1st owl books ed., 2000. New York: Henry Holt.

[14] Columbia Pictures., Karsch, A., Streisand, B., Conroy, P., Johnston, B., Nolte, N., Danner, B., Nelligan, K., Krabbé, J., Dillon, M., Gould, J., Goldblatt, S., Zimmerman, D., Howard, J. N., Sylbert, P., & Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment (Firm). (2001). The prince of tides. Burbank, CA: Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment.

[15] Conroy, P. (1986). The prince of tides. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

[16] Warner Bros., Spielberg, S., Kennedy, K., Marshall, F., Jones, Q., Meyjes, M., Glover, D., Caesar, A., Avery, M., Chong, R. D., Goldberg, W., Winfrey, O., Daviau, A., Riva, J. M., Kahn, M., Walker, A., & Warner Home Video (Firm). (2003). The color purple. Two-disc special ed. Burbank, CA: Warner Home Video.

[17] Walker, A. (1992). The color purple. Orlando [Fla.]: Harcourt.

[18] The original version of this has “woman” instead of “lover” but besides the off-hand sexism of this, it hardly seems necessary to limit fidelity and aesthetics only to women, so I changed the statement.

[19] Republic Pictures Corporation., Landau, E., Lumet, S., O’Neill, E., Hepburn, K., Robards, J., Richardson, R., Stockwell, D., & Lions Gate Home Entertainment. (2004). Long day’s journey into night. [United States] : Santa Monica, Calif.: Republic Pictures.

[20] Miramax Films., Leader, G., Katz, R., Field, T., Festinger, R., Spacek, S., Wilkinson, T., Stahl, N., Mapother, W., Wise, W., Weston, C., Tomei, M., Calvache, A., Reynolds, F., Newman, T., Economy, M., Hart, S., Dubus, A., GreeneStreet Films., Miramax Home Entertainment (Firm)., & Buena Vista Home Entertainment (Firm). (2002). In the bedroom. Widescreen version. Burbank, Calif.: Miramax Home Entertainment.

[21] Martel, Y. (2001). Life of Pi: a novel. 1st U.S. ed. New York: Harcourt.

[22] Fox 2000 Pictures., Georgaris, D., Netter, G., Lee, A., Womark, D., Magee, D., Sharma, S., Khan, I., Tabu, 1. N. 4., Spall, R., Depardieu, G., Hussain, A., Tandon, A., Bhasin, A., Danna, M., Squyres, T., Gropman, D., Miranda, C., Martel, Y., Dune Entertainment., Ingenious Film Partners (Firm)., Haishang Films (Firm)., Gil Netter Productions., & Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, I. (2013). Life of Pi. Beverly Hills, Calif.: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

[23] Universal Pictures (Firm)., Russell, K., Brimley, W., Carter, T. K., Clennon, D., David, K., Dysart, R., Hallahan, C., Masur, R., Moffat, D., Carpenter, J., Lancaster, B., Campbell, J. W., & Turman-Foster Company. (2005). The thing. Collector’s ed. Universal City, Calif.: Universal Studios.

[24] Universal Pictures (Firm)., Cronenberg, D., David, P., Solnicki, V., Héroux, C., Woods, J., Smits, S., Harry, D., Filmplan International (Firm)., & Universal Studios Home Video (Firm). (1998). Videodrome. Universal City, CA: Universal Home Video.

[25] Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer., Cronenberg, D., Héroux, C., O’Neill, J., Lack, S., McGoohan, P., & MGM Home Entertainment Inc. (2001). Scanners. Santa Monica, CA: MGM Home Entertainment.

[26] One could ask whether the advent of CGI has made too-lazy or uncreative the depiction of the supposedly impossible in film. Considering the visionary quality of animation in del Toro’s (2008)* Hellboy II: The Golden Army, it might not propose such a difficult argument. Or, perhaps more fairly, if one looks at Henson’s (1982)** The Dark Crystal and Cameron’s (2010)*** Avatar, then we see that the medium itself, whether analog or digital, wholly “rises to the occasion” when a creator expends enough of the right kind of artistic attention to getting it right. This points gain, then, to the laziness that CGI may enable.

* Universal Pictures (Firm)., Perlman, R., Blair, S., Jones, D., Tambor, J., MacFarlane, S., Hurt, J., Toro, G. d., Mignola, M., & Relativity Media. (2008). Hellboy II: the golden army. [Universal City, Calif.?]: Universal.

** Jim Henson Productions., Henson, J., Oz, F., Kurtz, G., Odell, D., Jones, T., Jim Henson Home Entertainment (Firm)., & Columbia TriStar Home Video (Firm). (1999). The dark crystal. Widescreen ed. Culver City, Calif.: Columbia Tristar Home Video.

*** Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation., Cameron, J., Landau, J., Fiore, M., Wilson, C., Kalogridis, L., Worthington, S., Saldana, Z., Lang, S., Rodriguez, M., Ribisi, G., Moore, J. D., Pounder, C. C. H., Studi, W., Alonso, L., Weaver, S., Carter, R., Stromberg, R., Rivkin, S. E., Refoua, J., Rubeo, M., Scott, D. L. 1., Horner, J., Dune Entertainment., Ingenious Film Partners (Firm)., Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, I., & Lightstorm Entertainment (Firm). (2010). Avatar. Widescreen. Beverly Hills, CA.: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

[27] Carpenter, J., De, L. M., King, S., Lovecraft, H. P., Lang, J., Kibbe, G. B., Neill, S., Carmen, J, Prochnow, J, Glover, J, Heston, C., Turner Home Entertainment (Firm). (1995). John Carpenter’s In the mouth of madness. United States: New Line Home Video.

[28] The catalog of Lovecraft film-adaptions runs generally so-so to dismal, and too long to detail adequately here.

[29] Who, in fact, of course, has dictated everything to us all along.

[30] Nabokov does not skirt this challenge and provides such poetry in his (1962)* Pale Fire.

* Nabokov, V. V. (1989). Pale fire: a novel. 1st Vintage international ed. New York: Vintage Books.

[31] Todorov, T (1973). The fantastic: a structural approach to a literary genre (trans. Richard Howard). Cleveland, OH: Case Western Reserve University Press.

[32] Hollywood Pictures., Shyamalan, M. N., Marshall, F., Kennedy, K., Mendel, B., Osment, H. J., Collette, T., Williams, O., Willis, B., Spyglass Entertainment (Firm)., Hollywood Pictures Home Video (Firm)., & Buena Vista Home Entertainment (Firm). (2000). The sixth sense. [Calif.?] : Burbank, CA: Hollywood Pictures Home Video.

[33] Dimension Films (1990- )., Bovaira, F., Cuerda, J. L., Park, S., Amenábar, A., Kidman, N., Flanagan, F., Eccleston, C., Mann, A., Bentley, J., Sykes, E., Cassidy, E., Aguirresarobe, J., Ruiz Capillas, N., Grande, S., Fernández, B., Cruise/Wagner Productions (Firm)., Sogecine (Firm)., Producciones del Escorpión., Dimension Home Video (Firm)., & Buena Vista Home Entertainment (Firm). (2002). The others. Widescreen version (1.85:1) Burbank, Calif.: Dimension Home Video.

[34] Warner Bros., Blair, L., Burstyn, E., Sydow, M. v., Cobb, L. J., Winn, K., MacGowran, J., Friedkin, W., Blatty, W. P., & Warner Home Video (Firm). (2000). The exorcist. Widescreen format. Burbank, Calif.: Warner Home Video.

[35] Blatty, W. P. (1971). The exorcist. [1st ed.] New York: Harper & Row.

[36] James, H. (2008). The turn of the screw and other short fiction. Toronto ; New York: Bantam Books.

[37] MGM Home Entertainment Inc. (2004). The silence of the lambs. Full screen ver. Santa Monica, CA: Metro Goldwyn Mayer Home Entertainment [distributor].

[38] Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation., Scott, R., O’Bannon, D., Giler, D., Carroll, G., Hill, W., Shusett, R., Weaver, S., Skerritt, T., Cartwright, V., Goldsmith, J., Brandywine (Firm)., & Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, I. (2004). Alien. Widescreen ed. Beverly Hills: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.

[39] I mean that Culbard and Carpenter both include this imagery because Lovecraft did, but Carpenter’s influence seem present nonetheless.

[40] Rice, A. (1976). Interview with the vampire: a novel. New York: Knopf.

[41] Geffen Pictures., Woolley, S., Geffen, D., Jordan, N., Cruise, T., Pitt, B., Banderas, A., Rea, S., Slater, C., Dunst, K., Goldenthal, E., Rice, A., & Warner Home Video (Firm). (2010). Interview with the vampire. [United States]: Warner Home Video.

[42] For example, Rodionoff’s (2003)* Lovecraft, but the phenomenon occurs ubiquitously.

*Rodionoff, H., Brecia, E., Giffen, K., and Klein, T (2003). Lovecraft New York: DC Comics.

Over the course of my reading of Jung’s writings, I have experienced at times a dislodging of imagistic material in my imagination or consciousness; the following story incorporates some of this. The story is of course wholly fictional, it has anthropomorphic figures in it (i.e., animal people), and also has (heavy) erotic passages in it as well.
Atractor_Poisson_Saturne
Three Utopias

I

Out of the silence and snowfall, a grey glove, coming forward through the drifts of the windless storm.

The wolf lowers his cloak’s hood to look up at the tree here, gaunt against the limitless wasteland, its limbs tucked in tight under a white quilt.

Snow dapples the wolf’s ears.  Breath plumes from his snout, and a sweet grin curls at his mouth’s cusp, the pink of his tongue’s U catching three peerless snowflakes, tasting them melt there.

Slowly his eyes close and then open again, and he touches his gloved paw to the bark of this one tree—the only one in the whole of this seascape, like him. His paw maps the bark’s furrows and follows attentively the braided twists of the tree’s ancient skin.

No moss ever clung here. Neither birds’ bills or worms ever pocked its surface, nor wind. Were he not mute, he would have asked aloud, “How in the world did you come here?” What seed—and from where—found its way over the ice of this ocean to take root? What sun ever warmed it? What cloud quenched it? And what besides snow in this whole world was there here that could have raised it?

Snowflakes glint on the mirror of his eyes, looking where one limb of the tree, like a hag’s crooked finger, points off thataway.

The wolf flicks up his hood over the points of his ears and with a plain dagger adds a new mark to the overgrown scores he’d carved previously in the bark. From the wood weeps a blue sap he collects in a mechanical quill.

Then re-sheathes the dagger and sets off again in any direction other than the one the limb points toward.

II

 “It’s my pleasure,” the Mayor smiled as only a squirrel can, physically lifting a jeweled decanter  to pour me more wine and swatting the air with his plush squirrel tail. It was a noticeable quirk—the Mayor seemed to go out of his way to do physically what most of us would have done magically.

He’d seated us at an intimate little coffee table in his office, otherwise replete with plush carpets, tapestries, a great pyramidal globe of the City of Necropolis, and an impressively massive desk of white jade carved into the shape of an elephant. Behind the desk, hundreds of thousands —maybe millions —of books were on shelves, shivering, and transforming continuously in colorful smears.  The Mayor’d told me it was a because  the books’ were being constantly changed, being constantly rewritten by unknown hands. “Say when,” the Mayor grinned.

“When,” I said quickly.

And then the Mayor shivered and transformed in a colorful smear from a he-squirrel into a she-badger.

My astonishment must have shown on my muzzle. And my jealousy too …

“Oh dear,” the Mayor winced, shaking her head. “I should have mentioned I might …”

“Oh no, no, no,” I hastened out. It was bad enough already that my hyena funk was hanging in the air from nervousness, but now … “It was simply the …” Wisely, I trailed off.  I know we hyenas are famous for our abilities in transformation, but I’d been, well, lazy. I’d never even bothered to master gender-shifting—all right, I never bothered to learn it at all. And then my Age of Learning passed without me learning anything, and now here I was, a hyena who couldn’t turn into anything, and stuck in this one body forever. The inward cups of my ears felt hot with blush.

And worse, it wasn’t just the Mayor or the books in the Mayor’s office that morphed; seemed that anything could morph—decorations morphed into  light fixtures, a glass bauble disintegrated into a heap of pixie dust, even a helmet eddied into a bowl of sour grapes that made my mouth water—apparently everything could change here, except me.

Without meaning  to, I eyed a vase of flowers as it twisted  in a spiral of smoke up into a narrow decorative pedestal. The Mayor caught me at it.

“It’s a matter of security,” she explained cheerfully, taking up my wine glass in her paw and offering it to me and then a toast.  “It’s absolutely essential we remain up-to-date with the very latest information.” That was sensible enough, but I didn’t understand how … “I realize it’s a lot to take in. But the fact is, I’m not in any position at the moment to explain to you why that particular vase changed at that particular moment into that particular dado.” A dado the Mayor explained to my puzzled look was a decorative pedestal. “What I do know,” she assured me, “Is that our most current, correct, and up-to-date understanding of the world is better represented by that dado than the vase of—was it chrysanthemums?” I couldn’t remember and didn’t know. “Well, to absent friends,” the Mayor gruffed, An abrupt morph of topic. Very politic.

“Hear, hear,” I returned readily and even more readily took a sip. The Mayor’s pinot noir was very … “This is pinot grigio?,” I blurted out.

“Isn’t it wonderful?” she scowled enthusiastically, as only a badger can. And moments later she’d switched back to the previous topic: security. More precisely that “knowledge is power.”  As the Mayor and therefore the most powerful entity in the entire city of Necropolis (“pun unintended,” she frowned), it was access to information that kept her Office in charge. “For all citizens of our City of the Dead,” she said, going on to tell me how it was a part of one’s contract to reside in the City that anything you knew at any time, any skill, any dream, any unconscious impulse—whether while alive, dead, or otherwise—could be subpoenaed by the Mayor’s Office for its use. “That bit about any time is the clincher,” she confided, sipping her wine—I was holding out on the hope that it would morph into a different varietal again. “We have beings in the City who can retrieve things from the future.”

“So anything I might know an eternity from now is fair game?”

“Unless you want to void your citizenship.”

I could see she thought it was a sweet deal.

“As a result,” she continued. It regularly happened that both she and her Office updated automatically to be in sync with whatever allegorical or analogical spirit of the age (“or of the moment,” she added) was appropriate at any given  time. “It keeps me in the loop,” she said. “But usually it’s just my Office that updates, the books especially.” Once again, I tried to watch them shivering and winking like tree sprites as they morphed constantly in patterns that formed shadow-puppet on their surface, but it made my eyes ache.

“Are they supposed to make  those patterns?” I asked, swallowing.

“There’re no patterns,” she smiled gruffly, physically walking to a cabinet to refill our empty platter of soda biscuits and white cheese. That wall made me seasick and I’ve never been on a boat! And as the Mayor carried the serving tray back, she went off on some babbling byway about those books that was threatening to force the idea of infinity itself into my conscious.

“Just exactly how many dead souls live in Necropolis?” I asked, trying to derail her.

“You mean psyches,” she corrected me. “And we don’t say live. They dwell here or reside here, but we don’t say live.” I didn’t understand why she was stressing the point. “As for how many, I couldn’t tell you. I mean, I could tell you, but the number would mean nothing to you. It’s quite large.”

“It can’t be that …” I replied automatically, trying to settle my brain.

“Imagine all of the snowflakes in the Snowy Mountains …”

“That many?” I spluttered.

“No,” she shook her head. “If each of those snowflakes were a galaxy, then all of the stars in all of those snowflakes …”

That many?” I spluttered.

“No,” she shook her head. “That’d be about one-fifth our total population here.”

“That’s a lot of dead souls,” I whistled, noticing my wine was red again.

“You mean psyches,” she patiently corrected me as a window behind her morphed into thread-bare tapestry.

“You’re right,” I agreed. “I really can’t get my head around that number.”

And saw in my mind at the same moment an enormous mountain of sand where each grain was an apartment for each citizen of Necropolis. Except that inside each grain was another mountain, and it was those grains that were the citizen’s apartments

The Mayor was right. I couldn’t keep up imagining it, and what I could was minuscule in the face of the actual population.

I felt a melancholy upon me all of a sudden.

“You look like you need more wine,” the Mayor offered, flicking his bushy squirrel tail as he held up the decanter.

“I’m still working on this,” I said, trying not to look surprised.

“No rush,” he reassured me, “We’ve all the time in the world.” His eyes twinkled then with an irony I failed to get while at the same moment his desk’s white jade elephant transformed into a tiger of blue glass.  “However … I have a task I need you to do.”

III

 “I’m sorry, what was that?” he asked abruptly, as if startled. And I felt suddenly, very terribly stupid.

I’d noticed him the moment I’d first entered the lounge: painfully handsome and sitting off to one side by himself —a panther, a new guy I’d never seen before, with oddly white fur, a bleached out kind of dusty, beach-sand white.

And yes, I know cats, especially big cats, can be snobs about canids, but I’m hard up for them. And anyway, he’d said yes with a smile (not just “sure, why not”) when I approached him with two steins of beer, offering him one and trying my best to come off cool and casual and such.

But now, I noticed suddenly that his eyes had changed color. All the cruisers and bruisers in the lounge all around us were still conversing and angling for one another. And all the glass beer steins and other fancy pants martinis or whatnot still clinked as friends and strangers toasted to stranger adventures to come. But I was sure his eyes had been an otherworldly aquamarine when I first strolled up—you don’t mistake eyes like that—but now they were grey as dishwater.

Apparently I’d not been paying attention.

And neither had he.

“Uh,” I muttered, feeling stupid. “I was just trying to say something clever so we could …” You know. I gestured vaguely, sheepishly. Not really sure what I was doing. Planning my inglorious exit maybe. But he keeps on looking at me knit-browed, blinking, puzzled. My heart was sinking fast, sickeningly as they say.

When it came back to me what he’d said as I’d first sat next to him. I’d not taken it seriously—um … to be more honest, I really didn’t get what he was getting at and didn’t care much at that point if I did. He’d said yes with a smile (not just “sure, why not”). That’s what mattered.

But now suddenly my paw flew involuntarily over my mouth and my heart sank even faster. “Oh man,” I said helplessly. “Did it just happen?”

“Did?” he repeated, looking around, and I became certain it had.

“My name’s Tempus,” I said, not sure what to do, but it seemed best to introduce myself again.  “I’m a border collie mix.” Last time, I’d left out the word mix—cats and their snobbishness—and through my mind flashed the thought I was glad at the chance to start over with him. “We’re in the Viscera Lounge. I was here, with you I mean, before you, uh … before.”

He looked like he’d been hit with a brick or was trying to focus through a migraine, but his whiskers suddenly twitched and curved up. “Hey,” he said, half of his face broadening in a smile at least, even if it made him look a bit smirky. “Long time no see, Tempus.”

“Yeah, well, um,” I said stupidly. I mean, I understood he was making a joke, but I felt more on the verge of relief than laughing. Like when your pal passes out from drinking too much and then wants to joke about it when he comes to, but all you can do is be relieved. Maybe it is funny to him, but you’ve spent the time he was blacked out trying to decide if you should call a doctor or summon a cleric. “Welcome back.”

Man. Lame.

But he leaned over and kissed me so sweetly on the muzzle I wanted nothing more than to melt into his arms and be his forever and a day ten times over.

“Thanks for waiting for me,” he joked again, then let out this heart-breaking sigh and slumped against me with … Man, how to describe it. It was like, like his whole existence was being held up by me at that moment and, to be honest, it was kind of too much. He had that sinewy strength that panthers do but was muscular, with a paladin’s sturdiness—and it was like a mountain coming down the way he leaned on me. This wasn’t what I’d bargained for, but he felt so gentle, and helpless too. My heart tore in seven directions at once and I whined as the scent of his musk filled my imagination. I put my arms around his broad shoulders and held him, and the whole time it seemed like he was crying, with relief but without tears or sounds—there was no sign he was crying at all, but I was sure of it. Like he didn’t have anything left inside of him in those moments to … to show it? With evident weariness, he vaguely nuzzled my shoulder, starting to purr.

“You didn’t say you were a mix before,” he said finally.

“Oh?” I gulped. It was the last thing I’d expected him to say.

Who’m I kidding? That’s a dumb thing to say. I didn’t think he’d remember. Why else admit being mixed the second time?

It was I didn’t think he’d call me out as a liar like that. That’s what I didn’t expect.

“My father’s a boxer. Mom’s a border collie,” I clarified, mumbling. I’ll spare myself mentioning that Dad left.

“It’s pretty,” he purred, his claws uncurling against my chest. “You’re pretty.  A sight for sore eyes.”

“Okay, okay,” I blushed, feeling my breeches tighten. “Take it easy.”

“D’you have somewhere we can go?” he asked softly. “To be more together?”

“Don’t you mean more alone?” I teased, but he shook his head.

“More of alone is the last thing I want right now.”

II

 “How can I possibly help you?” I joked. The Mayor of Necropolis says I need you to do something. That can only be a joke, right?

“It’s not that simple,” the Mayor said, using a broom to sweep across the pristine stone floor. “We in this City dwell in eternity. What that means—what the practical upshot of that is, I mean—is that everything that can happen eventually does. So what I have to ask you to do …” He’d asked it of me an infinite number of times already and would in the future as well. And I would both accept and decline in an infinite variety of ways too. “Including slitting my throat.”

“I assassinate you?” I blinked? “Why?”

“Out of love, out of rage that I’d ask such a thing of you. Just as often for no reason at all. More wine?” he asked, sweeping over. When had my cup emptied? But I nodded anyway. “You can see now how knowledge is power for this Office. Our preeminent task here, the thing to which we are most continuously dedicated, is to be well-enough informed beforehand that we can defer indefinitely those inevitable events in our City that we’d sooner not suffer at all.” My brain couldn’t grasp how this could be. “It doesn’t need to,” the Mayor assured me. “I’ve taken pains in advance to guarantee that now is one of those times when you accept the task without balking.”

“Well, then, I’ll just have to refuse,” I teased, levitating the wine carafe—it had turned at some point from a jeweled decanter to a glass carafe—to pour myself some … red champagne.

“Of course you will,” the Mayor agreed, taking hold of the carafe. “But allow me.”

“Red champagne?” I sniffed at it. Weird.

“We have cause to celebrate,” the Mayor grinned as he transformed in an elongating twist into a white panther. Flicking her tail, the Mayor purred and settled back down at our table. “There is a grey wolf, quite content with the utopia he’s devised for himself. He’s looking for something on a frozen sea but it’s not there.”

“I’m supposed to tell him that?”

“Not at all,” the Mayor purred, the amber-gold of her eyes drilling into my own. “Why ruin his bliss? No.” She waved through the air with her tail. “There once was—rather, there still is—a sapphire, magical of course, known by the ridiculous name the Crown of Light. So far as we’ve been able to determine, that wolf is the only one who knows its name.”

“And you need me to retrieve the gem?”

“No.”

“Steal it then?”

“No,” the Mayor said, rolling her eyes.

“Then what …”

“We need you to ask him what its name is.”

“What what’s name is?”

“The Crown of Light’s.” I stared at the Mayor. And she was looking back like she was making perfect sense.

“You want me to ask him what the Crown of Light’s name is?” I repeated.

“You will have some difficulty,” she assured me. “The wolf is mute, but you can use this notebook to communicate him. He’s literate.”

She pushed a fat notebook across our cozy wine table at me. It had its own spiffy mechanical quill.

“I must be missing something here.”

“Yes,” she agreed, dipping her muzzle into her wine glass to savor the champagne’s bouquet. “Where he dwells is infinite, of course, so it will take you some time to locate him.”

“That’s not the part that …”

“Naturally, because you’re entering the wolf’s psyche, you’ll only be able to stay there a relatively short period of time before you start mentally deteriorating …”

“Mentally deteriorating …”

“But that’s of little concern. We’ve arranged to monitor your mental state so you can be extracted before you experience any permanent damage.”

“You have to understand,” I giggled slightly. “I don’t think I’m too keen on going insane.”

“We can easily conscript experts to repair even the most irreparable damage.”

“You’re missing the point.”

“No, of course not,” the Mayor purred reasonably. “That’s why we’ve already sent you a few times, so you can see for yourself there are no untoward effects.”

“I’ve been sent?”

“And no untoward effects, no?” I suppose my face howled when, when was I sent then? The Mayor went on. “You didn’t think it was strange when I transformed from a squirrel to a rhino to a panther?”

“Those were … wait.” I rubbed my forehead. “You transformed into a badger, not a rhino.”

“That was then. This is now.”

“That’s all you have to say about that?” I could neither believe nor follow this.

“I’m glad that’s clear, then. In the meantime, you need only travel, time and again, into the wolf’s utopia and, once you finally locate him, ask him the name of the Crown of Light.”

“Yes, about that,” I muttered, looking the Mayor dead in the eye.

“Yes?”

I cleared my throat. Really. Come on. Finally, I said, “Isn’t it called the Crown of Light?”

“Oh wonderful!” the Mayor clapped her hooves together. “You’ve finally gotten its name.” She beamed at me from behind a shock of her feathery horse mane.

A moment later, she let me know with a look that she was having me on, and I’m not sure I wasn’t more relieved by that than by  the prospect that I really had, somehow, already acquired the name for …

“No, no, no,” I protested.  “Are you saying the Crown of Light is actually called something else?”

“No, its name is the Crown of Light.”

“Do you mean I’m supposed to … learn the true name of the Crown of Light or something like that?”

“Of course not.” The Mayor shook her head. “If we needed the true name of the Crown of Light, we’d have you ask for the true name of the Crown of Light.”

I was more than confused now and not a small bit pissed. “So, asking the wolf is a spell or something? A code word the wolf’s waiting to hear?”

The Mayor blinked and looked hard at me. “Maybe you’re not the one for this job after all.”

“Well what do you …”

“I was sure you were the only one who could do this …”

“How’m I supposed to …”

Loudly. “We need you to go into the wolf’s utopia, find him, and ask him the name of the Crown of Light. What can’t you grasp about that?”

“What if he says Crown of Light?” I cried.

“Then that’s his answer,” the Mayor replied, equally flustered. And I swear she then muttered, Sometimes this is more pleasant when you just kill me. “Sir. For all we can tell, maybe that’s exactly what the wolf will answer. And maybe that will be useful or a dead end for us finally, but for now that’s all we know. More than that, I simply am unable to tell you.”

“Is this how you wile away forever? Collecting trivia?”

“What do you care how I pass my time?” the Mayor laughed, offering me more champagne. “As I’ve already told you. The preeminent task of this Office is to defer as long as possible those inevitable catastrophes that this City and its residents will experience.”

“The end of eternity’s is going to be a motherfucker.”

“Oh, yes,” she said, then sank back in her chair, raising one glass as if in a toast.  “Bon voyage.”

I

Down from the white sky’s inestimable height to the snowdrifts’ lunar emptiness spreading forever out in all directions, there, treading over the snowpack of the never-unfrozen ocean, the dot of the grey wolf, barely visible through the thick falls of snowflakes—the one dot of pigeon-plume grey in all that white noise.

He stops. Behind him, his tracks lead only a half-mile away before the snow fills them in and erases them. And he takes out from his cloak’s pocket a fat notebook, its worn leather held up to his nose, its face under his paws. Inside, it’s like a paperback novel without words but for those he’s written there—letters only, the first letters of words to save space. The notebook is already more than three-fourths full, five hundred and nine pages of minuscule initials, crowded in like boxcars of refugees, for anyone else incomprehensible, but for him every page cramped with memories, observations, and errata.

He looks up into the snowfall and around, then back down again, his tail joyfully brushing through the soft snow. He’s been here before on this spot. It’s not possible he hasn’t.

Consulting his notebook, he riffles in the snowfall through the old pages, stopping finally on page 207. There, one-third down on the page in a shaky horizontal of script (it must have been cold that day), he re-read: “iinh, ioIcrwii”.

With the last of the ink in his quill for now, he draws a line under the “n” then presses hard on the dot of the third “i” to re-imprint both in the notebook and his own mind what he’d just re-read. Then spends hours to re-wet the quill’s tip with fading blue ink drawn off pages elsewhere in the notebook. Till finally he can write “xia” after the last letter of the notebook’s last entry, leaving the “i” still undotted to save ink.

By now the arc carved in the snow by his tail has filled in. Everywhere is uniform again. He tucks the book in his cloak’s pocket and burrows down in the snow, sleepily letting his eyes close, pulling his cloak over himself.

Patiently, the snow effaces every trace of him too.

He dreams as he sleeps of a raft on an infinite sea, the strange logs of the raft lashed together with a catamaran’s arm to keep it steady. Overhead, never waving, a white sun beats like a drum on the shivering skin of the ocean, sending a slow roll of waves going out and never coming back. Only the roll of the ocean ever changes.

To the small raft is fixed a useless mast and tattered sail of someone else’s clothes. He was born here is all he knows—this raft on the sun-glittered film of blank aquamarine all he’s known. He never eats or has known hunger. He never thirsts or craves drink. To his dream-self he wonders, “Am I the tree then? Is the mast.”

From time to time, he sleeps.

Forever has he drifted on this raft, forever will he. At times, he stands—there is no night—one paw on the mast to look that way or then another, squinting his eyes to find where the sky and sea might meet in their seamless aquamarine, to pass the time.

The sea around his raft begins to bow upward, then at the four cardinal points of a compass, to boil. For only a moment he can stare in trepidation or wonder before the sea’s surface ruptures all around him and four towers of flesh, tall as clock towers, erupt. Over the kelp-colored tentacles streamed down sea water in torrents.

Waves pushed out from the thrash of the squid’s arms crashed in the middle, throwing the raft up on one side till it poised on the edge on its catamaran’s arm. The wolf clung to the mast, his feet kicking the air, as the great flats at the end of the tentacle’s arm slapped at the blue sky and blocked the sun’s light.

With a crack, the raft crashed back down again, its logs’ ligaments frayed where not snapped—sea water oozed up between them and a wave washed over the surface, carrying the wolf off.

He gripped at the catamaran’s broken arm and held on, pulling himself up from the viscous sea. He’d never been in it, never felt it before—it was clammy and restive; it clung to his fur. And the smack of the towers and the foam where they churned in the sea …

Panting, he rescued himself along the catamaran’s arm, hauling himself back onto the tilting, spinning raft and gripped the mast. But it seemed to’ve come loose, might wash away with the next wave, so and he tore the sail into rope and re-lashed a section of raft-logs and then himself to the deck.

On his back now he could see up and everything—the aquamarine sky and the great, flailing twists of the tentacles, gleaming in the sunlight they blocked. Wave after wave crashed over the deck of the raft, but it held fast and held fast to him till its spinning made him dizzy and he could follow no more the gargantuan choreography of the living towers overhead. They then surged all at once and a wave larger than all the rest crashed across the deck of his raft.

And when it’d cleared, they had vanished, sucked back down into the impenetrable depths of the sea or thrown up into the limitless sea of the sky, his little raft left skittering in the ruins of ripples.

Resourcefully, he tore clothing and stripped bark to re-lash the rest of his raft and rebuild it. The arm of the catamaran took weeks of ingenuity and it was only by realizing he had to sacrifice the mast for the repair that it succeeded.

And when he’d finished his work, he sat cross-legged on the logs and reflected at last over what he’d seen.

“Xistence Is Amazing,” he told the wide sea and sky, gratefully, then stood up and squinted into the distance.

Waking, the wolf unburied himself, shaking off the snow from his cloak with a snap and hopping twice, shaking out the sleep from his bones. With a grin, he ran madly in circles, barking silently and kicking up plumes before flopping over in it and rolling joyfully.

“Nff,” he grunted, standing up again and, setting his eyes on the horizon, took off walking.

III

Like a dork, I’d forgotten my key again, and my paladin and I had to climb up to the tiny balcony of my apartment to get in, but so great was his passion that he suddenly took me there, pressing me hotly against the sliding door and easing the surprising thickness of his erection pressing hard against his jeans up the crease of my ass.

“Wait,” I tried to pant, but his arms were around me, his claws rasping over the hard pips of my nipples, my own sex tightly cramped in my pants. “Don’t wait,” I sighed.

I felt his paws expertly unbuttoning my pants with one paw and heard the rasp of his zipper coming down … and then suddenly, there was the heat of his sex against my panties. I felt wetness from his cock’s tip darkening the triangle of pink undies now riding up into my cleft and felt his strong, firm hands pushing them down around my knees.

“Oh!” I barked softly, putting my paws against the glass and hiking my tail up. Helplessly, I licked the sliding door, so lust-ridden I was. And as his paws gripped my rump, I gulped and felt a cool breeze of air over my tail hole as he spread my cheeks. “Please,” I whined softly. And he obliged me.

I admit, it’s the spines. My knot was throbbing, making my penis twitch in the air, shooting squirt after squirt of my pre onto the glass. And as I felt that fat tip with its knobby spines pushing against my clenching ring, pushing against it and making it bow inward, I let out a sharp cry and came all over my glass door.

“What the hell?” came a voice from the balcony above. “Goddammit, Tempus. How many times do I …”

But I’d already leapt in through the glass door and inside to die of shame. And for the first several minutes in the darkness, I was sure the red hotness of my embarrassment was already enough to see by.

“It’s fine,” he kept whispering, holding me on the sofa, stroking my ears. He was just glad to be near someone, to smell another male again. He was more than content to wait a bit and try again if I wanted to or he could just paw off. “I just need to be near someone.”

“Oh, just anyone will do?” I said, looking away.

“No,” he said, turning my face toward his so he could kiss me sweetly on the muzzle again. “No, only you will do.”

I tried hard to roll my eyes, but instead I whined helplessly and pushed down into his sleek, strong, felid-scented body. “How can you be so nice?” I blurted out.

His cheeks puffed with air as he exhaled and nuzzled between my ears with his chin. I started to think he wasn’t going to say anything more—and I wasn’t sure I blamed him. Instinctively, I grabbed the remote and switched on the TV.

“Guh,” I spluttered with disgust at the silent, flickering white noise on the screen. I’d completely forgotten I’d not reconnected the cable box … I couldn’t do anything right.

“It’s fine,” he said, as if he’d read my mind—and I suddenly wondered if he could. But if he could, he didn’t say so. He only took the remote out of my paw and set it aside. I felt strangely reassured by that negligent gesture. “I’m a Paladin of the Unicorn,” he said.

“Huh? What’s that?”

“I’d rather tell you that another time … if that’s okay?”

“I’ll buy London Bridge from you at this point if you want.”

He he-hed. “You don’t have to do all that …”

“So you’re a paladin of the unicorn, whatever that is.”

“Yes,” he swallowed. “It, the Unicorn, has set me a very special task. Well, a particular one anyway. One that I’m particularly well-suited to undertake.”

“Why’s that?” But he sighed slightly when I asked. “Is that something else for later too?”

“If you don’t mind there being a later,” he teased, grooming my head-fur backwards.

“Bah!” I protested. “So what’s this thing you do?”

“There is a Plane of Oblivion, a place of no light, no sound, no touch, no scents, no sensation at all. When I’m there, I can’t even tell if I’m moving or standing. It’s … emptier than emptiness.”

“Weird.”

“And somewhere on that infinite plane, there is a creature of ignorance. The Unicorn has charged me to seek it out and … show it the light.”

“How are you supposed to do that if …”

“I don’t know, but … I’ll figure it out eventually.”

I remembered. “Is that what you meant when you said earlier sometimes you go away?”

“Did I say that?” he asked, sounding almost wistful. I nodded. “But yes, that’s what I meant.”

And suddenly everything in me panicked. I must’ve almost yelled no! and grabbed onto him. “I didn’t just meet you to have you tell me you’ll go away.”

“No, no, no, no, no, no,” he whispered to me, returning my tight hug and kissing the top of my head. Suddenly the warmth and the love I felt for this almost perfect stranger was too much for me. I wanted to pull away. It was like I’d lose my deepest dream come true, but his strong arms kept holding me close. “It’s not like that,” he assured me. “I don’t physically leave.”

“I don’t want you to.” My eyes stung. I’d started crying?

“When I go, no time passes here. I’ll just seem suddenly dazed, out of it.”

“That’s what happened earlier,” I realized. “When your eyes changed color.”

He nodded. “I expect they would.” I could feel him shudder a little with sadness—with something sad at least—and his claws flexed into me. He kissed me softly again. “When I go, I … have to keep my mind active. It’s the only thing to keep hallucinating at bay.” Hallucinating? “I guess the Unicorn sent others before me, but they couldn’t stay on the Plane of Oblivion for more than a few hours. Or just went irretrievably mad. And I can’t really reckon time correctly, but the Unicorn tells me I can stay there almost 400 years before It has to pull me back.”

“Four hun … You went away for four …” I couldn’t begin to grasp that. Then I got mad. “Who the fuck is this Unicorn that …”

“Shh, don’t, Tempus,” he said gently. “I’m fine. I’m always fine. And someone has to help the poor creature in that place.”

“No …” I shook my head.

“No one else can do it. Not even the Unicorn Itself.”

“It’s insane,” I couldn’t help saying, shaking, and twisting around to look in his face, half-bathed in the white noise of the TV.

“No, it’s fine,” he smiled, giving me a squeeze. I could see only half of his face, but he was smiling, and a half-smile broke over my face too. “I’m glad to do it, as long as I have someone to come back to.”

Heat washed over my whole body then, and I turned torrent inside.  Helplessly, I fell back against the arm of the couch, raising my hips to push my breeches and panties down. “Please,” I moaned gutturally, pulling my shirt off. “Please … now …”

II

 “But before I go,” the Mayor said grimly, physically taking down a book from the shelves behind the glass tiger desk and putting it before me. It was really more of a kaleidoscope than a book.

“Don’t you mean before I go?”

“It’s not that simple,” he said plainly. “Please forgive me.”

I never had the chance to ask for what?  I’d already foolishly looked down where he’d flipped open the book.

What happened next … it was like 87 novels appeared in my head both as memories and things I’d not yet read. What stood out, what I remembered with eerie clarity, went like this (in a blue font–here indented for want of color):

“Every resident of Necropolis,” said the Mayor, suddenly grim-faced, “must decipher how to cope with eternity. Most go mad from the boredom of it all, but eventually recover.”

“Then go mad again,” I said. “Ad infinitum.”

“Some divide their consciousness between two or more selves, and spend the rest of eternity fighting or fornicating.”

“Or both. Do those selves know?”

“Others pass all of their time in dreams. Others are their dreams.”

“How would you tell the difference?” I asked. “Then again, why would you need to?”

“Most, I assure you, will amnesia on themselves, to start anew with fresh new surprises or the old ones refreshed.”

“Deliberate amnesia?” I sniffed. I balked at the idea of such willful ignorance. This wolf I’d been sent to find—he’d deliberately forgotten he’d set himself an unrealizable task. No doubt he had his reasons, but I wouldn’t do such. It was … disingenuous, a waste of time.

So I should despise also the Mayor then, with her deliberately impossible mission to know everything. No. It’s in the nature of things that you can’t know everything.

“Even in eternity?” the Mayor asked.

“You didn’t will amnesia on yourself.”

“I assure you, hyena. As far as ignorance goes, I’m no better or worse than that wolf.” I couldn’t agree. I shook my head.  “We both have our quests to keep us busy.”

Dazedly sipping my wine, I said, “I see now why it’s important for your Office to be able to reach back and forward in time.”

“One of our greatest alchemists, the greatest that ever was or will be for that matter, has deliberately forgotten the formula for the universal philosopher’s stone …” The Mayor paused; I could see he was tallying a number in his head. “18,922,111 times.”

“So he could rediscover it?”

“So she could. And Parsifal, that dear fellow, has taken to hiding the Grail himself. He trusts no one else to do it well enough.”

“That’s dedication,” I said, with ill-concealed sarcasm.

“Monomania, more like. Most folks eventually change what they’re questing for. And while I appreciate this small talk,” the Mayor said, switching topics with her usual abruptness. “I find your opinions on utopia grossly childish.”

How? I didn’t have any opinions on utopia.

“Not yet, no,” the Mayor agreed. “It’s too easy to say paradise is shite, that human justice can never be achieved. Such facile cynicism born out of mortified boyhood idealism. Spend some effort on the problem, why don’t you?” Here the Mayor turned away from me—how long had the room we were in been this empty white cube with indistinguishable corners and vertices? “Look at Zamyatin. He rejected utopia on the grounds that indefinite perfection is metaphysically impossible. Wrong, of course, but at least he clearly spent some time on the question.”

“Or one reaches a certain age and you see through the struggle? You see it all for what it truly is? Just a game?”

“The outlook of one too lazy to find out otherwise,” the Mayor grinned unpleasantly, fetching another book from higher up on the shelves. “Just because you can’t know doesn’t justify not trying.”

“No more books for now,” I hurried to object, adding quickly, “Utopia is our imagination.” That didn’t sound like me at all. I went on. “Where is the love, beauty, and truth we seek but in our mind? The golden country, forever new? The home of all hearts, untouched by time and pain.”

“Death is not utopia, hyena.”

“Eternity makes everything unbearable,” I cried, hurling my goblet. It hung in the air, turning slowly and caught in slow-motion, while slowly I realized, “L’utopie c’est les autres.”[1]

We both burst out in laughter together.

Then I stopped.

“Here today, gone utopia,” I said.

“A stitch in time saves utopia,” he replied.

“A utopia saved is a utopia earned.”

“Utopia is as utopia does.”

“If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the utopia,” I insisted.

“You can lead a utopia to water, but you can’t make it drink.”

“You should always go to other people’s utopias, otherwise they won’t come to yours.”

“Two utopias are better than one.”

I flinched. “To wake up each day with my needs met so I can pursue my heart’s desire, wouldn’t that be utopia?”

“I’m sorry, what was that?” the Mayor asked abruptly, as if startled.

“If I could wake each day and pursue my most heartfelt desire, couldn’t that be utopia?”

“And when your pursuit reaches its end?”

“You don’t understand,” I said surely, sadly. Of course if you obtain it, your pursuit comes to an end. But that proves only it was not your heart’s truest desire. At best, it was a way station, a gateway toward understanding what you truly want. Not informed by willful ignorance, but only a necessary un-knowing. “To have your needs met so each day you can pursue your most compelling desire, that’s utopia.”

“What about everyone else?” he replied.

“No two people can have a utopia in common,” I scoffed. The Mayor cocked an eyebrow at that, but I expounded in no uncertain terms (and almost eloquently) how, since a utopia expresses perfectly all my realized desires, it must then be impossible for my utopia to be identical to anyone else’s, unless they’re also already me. “I’ll prove it,” I said and resorted to a simple example where I (arbitrarily) desired in my utopia that everyone should wear blue shirts.

“But I don’t want to wear a blue shirt,” concluded the Mayor, following my point smartly. “I wish to wear some other equally arbitrary color.”

“So we can’t share utopias, but more than that,” I enthused, pleased the Mayor so well understood me . This problem—of any two or more people being unable to share a utopia—persists even when what you desire (in my utopia) is what I desire. “In my utopia,” I declared generously. “I want you to wear whatever color of shirt you want.”

“I’m very grateful,” the Mayor grinned with a bow. “And I desire to wear whatever color of shirt you want me to.”

“Voila!” I clapped my paws joyfully. “An impossible impasse.” It wasn’t the conclusion I wanted to reach, but there was no getting around it. “So, since no two people can share a utopia, two people can’t share a utopia. It’s impossible.”

“Even in eternity?” the Mayor asked, without a smirk.

“Show me many in utopia, and I’ll show you where each of those separate selves are all manifestations of one consciousness.”

“Even where there are only two?”

“Even where there are only two,” I insisted. How could you tell a difference anyway? How distinguish between this one or that one. Who’s the dreamer? Who’s the dream? To whom does that finally matter anyway? Only those without the utopia, not those within it. “It’s their intersection as two that’s the utopia, but both are still manifestations of one consciousness.”

“And Necropolis itself then?” the Mayor asked with a sly grin. “What one consciousness dwells at the root of it and dreams us all up?”

Suddenly, the Mayor loudly snapped the book shut.

“What was that for?” I protested, clutching my head, and working my tongue over the roof of my mouth. There was a bitter, rotting taste there—I have no idea why.

The Mayor said nothing but only shuttled the book back to the shelf where it went on shivering and transforming.  “Oh, there’s one more thing,” she said, turning and leaning on her knuckles on her desk to address me. “While you’re in the wolf’s utopia, you’ll be a wolf too.”

“What?”

“While you’re in the wolf’s utopia, you’ll be a wolf too.”

“Heh,” I laughed, barely able to suppress my excitement.  “Don’t get ahead of yourself. I’ve still not said yes yet.”

“You’ve got something better to do?”

III

He rolled on top of me as I rested against the couch arm, his own arms akimbo as he drew his shirt up and over his head, shaking out his hair. His physique was taut, a toned chest and belly— as he slipped off his breeches, the musk of his body and groin scattered what little was left of reason in me. And he was striped—they were strangely faded and dim but were still tiger stripes. And the way they curled around his shoulders toward his chest and from around the back of his hips toward his sheathe made me envy their hug.

“You’re a tiger?” I panted, feeling his weight on my knot as he slid his paws under my knees to push my legs up. “I thought you …” were a panther, I trailed off.

“I’m a mix,” he grinned and dipped his mouth to my hips as he raised them.

“Oh?” rasped out of my throat as his rough tongue first lapped at my opening, the cool of his nose pad on my crinkling sac. “Gu … what’s your name?” I panted out helplessly, my eyes squeezed as tightly as my shivering tail hole. I don’t know why I suddenly cared what his name was, or even if I really did.  I felt his thumb push along the taut rim of my opening and then the heat of his breath and the muscle of his tongue there.

“I’m Tigu,” he answered, nosing my balls and then holding the brown and black spotted fur of my butt apart with his paws, making my hole stretch. “So pretty,” he purred and layered slow, fat-tongued licks all around and across my sex.

“Hhhn,” was all I could say, the fuzz of my eyebrows fainting against one another.

“Play with my nipples,” he growled with a mouthful of my fur, licking more roughly now and pressing his thumbs against my rim. Panting, blindly I reached up to feel his strong chest and the already hard pips there. I took them between my blunt claws and pinched, and he let out a deep, needful growl, aggressively shoving his tongue against me. “Harder,” came from deep in his throat. “Rake me.” With my whole paw, I dragged over the points on his chest and down his belly to the shockingly swollen cock. It felt bright red and very wet and his claws poked at the flesh of my rim as he went on grooming my hole with his tongue.

“P-please,” I gulped. “Fuck me … I don’t want to finish fast like I did last time.”

“Make me,” he growled, grazing his nose along the bottom of my sac that had pulled up tightly against my body. With a bark, I caught both nipples between my claws and squeezed hard, and Tigu let out a surprised growl, almost roaring and biting my rump. “Now you’re going to get it, dog,” he said huskily.

I whined, frightened slightly, my chest fur wet from the precum I kept jetting on myself, but he wasn’t kidding. He crouched on his knees on the couch in the flickering light of the TV, only one aquamarine eye visible and the whole of his swollen penis. It was bigger than before. He was more aroused, the nubs on the tip flared already In the TV light, I could see the thick stream of pre running down his shaft, and he rubbed it across my exposed bottom. And then began to push harder with his hips, running the unreasonable heat of his shaft back and forth over my hole, making all my fur lewd and slick with his feline juice.

“H-hu, h-hu, TIgu … o ggg, please. Please fuck me.”

“You can’t take all this,” smacking the tip against my clenching hole. He was right, but I didn’t care. I didn’t care!

“Do it … please. Do it.” I felt the blunt-sharp point of his dick at my tail ring, the wet seep at the tip pool warmly there. It was going to be like being stabbed, being gutted. He had to be 3” across once past the flare of the tip. He was going to tear me. It was going to hurt. And I didn’t care. I tightened my claws on his nipples. “Ff-fuck me, c-cat. Fuck me!”

He let out a roar and pushed forward. For a quarter-second the lewd, mind-wringing sensation of being mounted heated my whole body, but then the narrowness of the taper gave way to the full girth of his cock and my tail hole spread abruptly, too fast. Brightly, I yelped, but instead of pulling back, Tigu sank the rest of his cock inside me … I could feel my ring burst as the thickest point of it slid in, but then relaxes as it clamped down around the thankfully narrower base. Still, I was writhing, clenching my toes. And Tigu started drawing it out … he was so deep inside me. I’d never felt such depth. I could only bark-whine inarticulately as I felt that too-large thing sliding up again through my tail hole.

And then his mouth was on mine and I felt his paws flicking at my nipples, and everything ouch flipped and my ass tightened around his dick.

“Come on then,” I growled into Tigu’s mouth. “Fuck me, cat.”

And he did.

Draping my legs over his shoulders, he started rabbiting my asshole, growling and sucking on my tongue so all I could do was whine and whine and whine. With each deep stroke, his spines raked me, my ring stretched as he pulled out from time to time, rubbing the tip around my gaped opening before pushing back in. Eagerly, I pawed at his face, his hips, the wet squish of his dick going in and out of me making my own tingle sickly.

“I want you to cum first,” I groaned. Tigu’s face was wet with my tongue and his tail lashed hard against the sofa as he pumped between my legs. “Cum in me,” I groaned more deeply, taking his hard pips in my claws and twisting.

He let out a lewd growl. “Nn, I’m close …”

“Harder,” I shouted, feeling the heavy slap of his nuts against me as he obliged. “O … Oh … ggg … Tigu,” I barked helplessly. I could feel the heat building inside of me. I wanted him … Not me.

Suddenly, Tigu let out a great roar and stretched up over me, his eyes clenched, the muscles of his neck stretching. I yelped as his claws dug into my chest and the hard bottoming out of his sex inside me sent me over the edge with him. Thick ropes of semen lashed from me onto my chest fur and throat. I arched my hips up into my mate and pushed the tip of him further into my body. I felt his leg twitch and a hard lash of his tail and then the thick pulse of his penis inside me, felt the cramped burst of semen rushing out into my insides and up along the sides of Tigu’s shaft.. I heard his foot paws crack as they clenched.

And then everything stopped in mid-motion, even the roar of his orgasm snapped off for a split second, and he collapsed on top of me.

“Tigu!”

But he wasn’t dead or even unconscious and I could feel him still filling my insides.

He let out a long, rattling, “Ohhh …” just lying in the wet puddle on my chest obviously.

I suddenly realized …

“Did it just …”

He looked up at me with grey dishwater eyes. I could see he didn’t know who I was, where he was. “Tigu!” fell out of my mouth helplessly, and all the sweat of our fucking and my wet face became bright with quicksilver along the rims of my eyes. “My poor TIgu,” I said, putting my arms around him.

And with half-closed eyes, he drew in a deep breath of me, and then looked up, his face and mouth silvered with my cum. He smiled brightly, his pink tongue caught between his teeth.

“Nice to see you again,” he said, then pulled me in close. In the light of the TV I could see his stripes had bleached out. And it was clear as we held each other, exhausted in more ways than one, that we were meant to be together.

Once we’d dried together some and had peeled ourselves carefully apart again, after I’d bathed Tigu in the shower and he’d bathed me, and once we’d draped towels over the couch to brush each other down watched by (or watching) the snowstorm of white noise on the TV, Tigu had looked in my eyes, the sea of his aquamarine nearly all unfrozen again, and said, “I know this may be a little sudden for you, but you understand, for me …” He trailed off, so I ran my brush over his head fur and down his back, over his shoulders. “When I’m … there, looking for the creature of ignorance, I keep myself alert—… I keep from mentally deteriorating by doing mathematics.”

“Math?”

“Working on the twin prime conjecture specifically. They think there’s an infinite number of twin primes, like (17, 19), (29, 31), (41, 43), et cetera, and even though the evidence for this is overwhelming, actually proving the conjecture is beyond the resources of mathematics so far.”

“I’m sorry, but I really don’t get what you’re talk about. And I don’t care either. I’m sorry if that’s shitty, but …”

“That’s not why I …”

“I just …”

“No, it’s … it’s not math that matters, Tempus. It’s just how I … keep it together. Or always did before. I think about you now too.”

I tried not to whine and hug my mate, but failed. “That’s really sweet, Tigu.”

“So, I understand if, for you, maybe this seems really sudden because, well. For you, we just met tonight but … I’ve ‘known’ you, well, for centuries already.”

“I guess you have.” I really hadn’t thought about it.

“So, I understand if you think it’s too fast … I just don’t want you to, think it’s creepy either.”

“No, I get it,” I lied. “You’re saying you want to be my mate.” Tigu nodded. “Are you kidding?” I shouted. “I’ve been looking for someone like you all my life.”

“Silly pup,” Tigu said, tousling my ears.

“No, seriously. I think the second I saw you I wanted to be with you forever.”

“Lucky us, then,” Tigu purred, grinning.  “But is that a yes?”

“No,” I beamed. “It’s absolutely yes.”

“Aww,” Tigu smirked and kissed me with a long slow kiss. “But let’s not get carried away with forever,” he grinned, flicking off the TV. “Forever’s a really long time.”

I

It was still snowing again. As he crouched, he watched drowsily the flakes, indistinct but for those falling before the dark veil of the old tree. The time had come to set out on his journey again.

Snow fell everywhere over the unfreezing sea, on the low drifts that formed against all logic and the windlessness, and into each footfall and sleep-pit and intersection he’d ever tamped down in his travels, the spectral net of those traverses going out over the face of the world to where horizon and sky met and then further. And on every black-barked branch, in every fork of the tree as it spiraled up into the sky, on even the least jut of its broken limbs and atop the blunt smallest tips of its twigs poking up straight like headstones were soft caps of white fluff.

Naked, he tore away from the old tree and streaked panting through the snowfall in spirals and circles. Plumes flew up behind him from the lash of his tail and the push of his bare thighs as he splashed through the snow. Till he fell over, laughing silently, dizzy, and fanned his tails, arms, and legs, his pink tongue white from the flakes melting there.

He sits up, snow-frosted … a noise?

His ears cock, the tips piling up with snowy cones as he listens for a time. But it’s nothing—neither a misery or joy of any wind, nor the sound of any leaves; nothing but the sound of snow falling faintly on living and dead limbs. With a silent bark, he hops up, shivering happily at the snow spattering his grey back as he bends over and lifts his tail slowly in a salute to all existence. His hole having mooned all the world, now he bounds over and pulls back on his clothes again, his plain breeches and tunic and great cloak.

Then pads off, as the crones-old finger points, thataway.


[1]“Utopia is other people”.

si l’autorité n’existait pas, il faudrait l’inventer

Summary (in Two Sentences)

As is also the case with the Marquis de Sade’s writings, the miasma of legend surrounding Nikola Tesla stands in as a borrowed authority for works or ideas that are not only (per Pauli) “not even wrong” but also poor examples of creativity, so that just as relatively competitive sectors of the (US) economy have since contracted into tightly controlled oligarchies—and just as the 50 media megacorporations in 1983 have now shrunk in 2013 to only 6 gigacorporations—the implications of those contractions have their parallel in a contraction of human imagination in culture producers (in the United States). The effect of this contraction serves as an input for not only a decimation or disablement of the transformative capacity of art in culture, due to weakened constraints on what gets produced and consumed as creative work, but also a more effective social control of the population, due to an appearance of authority and a deeper etching in memory afforded by the greater density of redundancy in current cultural discourse.

Pre-Disclaimer

Last year in 2012, I set myself the task to read at least ten pages per day, and now I’m not sure if I kept up. I have the same task this year, and I’ve added that I will write a book reaction for each one that I finish (or give up on, if I stop). These reactions will not be Amazon-type reviews, with synopses, background research done on the author or the book itself, unless that strikes me as necessary or if the book inspired me to that when I read it. In general, these amount to assessments of in what ways I found the book helpful somehow.

Consequently, I may provide spoilers, may misunderstand books or get stuff wrong, or get off on a gratuitous tear about the thing in some way, &c. I may say stupid stuff, poorly informed stuff. There are some in the world who expect everyone to be omniscient and can’t be bothered to engage in a human dialogue toward figuring out how to make the world a better place. To the extent that each reaction I offer for a book is a here’s what I found helpful about this, then it is further up to us (you, me, us) to correct, refine, trash and start over, this or whatever it is we see as potentially helpful toward making the world a better place. If you can’t be bothered to take up your end of that bargain, that’s part of the problem to be solved.

A Reaction To: Smith’s (2008)[1] RASL (The Drift)

This reaction is in two takes. I wrote the second first. It’s a lumpy beast, perhaps maddening in its Cthulhuian sprawl, and there it sits below, dreaming. There are redundancies between takes one and two. I leave it to your judgment to work out what you need to do with the Other or why I did this.

Take 2

As we all should know:

Back in 1983, approximately 50 corporations controlled the vast majority of all news media in the United States.  Today, ownership of the news media has been concentrated in the hands of just 6 incredibly powerful media corporations.  These corporate behemoths control most of what we watch, hear and read every single day.  They own television networks, cable channels, movie studios, newspapers, magazines, publishing houses, music labels and even many of our favorite websites … Most Americans have become absolutely addicted to news and entertainment and the ownership of all that news and entertainment that we crave is being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands each year.[2]

The seeming information boom now emanating from this hyper-merged number of sources entails massive redundancy. In cybernetics, redundancy may be used as a correction channel to ensure that the message transmitted is the message received.[3] Moreover, experimental evidence suggests that multiple instances of experience rather than the strength of any given one experience etches memory most deeply,[4] even when those multiple experience occur at different times.[5]

Given that Voltaire wrote, “Si Dieu n’existait pas, il faudrait l’inventer” (“if god did not exist it would be necessary to invent him”), we might ask on what authority he dares says so, and the answer might just as well be god. But whatever Voltaire did or did not specifically mean by this remark, if in his day being a mere individual could suffice to exclude one’s voice for consideration in public life and especially before the Authority of church or state, then these days the pathetic individualism of postmodernism does the same for us (without needing necessarily to get the church or state even involved in it). In other words, as I read Voltaire’s quip, he’s insisting that in the absence of any warrant for an assertion, people borrow the authority of someone else to make a point, the more ultimate the better.[6] As Satchidānanda (1988)[7] puts it, “We want an authority to confirm our experiences” (31).

In Smith’s case, this borrowed authority is Tesla, who has since become the patron saint of that certain kind of crank who fancies himself a scientist,[8] and who evokes fan-boy gush of the sort: “quite frankly, [who] with even a smidgen of interest in the history of science isn’t fascinated by that guy?)” (¶1).  The word smidgen is too apt, as it’s likely people with a smidgen of interest in the history of science who are fascinated by Tesla, just as people with a smidgen of interest in the history of Russia are fascinated by Rasputin.

286px-Teslacirca1880(2)

Little Nicky Tesla (c. 1880)

The issues here have nothing to do with the actuality of Tesla, mad genius or not,[9] but rather that he is taken as the (invented) authority and excuse for that certain kind of speculating, philosophical, if not somewhat promotional “idea”  that does not include new, sound workable principles of methods for realizing those ideas.[10] Just as de Sade’s writings get taken as license for others to indulge in their own pornographic excess—despite most imitators never having cracked open a book by the Marquis—Tesla’s mythos similarly gets taken as license for others to indulge in their own non-scientific or pseudoscientific excesses. Toward those who profess these Teslaesque excesses, established specialists often show great condescension, whether because the ideas really are “not even wrong” or because the specialist is (like a proper villain out of Ayn Rand) interested only keeping his current social position secure. Tesla himself by the end of his life had become the template for the persecuted genius.

But in the case of a (graphic) novel, the issue is never scientific veracity.  Too much science in science fiction and it’s no longer worthy of fiction—such an emphasis might generate a fine fan-boy design for the Enterprise, but as fiction, the move is crippling. On the principle “that those who can’t do, teach,” then a project like crowd-sourcing all the armchair engineers in the world to “design” the world’s most famous spaceship is a good example of Tesla-think at work. And all of the flame-wars about what materials to use, and so forth, would be simultaneously precious and idiotic, if we had to regard the whole enterprise (pun not intended) as actually being “real-world” plausible. After all, there’s certainly no fictional reason why the Enterprise can’t be made out of aluminum tetrahydrated banana pudding—that stuff is incredibly resilient, as you know—so that the enforced and pathetic obligation to let a fiction be governed by science in this way seems the same kind of intellectual contraction as is involved in going from 50 media corporations to 6.

Regarding Smith’s book, then, it invokes Tesla, and so there are two strands involved here: (1) the unimaginative reaction that because Tesla-think is involved in Smith’s project that it is therefore cool (or thoughtful or profound or intellectual, or even simply imaginative), and (2) how Tesla-think itself cripples the imaginative work of the fiction.[11] Delany (1978)[12] made it clear long ago that realistic or naturalistic fiction is a subgenre of science fiction—specifically, it is a variety of the parallel universe story where the only difference between our world and the other world are the putatively fictional characters of the other world.[13]

Dislocation from one world to another is mere realistic fiction in two ways. One may accomplish all the same tropes[14] by having a character travel to another country as to another “world”—which is why Sliders or Stargate are little more than knock-offs of Star Trek. Second, from the world of mythology, various travels to “other lands”—be they upper worlds, lower worlds, the inferno, purgatorio, paradiso—all of this is utterly old hat. Nearly all of the writers of utopias, confronted by the ever-increasing exploratory reach of human beings, kept trying to find other “otherwheres” to set their works: More put his utopia on an undiscovered island; St. Augustine had his city of god in heaven; the anti-urban poets put their poetry in Arcadia just as folk-tales put the land of plenty in Cocaigne (just as US hobos had the exactly parallel Big Rocky Candy Mountain). The Gothic novel imagined it as a castle in the past (and so did de Sade, but in the present); and speculative fiction and socialist realism in general put it on other planets or in the future. Each of these purports to find some kind of rational otherwhere to justify telling a story not crippled by adherence to the taken-as-real.

In none of these stories does anyone infer any narrative significance for how you get from one world to the next, whether it’s across the ocean, the sea of space, the tides of time, through a wardrobe, down a rabbit hole, flying toward the second star to the right and straight on till morning, or anything else. In Peter Pan, in Lewis’ Narnia, and countless other stories beside, the resort is, “It’s magic,” and that’s more than fictionally sufficient. Not even such a poorly realized show or movie like Stargate imagines that the stargate itself needs anything more than “it’s alien technology” as a justification, so long as it looks impressive in its operation. To imagine for a moment that throwing in Maxwell’s equations, various dubious adaptations of quantum mechanics at the macro-level, and the authority of Nikola Tesla amounts to something more than another synonym for “it’s magic” or that it imparts greater “reality” to the fiction is to succumb to imagination-crippling Tesla-think.

It is an irony of life that sometimes less is more, and this is a case in point. And the only way in the world that this variety of “it’s magic” could be construed as cool, profound, or imaginative is by Tesla-thinking that some sort of physically actualizable stuff of the sort deployed in the book is possible. A familiar example of this is the platitude is that Jules Verne helped to inspire real men to build real submarines—I say that’s false both generally and specifically. Specifically, the history of submarines (variously imagined) pre-date Verne’s (1870) Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by some 200 years; but generally, what he inspired was the possibility of a more ambitious undersea vessel than ever. The title of his book indicates the level of science involved, though supposedly the 20,000 leagues (or 80,000 kilometers) is the distance traveled, not the depth descended to, though even then the four leagues maximum depth the Nautilus is said to descend to would put it some six kilometers into the earth’s crust.  And the thing runs on electricity. But it’s exactly the non-scientific elements that must be most inspiring about the Nautilus—its opulent interior. It is in every essential a self-contained, submersible mansion. The submarines humans have managed to build so far are sadly Spartan affairs by comparison. Verne wanted to imagine a man freed from the obligations of civilization, free to explore the world after strictly scientific facts, i.e., the Truth. And the Nautilus, not a submarine at all, is the inspiration for that and is, I would say, the principal inspiration that it offers.

The fact that Clarke’s maxim (“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”) is taken as a Law is itself a piece of Tesla-thinking. And for the record (from the record), the Law

may be an echo of a statement in a 1942 story by Leigh Brackett: “Witchcraft to the ignorant, …. Simple science to the learned”. Even earlier examples of this sentiment may be found in Wild Talents by author Charles Fort where he makes the statement: “…a performance that may someday be considered understandable, but that, in these primitive times, so transcends what is said to be the known that it is what I mean by magic.”

But why only cite other science fiction sources for the antecedents here? This is the same sentiment expressed earlier still: “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful”[15] with the qualification that it’s more capacious in scope.

Clarke congratulates himself on postulating “advanced technologies without resorting to flawed engineering concepts or explanations grounded in incorrect science or engineering, or taking cues from trends in research and engineering” (ibid)—an absolutely absurd constraint unless we want our science fiction to keep us from imagining a way out of the mess we’ve gotten into as a species. In any case, Clarke has it backwards in fiction, i.e., any sufficiently embodied magic is indistinguishable from technology.[16] Technology is the magic of naturalistic fiction.

This demand, that the imaginative could or should be fettered by a demand to avoid flawed engineering concepts or explanations grounded in incorrect science or engineering presupposes correct science in the first place, which is rather more than most practicing scientists would be so bold as to claim. They would say that their current understanding is their best possible guess, hopefully, but not that it is correct—except in matters that are no longer in the domain of science fiction, even if engineering has not figured out how to do it yet. The Large Hadron Collider is a magnificent machine, but it’s not the stuff of science fiction. And to travel to Mars is no longer science fiction, and perhaps ceased to be from the moment humankind first built a ship to cross a body of water in an enclosed environment that protected them from the surrounding environment. All variety of tool-design and engineering in this sense is now primarily in the realm of naturalistic (if still to be realized) fiction, so that the invocation in Smith of Maxwell and Tesla merely puts those concepts at the service of making unwieldy jet engines (or ultrasonic guns) that the protagonist must carry around everywhere. Their conceit of science doesn’t hide their magical quality, and so they’re not technology yet at all. But worse than that, they make for a mere narrative resort that Smith doesn’t even take seriously.[17]

Take 1

As part of my ongoing foray through graphic novels, I picked this one, the first of four volumes in the series altogether, because it called itself (on the back) science-fiction noir—I should have read more closely, it actually reads “sci/fi noir” thus putting the slash in an odd place. At this point, I have no intention of reading more of the series, so for the sake of some kind of working synopsis, you can read one here, which may be textually longer than the series after all; and for contextualizing the work generally, someone else’s raving review is posted at the end[18]—I’ll be referring to bits of it eventually.

One thing to note, in the question of style versus skill, I’m not yet convinced Smith has enough of the latter to account for the (apparent) presence of the former. And since the purpose of this blog isn’t to get into a debate about that point generally or specifically with Smith’s fans or fanboys, then leave a comment if you want to discourse about it more. He can draw a sexy male torso when he bothers, which is pleasant. But as for the lizard assassin (one eventually discovers elsewhere that he’s Salvador), he looks like the Grinch’s cousin, and the main character Robert himself looks alternatively somewhere between a frequently constipated Speed Racer, Charles Bronson, and the Hulk. There seem to be serious derivative echoes of Morrison’s (1994–2000) The Invisibles, with Native American iconography in place of the Archons (especially in their Mesoamerican guises). This brings up the whole problematic of co-optation of other cultures (even in its enthusiastic forms), which becomes a bit more acute in the present case, because this is an author in the United States co-opting the culture of those peoples white folks annihilated in this land. But this also, if you want to argue about it, can be fleshed out in the comments.

What I particular get out of this book is signaled in the opening epigraph from Nikola Tesla,[19] and pointed out especially by the below reviewer’s comment “quite frankly, [who] with even a smidgen of interest in the history of science isn’t fascinated by that guy?)” (¶1).

Now, there is no doubt that Edison was a supreme e-bag to Tesla—attempting often to exploit, thwart, or steal from Tesla—that Tesla did indeed accomplish a vast array of awesome things in the course of his life, and also that his

thoughts and efforts during at least the past 15 years [of his life] were primarily of a speculative, philosophical, and somewhat promotional character often concerned with the production and wireless transmission of power; but did not include new, sound, workable principles or methods for realizing such results (¶5)

Cue the conspiracy theorizers, who will insist of course that the last fifteen years of Tesla’s life did not involve speculative, philosophical (much less promotional) ideas lacking in new, sound, workable principles or methods for realizing such results at all, &c. Anyone who wants to argue about this point, is welcome to make a comment, but I’ll likely not wade into that swamp.

Even were it true that Tesla had accomplished all or even anything that his late notebooks or papers suggest, it wouldn’t matter because (in a way related to Smith’s problematic co-optation of O’odham[20] iconography) what matters is the deployment of the idea in cultural productions, not any facts of the matter themselves; that is, whatever an author takes to be facts are the grist of the matter, as Moore makes unambiguously and intelligently clear in his (1999)[21] From Hell.

Sade’s writings may sometimes license a certain kind of liberty in other people’s writing. That is, the fact that Sade wrote putatively disgusting pornographic fantasies provides the “rationale” for that author to sprawl out his or her own similarly “sick” fantasies, usually without the author ever having cracked open a book by the Marquis. Similarly, the “image” of Nikola Tesla—the discourse that hangs diaphanously in a miasma around him, which can be summarized as “mad genius”—licenses a certain kind of liberty in other people’s mad imaginings. That is, usually without the author having ever cracked open an engineering design by Tesla, the fact that Tesla wrote philosophical, and somewhat promotional speculations about possible directions in science provides the “rationale” for that imaginer sprawling out his or her own similarly empty speculations as “legitimate thought experiments”. As an extreme example, I know someone who informed me one day that he had designed a new kind of airplane. Not only were there not even conceptual sketches to go along with this, any and every detail one might require of a “design” could not be supplied by him. It wasn’t even clear (to me) yet if this was even an idea for a new kind of airplane. And I mention this particular example because this “designer” is a big fan of Tesla.

I immediately want to offset this extreme example with a comment in the opposite direction. Pauli’s “not even wrong” is a just response to this sort of claim to have “designed a new airplane,” but only because any such plane, if it is going to be realized, must at some point actually be materially embodied, even if only to the point of proof-of-concept. But in the world of culture—and particularly fiction—the notion of “not even wrong” is “not even wrong”. What I hear principally in the would-be designer’s claim to a new kind of airplane aims at the same issue that Pauli is debunking: i.e., the desire to obtain access to grant money—or, to put it less specifically, to the issues surrounding the criteria of who and what will be taken seriously as far as (scientific) “reality” is concerned. Thus, on the one side, the would-be-designer’s invoked authority of Tesla ostensibly provides the basis for the claim, “This is legitimate,” while Pauli’s utterance, from his well-established place in the access corridors to resources, ensures that certain would-be newcomers are kept out of the corridors. It is exactly this kind of discourse that hangs around Tesla—on one view, he was the freak who people rightly didn’t take seriously or, on the other, he was the genius who got denied access (thanks to the Randian despotism of Edison).

Once again, it should be obvious that “who is right” is not at issue here—or, more precisely, that is comprises only part of a larger argument. I forget who it was (it might have been Pauli, in fact) who shut out an upcoming genius—one who was later vindicated, because he really was a genius—dismissing the work as charlatanism but (as we can only too clearly see retrospectively) out of a more proprietary desire to try to protect his position in the theoretical physicist community. This dynamic plays out all over the place—a particularly rich period of it involved (professional, academic) archaeology and (non-professional, non-academic) Egyptology in the early twentieth century; an interesting example because in fact the Egyptologists in many cases made many more numerous and significant finds than the armchair archaeologists sitting in Europe shuffling pottery shards around and getting into heated controversies whether this dusty fragment belonged to classification A or B. Bernal’s (1987)[22] Black Athena more recently created this kind of disciplinary controversy for the historical formation of Greece, as did Talageri’s (1999)[23] The Rigveda in the historiography of India. The fact that some of the major opponents of these works may be shown to be shills of the power structure—academic hired guns, if you will—does not muddle but actually makes that much clearer that “who is right” has more to do with “who claims or steals the right to declare the course of a discourse” than actual (establishable) “facts” in any historical sense.

That “truth telling” and “vested self-interest” are separable factors thus gives us four basic kinds of players in this: the scholar (a specialist who is interested in establishing as best as possible the “facts” of the matter, whatever they entail), the tool or shill (a specialist who is interested in maintaining a particular ideology, for themselves or for others, in the face of all evidence), the crank (a non-specialist who is interested in maintaining his or her point of view, for themselves or for others, despite all evidence to the contrary), and the explorer (a non-specialist who is interested in establishing as best as possible the “facts” of the matter, despite whatever limited resources or access to scholarly material she may have).

Two things are obvious here: there will be a tendency to call scholars and tools experts and cranks and explorers amateurs, and there is some justice in this, since most scholars and tools tend to be trained academic specialists in some discipline while cranks and explorers tend not to be. There is, however, a circularity in trying to assert this, and it comes out in the ambiguity of objections to the appeal to authority; specifically, there are grounds for an appeal to an authority when: (1) the authority is a legitimate expert on the subject; and (2) there exists consensus among legitimate experts in the subject matter under discussion. It will only be by some form of qualification that one might be recognized as a “legitimate expert”—sound argumentation is a traditional bootstrap to legitimate authority but being a tenured professor at an institute of higher learning usually means some modicum of legitimacy adheres to your pronouncements. Similarly, the problematic demand for a consensus, which at its most generous interpretation amounts only to the accepted or prevailing doxa (within a discipline) if anything like a consensus actually can be established. [24] So—just as amongst the aboriginal tribes observed by Spencer and Gillen (1904), where it is the old men in a group who tell the new men in the group that they, the old men, are the final authority for all—the current wizened crew of tenured professors tell new associate professors and the like that they, the tenured professors (and administration) have the right to determine who is a duly legitimated expert.

The more socially familiar kind of this barbarity is when someone with a college education calls someone who doesn’t have one stupid. The illegitimate move is pretending that education and stupidity are mutually exclusive, rather proving the contrary by the very assertion. And so the tool in particular is interested in calling the crank and the explorer alike stupid, on the same ground. This is like a White racist calling an African ignorant for not acknowledging the racist’s argument for the inferiority of Africans.

I don’t think that the saying “never judge a book by its cover” means to include the back of the book, although my experience is that the fronts of books tend at least to be less disingenuous than the back. In the present case, if “Jeff Smith is one of this country’s great living cartoonists” then we’re reading the words of a tool or the reviewer lives in Nauru.[25] Or similarly, “Anyway, RASL, by the always impressive Mr. Jeff Smith, is a book anyone with an itch for good ol’ hard, Asimov-Clark [sic] science fiction should be drooling over” (cited previously). It’s hard to imagine what fossil has an itch for good ol’ hard, Asimov-Clarke that still needs new fulfillment in something other than Asimov-Clarke,[26] but neither Asimov or Clarke that I know of ever particularly resorted to that Vernean habit (turned too often into a novelistic raison d’être by Niven) of merely cobbling together a few equations from science and then pretending that constituted a focus of a fiction itself.[27]

Another reviewer (elsewhere) insists: “For fans of Inception, this book is everything you could want from a comic.”[28] The title of this review is “Hard Boiled Sci-Fi with as much brains as balls,”[29] so one sees that Smith’s hodgepodge can get taken by some as thinking-man’s “sci-fi”. And it’s exactly a figure like Tesla, in his least scientific aspect as someone who practiced science, who provides people a seeming warrant for this sort of claim.[30] This is certainly at work in Smith’s deployment of Tesla, as statements like “Nikola Tesla’s life and achievements (and, quite frankly, whom [sic] with even a smidgen of interest in the history of science isn’t fascinated by that guy?)” can remind us.

The word smidgen is ironic here, because it’s probably very often people with a smidgen of interest in the history of science who are fascinated by Tesla, just as people with a smidgen of interest in the history of Russia are fascinated by Rasputin. Part of my objection—as also in those cases where the tendency afflicts anime series[31]—is the artistic sloppiness in imagining that you can just throw a few equations into a book and that’s supposed to be science fiction or a sign of thoughtfulness or profundity. There is so much missing here in this book to warrant such a conclusion—and it may be that Smith’s fans are more dubiously oriented to his work than he is—but this book is only an example of the wider phenomenon. This is the flip-side of the reductio ad Hitlerum—the argument that proves indisputably that one’s disputant is an idiot—because the reductio ad Teslā proves indisputably that one’s own argument is well-grounded in solidly established scientific authority. More precisely, in Tesla’s own example of speculative, philosophical, or promotional thought.[32]

One may criticize certain examples of science fiction for congratulating itself in dropping the “fiction” by a rigorous application of “science,” but the offense then is rather to the fiction not the science. In the Furry community, one sometimes encounters the objection that large male cat fursonas (like lions, cheetahs, &c) cannot have large penises because large cats (like lions, cheetahs, &c) don’t have large penises in “nature”. One might say that this is simply a pathetic and silly objection, but it is actually a massive failure of imagination and it points to the shrinking of the human capacity for imagining in the first place. Specifically, it proposes “the real” (whatever that is) as the necessary template for the imagined (whatever that is).

Science fiction, previously an aspiration against the impossible, is getting constrained only to what is possible—the imaginable and the plausible being thus entangled. The converse of this is a dis-constraint of creative responsibility, coherence, &c. it seems like there is a crippled capacity for what science fiction (and fantasy) calls world-building. Again, some anime series seem very afflicted with this.[33] But popular forms do have a tendency to go for spectacle at the expense of internal world coherence merely to provide something dramatically showy (both in the US and Japan, as well as elsewhere). The cheapness of this sometimes justifies itself, but usually not. A quintessential example of this is the sudden inability of the crack-shot villain to hit the hero when the hero is trying to escape. It is astonishing to me that this sort of thing still winds up on film, and I’d be interested to know if anyone anymore even finds such ridiculous near-misses actually exciting any more. And if so, how.

Merely to throw in Maxwell’s equations and a whiff of Tesla as if this justifies something into a mix of fight scenes with the Grinch and an exotic dancer’s ass doesn’t elevate the material. Morrison failed in a similar way (IMHO) but he at least went to the trouble of trying to pretend the elements belonged together.

There is far too much these days in movie, TV, and comic production that takes as its premise, “Hey, what if …” but that’s not enough to warrant a project—though if you’re famous (i.e., if you have the established authority in the field), then you can shove down everyone’s throat your steaming heap as if it amounted to something.

The postmodern gesture, that seemed to liberate us from the onerous task of being familiar enough with the edifices of culture to be able to participate in the conversation of the culture via our own works of art and that offered us the chance (or the obligation) to pick our material not necessarily from “high” culture but from everywhere, has turned out to be a trap. When you can pick anything and have it mean anything, this actually increases the demands on what is selected and how things are assembled, but the very looseness of the criteria for selection ends up not generating a rigor of effort on the part of culture producers.

Endnotes

[1] Smith, J (2008). RASL: the drift. Columbus, OH: Cartoon Books, pp. 1–112

[2] (from here): the passage continues, “The six corporations that collectively control U.S. media today are Time Warner, Walt Disney, Viacom, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., CBS Corporation and NBC Universal.  Together, the “big six” absolutely dominate news and entertainment in the United States.  But even those areas of the media that the “big six” do not completely control are becoming increasingly concentrated. For example, Clear Channel now owns over 1000 radio stations across the United States. Companies like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are increasingly dominating the Internet.”

[3] Shannon (1948) calculated that:

The redundancy of ordinary English, not considering statistical structure over greater distances than about eight letters, is roughly 50%. This means that when we write English half of what we write is determined by the structure of the language and half is chosen freely. The figure 50% was found by several independent methods which all gave results in this neighborhood. One is by calculation of the entropy of the approximations to English. A second method is to delete a certain fraction of the letters from a sample of English text and then let someone attempt to restore them. If they can be restored when 50% are deleted the redundancy must be greater than 50%. A third method depends on certain known results in cryptography (14, from here)

To provide a simple example of this, if I tell you I will transmit a five letter word to you, after I have transmitted “KNOC” there is (in the domain of standard English words) only one letter that I can transmit next. As such, because you know that the next letter must be “K” to actually transmit it to you would be gratuitous except that it confirms the likely correctness of the preceding four letters. In a less benign sense, to receive the same news story from five seemingly different sources serves to create the impression that the story must be true (whether it is or isn’t).

[4] Logan, G. (1988). Toward an instance theory of automatization. Psychological Review, 95(4), 492-527. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.95.4.492.

Contrasting instance versus strength theories, Logan (1988) notes:

In instance theories, memory becomes stronger because each experience lays down a separate trace that may be recruited at the time of retrieval; in strength theories, memory becomes stronger by strengthening a connection between a generic representation of a stimulus and a generic representation of its interpretation or its response (494).

[5] Clemons, L. K. (1989).  Degrees of implementation of multisensory reading instruction by teachers involved in naturalistic research. (Record of Study);. Ed.D. dissertation, Texas A&M University, United States — Texas. Retrieved from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text.(Publication No. AAT 9015435).

[6] Every time I cite another author as well I’m not (at least not apparently) speaking only for myself but am invoking a putatively established authority and expecting you to take seriously whatever point I’m making. At a minimum, I appear to be saying, “See, I’m not the only one who thinks so.” One might just as well say si l’autorité n’existait pas, il faudrait l’inventer

[7] Gounder, CKR (Sri Swami Satchidānanda) (1988). The living Gita: the complete Bhagavad Gita, Buckingham, VA: Integral Yoga Publications.

The full passage here reads:

Isn’t it sweet to study the Gita? But please remember that the entire Gita is right there in front of you. The best book to read is the book of life. With that book, you will be constantly learning everything. Written scriptures are only here to show that since they also say the same things, we can trust our experiences: “Yes, here in the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Kṛṣṇa also said the same thing. Okay, then probably it must be right.” We want an authority to confirm our experiences. Scriptural study is good for confirming our convictions” (31).

[8] This, whether Nikola Tesla himself became the prototype for the type, only became so toward the end of his life, or neither of the above.

[9] “No personality in the history of science has been pushed further into the realm of mythology than the Serbian-American electrical engineer Nikola Tesla” (¶1, from here).

[10] See here.

[11] If one wants to say that the first involves Smith’s readers and the second involves Smith’s work, the intersection of the two is where Smith as a fan of his work (i.e., to the extent that he takes it to be thoughtful, profound, or intellectual) allows that cripple the imaginative fiction of his work.

[12] Delany, S (2009). The jewel-hinged jaw: notes on the language of science fiction. Middletown, CT; Wesleyan University Press.

[13] Usually with the further constraint that there is no traveling between world and/or that no other characters travel between worlds. Even in our banal everyday world, however, people insist on believing in the parallel planes of Heaven and Hell, so their presence in so-called naturalistic and realistic fiction (and that angels or demons move back and forth between those other dimensions) isn’t necessarily taken s moving yet into the realm of science fiction, fantasy, or schizophrenia.

[14] The one major exception is, of course, the emotional entanglements possible in encountering aspects of more than life of oneself (if not another self). Often, as in a movie like Multiplicity, the issue simply devolves to sorting out the problem of clones and/or “which one is real”. And what amounts to the “mere inconvenience” of the different details in the parallel world for the main character tends to occupy the greatest portion of narrative space—his wife doesn’t love him in the other world, or didn’t commit suicide, &c. Or the Third Reich didn’t get defeated, &c. No doubt somewhere there is the story that traces the effect of the people who are left behind in the slider world after the TV series’ hero has passed on to the next episodic slier world.

[15] Like so many witty sayings on the Internet, it is unclear who really said this—perhaps a cleaned up paraphrase of Edward Gibbon or the more usual suspect, Seneca (the Younger). The very fact of this mystery is itself a case of si l’autorité n’existait pas, il faudrait l’inventer and trying to get to the root of the matter may be interestingly seen on display here.

[16] This isn’t all Clarke gets backward. Regarding the meme and its variations that he invented telecommunication satellites, he did at least write an article about it.

“It is not clear that this article was actually the inspiration for the modern telecommunications satellite. According to John R. Pierce, of Bell Labs, who was involved in the Echo satellite and Telstar projects, he gave a talk upon the subject in 1954 (published in 1955), using ideas that were “in the air”, but was not aware of Clarke’s article at the time. In an interview given shortly before his death, Clarke was asked whether he’d ever suspected that one day communications satellites would become so important; he replied: ¶ I’m often asked why I didn’t try to patent the idea of communications satellites. My answer is always, ‘A patent is really a license to be sued.” ¶ Though different from Clarke’s idea of telecom relay, the idea of communicating with satellites in geostationary orbit itself had been described earlier. For example, the concept of geostationary satellites was described in Hermann Oberth’s 1923 book Die Rakete zu den Planetenräumen (The Rocket into Interplanetary Space) and then the idea of radio communication with those satellites in Herman Potočnik’s (written under the pseudonym Hermann Noordung) 1928 book Das Problem der Befahrung des Weltraums — der Raketen-Motor (The Problem of Space Travel — The Rocket Motor), sections: Providing for Long Distance Communications and Safety and (possibly referring to the idea of relaying messages via satellite, but not that 3 would be optimal) Observing and Researching the Earth’s Surface published in Berlin. Clarke acknowledged the earlier concept in his book Profiles of the Future (emphasis added).

This is a rather gross piece of smarmily claiming what you never did—given Clarke’s doddering age at the time, it might be a case of him having come to believe his hype—but it also points to the kind of Tesla-think that mistakes (in the real world) an idea as co-equal to the actuality. The correct answer should have been, “Don’t be silly. You don’t patent ideas.”

[17] At one point, it seems that the protagonist must wait before he drifts again, but soon later goes ahead and does anyway. Maybe this is supposed to suggest his resilience to grueling exertion but it reads merely like Smith introducing a “rule” in the world that he then violates because it’s no longer convenient to adhere to it. As for why he can do this—if it isn’t just that he “sucks it up” and gets tough about it (in which case his earlier remark about not drifting again in such short order was narratively sloppy—it seems clear that there is some mysterious, i.e., magical, reason; that is, the author won’t have a better explanation than, “well, that’s just how it happened; what can I say”. Or, worse, “well, when there’s such and such a quantum flux, then you can sometimes slip through again without …” &c.

[18] (from here):

I was gonna call this post “Why RASL kicks ASSL”, but if you say that a little too fast it just sounds wrong, so I went with the boring “A Short Appreciation of…” Anyway, RASL, by the always impressive Mr. Jeff Smith, is a book anyone with an itch for good ol’ hard, Asimov-Clark [sic] science fiction should be drooling over. Not only is it a slam-bang awesome thriller, but it incorporates factual science history, not to mention a great succinct survey of Nikola Tesla’s life and achievements (and, quite frankly, whom [sic] with even a smidgen of interest in the history of science isn’t fascinated by that guy?) woven seamlessly into the fictional fold. This one is even more applause-worthy being that it is Smith’s creator-owned follow-up to Bone, one of the great landmark masterpieces in the history of comics, and manages to stand on its own two feet. The story is of the titular parallel universe jumping physicist-turned-art thief’s battle to keep an ultimate weapon from the hands of a government who does not possess the appreciation for the immeasurable destructive power that the weapon could unleash. All of the science in this book, while applied fictitiously, is based on the actual research and theories of Nikola Tesla. Now that the series is nearly over, it would probably be difficult to find it in issues, but Jeff Smith is never stingy with the collections (along with pretty cool bonus material), and I’m sure there will be a “complete edition” in the near future.

[19] Details here, of course.

[20] In this volume of the series, at least, the previous owner of the image of the “man in the maze” is described as Pima (and also Hopi, by someone who seems to be a curator of a “Mazes in Native American Art of the Southwest” exhibit). Since proximity of people to one another does not preclude important differences, whatever the similarity, I’d want to be careful about treating the man in the maze as the same amongst the anthropologically lumped together “Pima” (details here). Moreover, to whatever extent we may construe “Hopi” and “Pima” as proximate to one another—and in general the “Pima” i.e., various O’odham people, can communicate with one another despite dialectical differences—the Hopi and Pimic languages are in distinctly different language groups (see Campbell, p. 136).* The issue, to stress again, is not what can be or has been established as factual in some framework, but what a cultural producer takes to be factual when co-opting a marginalized group. Certainly in this first volume, the man in the maze has almost no significance narratively; it is merely an barely a symbol, which in one frame (p. 96) substitutes the name of a Museum exhibition in the book—“the Maze of Life”—for the O’odham peoples’ name for the symbol, i.e., amongst the Tohono O’odham people, Iʼitoi denotes the mischievous creator god who resides in a cave just below the peak of Baboquivari Mountain, known to the Hia C-eḍ O’odham people as Iʼithi. The Akimel O’odham (synecdochially referred to as the Pima) refer to this creator god also as Se:he, or Elder Brother. So, even in its original significance, the image of a sacred tradition becomes merely a signpost for life as a maze. I’m not merely being indignant on behalf of the various O’odham people by saying this. The artist’s task is to co-opt material from the world, wherever we find it, and rework it. There’s no reason to believe that one of the groups of the O’odham people might not, at some point, have co-opted their own neighbor’s imagery to their own artistic/spiritual purpose. What I want to emphasize or look at, as in this post generally, is the social meaning of such co-optation.

*Campbell, L (1997). American Indian languages: the historical linguistics of Native America, New York: Oxford University Press.

[21] “Moore writes that he did not accept Knight’s theory at face value (and he echoed the then-growing consensus that such claims were likely hoaxes), but considered it an interesting starting point for his own fictional examination of the Ripper murders, their era and impact” (from here).

[22] Bernal, M. (1987). Black Athena: the Afroasiatic roots of classical civilization. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.

[23] Talageri, SG (1999). The Rigveda: a historical analysis. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.

[24] Spencer and Gillen (1904) describe at one point how change may be introduced into an otherwise typically very formalistic setting amongst the aboriginal people they observe. When an innovation occurs, or would be proposed, the older men confer about it, and perhaps state that the variation of established practice shall be acceptable or not. Once established, the innovation itself may be implemented, and whether it catches on and sticks becomes part of the material life of the idea. The innovator may need to keep it alive, or it might die with him; the elders may ensure that it gets taken up as a general habit in any given cultural context; or another member of the group may pick it up as well, so long as the elders continue to permit it to occur. What is clear from all of this, at least in a culture where there are clearly delineated lines of power, is exactly how authority begets authority.  Wherever it originated, those times are lost to historical memory and the “we’ve always done it that way” rule is in play. Old men indoctrinate new men in the moral absolute to obey them—to obey older men generally—and that reëstablishes the recurrent cycle.

[25] My apologies to any cartoonists in Nauru, both for any insult and for the drift of my mind that hoped Nauru (as the country with the world’s smallest population) might be a likely place where there are currently no cartoonists.

[26] Never mind whatever might be specifically meant by this generic mash-up.

[27] Prove me wrong and the strength of my argument increases, since this would only to be to point out the faults of the books in question.

[28] The sentence quoted above is the last of the reviewer’s review. The whole first of it reads:

“RASL is everything comics should be. Pulse-pounding, articulate, character rich, plot smart, and, best of all, gorgeous. Jeff Smith proves yet again that he’s the best there is at what he does.

Disagreeing that it is pulse-pounding or gorgeous would involve a broader conversation about criteria of judgment than I’m willing to engage for this book, but the issues of articulate, character rich, and plot smart are not so easily tossed into the de gustibus pile. The clearest lapse of “character rich” involves the utterly inconsequential part played by females, who manage to be mostly naked a lot of the time anyway. The first death of Annie, which is undercut by the existence of an infinite number of her, serves no purpose in the plot except for that most conventional and boring gesture of ‘the dead girlfriend who drives our hero to” whatever … in this case not to much. But far and away the most egregious fault of the book is precisely its often garishly bad exposition, a major fault in a lot of science fiction. From pp. 55–7, for instance, a host of improbable exposition is deployed, and this is not the only example already.

[29] It seems more gratuitous than uncharitable to point out the grammatical error—a serving up of as much soups as nuts—but when the word “brains” is involved in the error it’s hard to ignore. If it were simply a typo, I’d’ve let it stand, but it doesn’t seem so.

[30] Arguably unlikely.

[31] PS: some of my favorite movies are Japanese animation, so the issue here is specifically serialization not animation itself. I find soap operas ridiculous as well along with the German baroque novel.

[32] I feel like I must say again that it doesn’t matter what Tesla’s purpose in these writings are. It may be perfectly the case that foolish people are mistaking Tesla’s speculations to be “serious cogitations”. If you happen to encounter someone who informs you he’s invented a perpetual motion machine (or the design for one) , ask if he’s familiar with Tesla’s work, and the answer will frequently be yes.

[33] I’m not ignoring that the versions we have in English may be wretched translations or otherwise wholly incoherent things that actually misrepresent what is going on.