Monday, August 31, 2015

Children of the God of Teeth

An excerpt from The Carcass of Noon;

Down in the dusty vale the impalers ply their trade - making upright citizens of those who have broken the law of the sainted dead. Few trees remain but slender saplings, carefully tended that they may grow tall and straight the better to correct the wayward.

 In that vale the children of the impalers are taught early that their teeth belong to the oldest of rats. By his permission are they allowed to erupt from baby gums. By his permission also the little borrowers are allowed to gnaw such portions as they find suitably delectable but only for their allotted time. When their time is up the teeth grow weak and fall out, as it were a sign of the senescence of their infancy and burgeoning into what passes for adulthood among the impalers. These adult years, the years between the ages of eight and their inevitable death by thirty-six from teeth gone rotten and poison in the blood, are held to have been purchased by the offerings they make of baby teeth and of teeth stolen from those they execute.

There is among them a trade in teeth chiselled from the mouths of the impaled and the-yet-to-be-impaled. Favour may be gained from the children of the eldest that scamper in the walls of the world by the right offering of the right teeth, though it is argued among them a great deal about who knows the correct procedures to contact and placate Those Who Gnaw Beyond. It is said by some that those beyond care not about the status of the one to whom a particular set of teeth belonged, more than that, it is not known precisely whether they can know, it is the case that they may be bargained with as to what manner of circumstance and heritage may be accepted to be embedded in each handful of teeth. The elders who engage in these bargains rely on a sophisticated and poetic form of lying that tests skilful rhetoric and plausibility against an otherworldly cunning;

Those that come in the night from the riddled dark beneath are appalling, but are dutiful servitors of Him That Gnaws. The ones who have pleased him smile broad and yellow at the twitching recipients of their expertise long into their fourth decade, until the inevitable cankerworm that grows in the ancient jaw claims them in the writhing sweaty death-beds it bestows.

They are knowns as fellers of wood and all the trees about are well-hewn to coppicing stumps and dank mud among which bristle spinily their nameless hamlets. Seven families dwell across a league of valley floor, the lookalike Skenchbacks, the impertinent Skelpies, the Skenetons as thin as sneering switches and Skenydougars with thunder in their voices, the grotesque loping Skerrimudges, the Skoomits of sickly hue and the rampant Skelters running before all.

There are 4d6 in each of the seven hamlets, of which 1d4 will be amenable to becoming hirelings in exchange for the right to chisel teeth from fallen and captured foes in addition to normal fees.

All are as Normal Folk without armour but with a clotting beetle, a tendle knife or a meathook. 

Their Laighlander heritage blinds them to the Darkness in the North. From the vale it can be clearly seen that a portion of the sky has fallen. Dread constellations glitter from beyond.

For Skenchbacks only roll hit points for one, all others are alike
For Skelpies assume the most antagonistic demeanour as standard
For Skenetons assume they secretly plot to impale whoever they meet on whatever trumped-up charges they can imagine.
For Skenydougars negate all attempts at stealth, they bellow and shriek like boreal tempests
For Skerrimudges allow a +1 bonus to surprise for they delight in ambuscades
For Skoomits assume a maximum of one hit point but an active alliance with the Eldest of Rats
For Skelters double movement at all times

Forenames and associated traits are determined by a d20 roll

  1. Trasimondo – pestiferous
  2. Ursine – hirsute
  3. Cateline – rancorous
  4. Harrowjack - staring
  5. Jehanne – mouldy
  6. Gormlaith - haughty
  7. Agrippina – skittish
  8. Eleazar – avaricious
  9. Grigori – merciless
  10. Ephrath – lascivious
  11. Ailill  - capricious
  12. Ashling – dazed
  13. Corvus – hungry
  14. Benedikt – secretive
  15. Egon – vicious
  16. Antje – unyielding
  17. Ulfberht – watchful
  18. Gerlinde – sly
  19. Hedwig – warlike
  20. Pherick – mumbly

When a favoured impaler dies (1-in-6 is favoured, as are all Skoomits) a Rattenkönig bursts forth from the earth in a hideous swarming mass to enact vengeance upon the slayer according to the bargain of the teeth .

Rattenkönig: AC 13 HD 2+2 #att: 4  dmg: 1 + bloody flux mv: 40’ ML: 11 AL: C

Daunting: hirelings check morale on sight.

Bloody Flux: Save vs. poison or contract diarrhoea, vomiting, cramps. Save vs. poison each day or lose a point of constitution. Three consecutive saves indicates recovery.

Benighted as they are and inured to atrocity by their calling, the impalers have dark prejudices and a predilection for the brutal imposition of penalties upon those they deem, by the fickle whim of their violent instincts, outlawed;

D6 determines prejudice of visited family;

1. Any diminutive and rotund individual with clever feet is obviously a Grummuck o’ Grundlestoan and should be dragged naked through brambles before being skewered transversely upon an iron spike

2. Any lankily fey and wanearthly personage is probably a Neugle from the Wild Black Yonder who covets the tears of the innocent and should be impaled upright upon a thorny branch and burnt after death in a furnace.

3. Any stooped and gravelly person is thought an Ambulant Worm crawled hence from its millennial encystment in the dark earth’s bowels. For such a thing only the inverse impalement through the wretched maw will ensure its demise. It is customary to shatter the limbs prior to the enactment of the sentence.

4. A clever-looking bloke with cumbrous tomes is in all probability a Dwimmerthane in the service of Uncle Withershins, who keeps a ledger of the minor iniquities of right-thinking folk that he may the more effectively tempt them from the road to Neorxnawang. For this crime he should be impaled backward through the lower ribs and pelted with all manner of refuse.

5. A weird woman with pets has in all probability tempted the Ounkin Wights from the Middle Airs into bestial form that she may indulge with them in manifold debaucheries. Such a one need be buried alive with her familiars and pierced with a dozen stakes of rowan wood.

6. One who moves with practiced poise, cowled and cloaked and lightly-shod, is of a certainty a Malign Funambulist who seeks to steal the salvation of sleepers through their nostrils. The punishment for such is to be gaunched at a rampart upon an iron hook.

Each year comes a hundred captives from the town of Strokannet in obedience to a law that seeks to suppress the Cormorantine Heresy that died seven generations since. The quota still exists by the unchangeable law that thrives among them and subjugates their native will to the performance of meaningless slaughter in the name of those that are dead. For those of Strokannet and Routhercocke are subjects of a thanatocracy whose hierarchical positions have long been held by the dead of seven hundred years gone. The will of the dead manifests in reality as edicts handed down to be heeded above all, such that the living aristocracy in those towns have been demoted over the centuries that they are reigned over now by, respectively; a Seventh-degree Underslave’s Verminhandler and a Thrice-banished Scullion-hags’s Groom of the Unmentionable Exudate (in common parlance, they are still referred to as the Handler and the Groom but the awareness of the ignominy inherent in all in these latter-days is ever-present, even unto grovellings and prostrations that punctuate everything). These potentates and all their even more ignominious underlings are obedient to the tracts their ancestors bestowed upon them but above-all to that bestowed by the seven chief tracts in all their gnarled poesy and in their crippling opacity of ancient syntax. These tracts are; The Margrave’s Tract, The Tutelary Subdeacon’s Paradoxes Reconciled, The Burgrave’s Brief commentary on the Margrave’s Tract, The Haberdasher’s Appendices Re-examined, The Apertures ‘twixt Gelding Days by her Grace the Slattern-Keeper’s Mistress et cetera . Their names are beside the point, their contents are such that the enunciation of psalms and platitudes from each will summon forth an obedient citizen of either the Branks of Strokannet or of the Bulwark at Routhercocke whose willingness to heed the Tract-holder’s interpretation of the Tract necessitates their servitude in the most circumstances (Morale is governed by charisma as usual)

Lost tracts are to be found in troves in place of various grimoires at the GM’s whim. Read aloud from a tract in the Language of the Dead and after 1d12 days arrives one whose rank is beneath that of ninth-degree underthrall (Summoned individual is a level 3 henchperson);

D10 determines

1. Lutwidge: An Amanuensis of Strokannet In customary ink and sackcloth arming-jack and wooden teeth, lang-pike of seven-yards length. Believes that carrots inflame the passions (AC +1, lang-pike d8 dmg)

 2. Morwenna : A Carpentaria of Routhercocke in jangle-sark, a caged songbird upon her helm and a billhook (the songbird dies when evil is nigh, the jangle-sark provides +1 AC but -1 chance to surprise, Billhook d10)

3. Tripping Nestor: A Dredgerman of Strokannet with Hewing-hods of tarnished bronze, whose fighting-style resembles a demented hornpipe jig (strikes twice for d3+1 dmg each time)

4. Braam: A Lime-kilner from the Routhercocke Ovens with blood in his spittle and ancient barking-irons (barking-irons [pistoles] d6 dmg, ROF ½ backfire on a 1 for full dmg, ignore armour)

5. Tristram Goad: A Destrier’s Concubine from the stables at Strokannet with high helm and horsehair plumes and flail and no mercy in his heart (Flail d8, ML check to prevent pursuit of fleeing enemies to the very end)

6. Atropa Glandrankle: Imperfect Stranger of the Lost House of Strokannet* in green battle-smock and bearing a green Morgenstern and a flask of lindwurm bile that blazes with venomous fire when exposed to air. (AC +1, Morgenstern d10 dmg, Lindwurm Bile: 2d6 per rd. for 1d4 rds + save vs. poison to all within 20’ or swoon from the fumes for 1d4 rds)

7. Corporal Griskin: A Leatherhead from the barbican at Routhercock in rancid gambeson and rusty iron jackboots, wielding bastinado and bullwhip with exuberant abandon (Bastinado d4, Bullwhip d3, AC +2)

8. Erszébet Snood: Carrion-Hunter from the Routhercock catacombs with sevenfold wig and capacious black robes within which are hid a flesh-axe, a garrotte and a latchet crossbow. (Flesh-axe d6, garrotte d2/rd, latchet crossbow d6 ROF 1/1, AC +1)

9. Salomon Grist: Zelator of Strokannet, wheedling stammerer, blinky and vile, swathed in dusty shrouds and bearing a pile of bundled vellum on which are writ condemnations for trifling infractions (Condemnation 1/wk , 1d4 bane-thralls [as skeletons] emerge from the ground to drag the condemned into foetid abysms)

10. Piroska and Gullet: Dog-whipper of Routhercocke in russet cowl with hulking vicious pitcher-dog in ringmail coat (Pitcher AC: 15 MV: 60’ HD: 3 #att 1 bite Dmg: 1d6 )

*The Imperfect Strangers are aelves who of old dwelt nigh Flambergast and know of the Great White Horse of that ruin

Thursday, August 27, 2015

On Fantasy

As I see it, there are two main strands of speculative fiction: that in which there is some degree of pretence that things certain historical peoples were deluded about were actually true, and that in which wholly speculative propositions are made that nobody has ever believed were true. This distinction can usefully be applied to differentiate science fiction from fantasy but there are obviously differing degrees to which individual texts are bound by these categories. Fantasy is predominantly a projection back into a historical-credulity-space in which belief in gods, magicians, fairies and demons are taken to be truth, whereas sci-fi mines a futuristic-speculation-space in which the assumed position is that certain predictions made about the future have come to pass. There is a tendency for fantasy to be less concerned with working out the possible ramifications of the fantastic elements than science fiction is with its speculative elements but that broad generalisation is subject to innumerable specific variations.

It is fantasy that I am most interested in, and for reasons which may be different than most. In his essay Epic Pooh, Michael Moorcock offers a criticism of elements of Tolkienesque epic fantasy as inherently conservative and reactionary, a means of mollycoddling the bourgeoisie with comfortable lies about the world. While Moorcock was primarily concerned with the political and social, rather than the ontological, an argument can be made that fantasy represents a kind of atavistic reality, one in which modern systems of categorisation are discarded in favour of something altogether more archaic. As an avowedly sceptical atheist I find the idea of actually believing the things mediaeval humanity believed to be distasteful, but at the same time find the fact that they actually did believe them fascinating. Adopting the everything-they-believed-was-true approach allows me to take the much-maligned role of the cultural coloniser, patronisingly aping the attitudes of a non-privileged other with an aplomb granted by the fact that the patronised, culturally-colonised other is largely extinct. This fact of their extinction also allows me to venture, unmolested by judgment, into scathing criticism and parody of the abhorrent attitudes mediaeval people held with regards to women, sexual servitude, torture, violence as entertainment, racism, abject thraldom to monolithic religion, cruelty to almost everything and intolerance of everything else. Of course, the everything-they-believed-was-true approach also falls foul of inherent contradictions when the heterogeneous nature of real historical cultures and their beliefs is taken into account. It can’t all be true.

My view of mediaeval people as predominantly ignorant creates an interesting paradox in terms of my attitude to the fantasy genre. If fantasy is to be believed, mediaeval people were not mistaken in their positions with regards to fairies and wizards. A rarely asked but very interesting question arises. If, in the context of the narrative, they are right about wizards, what else are they right about? The answer offered by lazy fantasy writers - the least interesting answer - is that the people of the fantasy world are indistinguishable from modern rational sceptics in Ren Faire costumes. These people understand their world in much the same way educated westerners of the late 20th to early 21st century understand it. Their belief in the existence of magic is supported by empirical observation. They believe in deities whose powers are demonstrably real. They believe in supernatural monsters who exist in an ecology alongside conventional creatures and whose supernatural powers are naturally occurring phenomena. Within this understanding of the fantasy world superstition is fact and therefore does not exist. All of which makes their world more rational than the real world. Which robs it of some of its wonder, to be sure, and also robs it of much of its perilous strangeness, which simply won’t do.

There are varying levels to which it is possible to take the apocryphal claims of mediaeval people as fact. I would argue that the further you allow yourself to travel down the rabbit hole of the mediaeval paradigm, the weirder the world becomes and the weirder the people themselves become. In comparison Legolas Greenleaf, say, who is an immortal scion of a line whose ancestors lived  before the first rising of the sun, is less weird than a mediaeval Englishman who believed that geese grew on trees, intellectually disabled children are fairy changelings and that burning cats alive is hilarious. The problem remains, and is even compounded, if you grant all the claims made by mediaeval people as true. Take for granted, for example, that the claims made in mediaeval bestiaries, wherein the intrusive ubiquity of religious parable and a general off-the-wall silliness usurps all observational naturalism, and you have a world in which the camel and the leopard can breed and that is where giraffes come from, where panthers breathe an intoxicating sweet fragrance, where mice are spontaneously generated by the soil and many stranger things are true - the world is almost unrecognisable. There is an approach that is sometimes taken which is to have a bet each way, to allow that some of the irrational claims made by historical people are true in the context of the narrative but disallow others, or relegate them to a shrunken category of mere superstitions. This feels like compromise.

There was apparently a belief that beavers self-castrated to escape from hunters

One of the aspects of working within a mediaeval fantasy paradigm that I find as powerful as it is underutilised is what TV Tropes calls deliberate values dissonance. This is what is being employed when the writers of Mad Men make Don Draper, obviously a protagonist and therefore relatable, prone to historically consistent lapses into chauvinism and insensitivity, which make him more fully realised as a character, more matriculated into the internally-consistent structure of the milieux. In much the same way, it would ring false to me to write an urbane roguish swashbuckler in an Elizabethan London who eschewed the bear garden, had no scorn for the lower classes nor festering racism in his heart. There is no reason why ideologies cannot be critiqued without resorting to artificial constructs. The beauty of described worlds, like the beauty in all of art, exists independently of moral judgments. The entity to which one writes is a human first, and it is invariably insulting to that humanity to tell comforting lies about the nature of the world. This is essentially what Moorcock was driving at in his essay, though I do disagree with him about Tolkien I concur with the general thrust: fantasy need not be meek. To my mind, in order that those who people the world be in some way historically concordant with the beliefs that they held, beliefs which the author utilises in constructing the reality in which they are embedded, some degree of estrangement from contemporary morality needs to be in place. To live in a demon-haunted world is to be haunted by demons.

M. John Harrison, whose work I have only recently made happy acquaintance with, is renowned for the scorn he has for world-building. In his essay, Whatit might be like to live in Viriconium, Harrison describes how the role of the invented world is not to provide a consistently intelligible reality outside the parameters of the narrative. Of his invented city, Viriconium he writes; “it is not a place. It is an attempt to animate the bill of goods on offer. Those goods, as in Tolkien or Moorcock, Disney or Kafka, Le Guin or Wolfe, are ideological”. While he explicitly states that the purpose and function of invented worlds in gaming contexts is different from those in which fictional narratives are based I am going to conveniently ignore this fact, or at least pretend I am writing fiction, and allow some of the constraints to fall away. It does not matter, in the context of the narrative the structure of reality can fluctuate according to the needs of the narrative. Acknowledging the potential for the role of constraints in honing creativity, I can at the same time reject the constraints when rejection is necessary. Harrison does this effortlessly, Viriconium fluctuates according to the needs of the narrative. Whatever is on the bill of goods that needs animating, the city can be rewritten around those ideas the better to bear them along.

This attitude towards world-building is liberating. There is a quality to any exhaustively detailed world that is tiresome and false. No world can possibly be as detailed as Earth (literally, because all invented worlds are contained within Earth). There are always ragged boundaries at the end of the author’s endurance where things referred to are obviously just names with no substance behind them and no more narrative to make them resonant. Tolkien’s primary criticisms of invented languages like Volapük and Esperanto is that they had no legends to make them real. The entire corpus of Middle-Earth writings exist ostensibly so that Tolkien’s invented languages would feel more alive. I take the approach that because invented languages are difficult to animate with invented history and difficult also to construct with any degree of verisimilitude without considerable philological expertise and painstaking effort, I do not ever use invented words. The words I do use are very often obsolete dialect terms, and often applied to obscure folkloric concepts drawn from the well of things benighted people once believed. This constraint serves a number of purposes; I do not have to construct a language and the history of that language, I can avail myself of the robust interconnectedness and developed sound symbolism of existing language to embed the concept more fully into the world, I can encode extra layers of meaning into the names, and I can create refugia where otherwise extinct words can survive, however briefly, and be repurposed. The employment of obsolete obscurities is also part of a strategy of estrangement wherein I can subvert expectations about familiar things the better to lead toward the mystery I am trying to reveal.

That there is a persistent vocabulary that can be used to refer to things nobody still believes in is endlessly fascinating to me. The things people believed to be true seem to be epiphenomena deriving from our limited and biased perceptions of the world and our capacity for confabulation and exaggeration. That nobody ever saw a fairy is beyond doubt, the fact that people from innumerable cultures independently held firm convictions that there was an invisible race of others with potentially malign powers bears powerful testimony to the fact that, as concepts, as delusions and as components of language, fairies were (are) real. This list of legendary creatures from a compilation of British folkloric material known as the Denham Tracts, incidentally a source of speculation about origin of the word hobbit, testifies to the proliferation of terminology used to refer to things that never existed;
"What a happiness this must have been seventy or eighty years ago and upwards, to those chosen few who had the good luck to be born on the eve of this festival of all festivals; when the whole earth was so overrun with ghosts, boggles, Bloody Bones, spirits, demons, ignis fatui, brownies, bugbears, black dogs, spectres, shellycoats, scarecrows, witches, wizards, barguests, Robin-Goodfellows, hags, night-bats, scrags, breaknecks, fantasms, hobgoblins, hobhoulards, boggy-boes, dobbies, hob-thrusts, fetches, kelpies, warlocks, mock-beggars, mum-pokers, Jemmy-burties, urchins, satyrs, pans, fauns, sirens, tritons, centaurs, calcars, nymphs, imps, incubuses, spoorns, men-in-the-oak, hell-wains, fire-drakes, kit-a-can-sticks, Tom-tumblers, melch-dicks, larrs, kitty-witches, hobby-lanthorns, Dick-a-Tuesdays, Elf-fires, Gyl-burnt-tales, knockers, elves, rawheads, Meg-with-the-wads, old-shocks, ouphs, pad-foots, pixies, pictrees, giants, dwarfs, Tom-pokers, tutgots, snapdragons, sprets, spunks, conjurers, thurses, spurns, tantarrabobs, swaithes, tints, tod-lowries, Jack-in-the-Wads, mormos, changelings, redcaps, yeth-hounds, colt-pixies, Tom-thumbs, black-bugs, boggarts, scar-bugs, shag-foals, hodge-pochers, hob-thrushes, bugs, bull-beggars, bygorns, bolls, caddies, bomen, brags, wraiths, waffs, flay-boggarts, fiends, gallytrots, imps, gytrashes, patches, hob-and-lanthorns, gringes, boguests, bonelesses, Peg-powlers, pucks, fays, kidnappers, gallybeggars, hudskins, nickers, madcaps, trolls, robinets, friars' lanthorns, silkies, cauld-lads, death-hearses, goblins, hob-headlesses, bugaboos, kows, or cowes, nickies, nacks, waiths, miffies, buckies, ghouls, sylphs, guests, swarths, freiths, freits, gy-carlins, pigmies, chittifaces, nixies, Jinny-burnt-tails, dudmen, hell-hounds, dopple-gangers, boggleboes, bogies, redmen, portunes, grants, hobbits, hobgoblins, brown-men, cowies, dunnies, wirrikows, alholdes, mannikins, follets, korreds, lubberkins, cluricauns, kobolds, leprechauns, kors, mares, korreds, puckles, korigans, sylvans, succubuses, blackmen, shadows, banshees, lian-hanshees, clabbernappers, Gabriel-hounds, mawkins, doubles, corpse lights or candles, scrats, mahounds, trows, gnomes, sprites, fates, fiends, sibyls, nicknevins, whitewomen, fairies, thrummy-caps, cutties, and nisses, and apparitions of every shape, make, form, fashion, kind and description, that there was not a village in England that had not its own peculiar ghost. Nay, every lone tenement, castle, or mansion-house, which could boast of any antiquity had its bogle, its spectre, or its knocker. The churches, churchyards, and crossroads were all haunted. Every green lane had its boulder-stone on which an apparition kept watch at night. Every common had its circle of fairies belonging to it. And there was scarcely a shepherd to be met with who had not seen a spirit!”
In spite of my scorn for the barbarisms committed by historical people I find the things they imagined to be true fascinating precisely because I am one of them. The archetypes of mythology exist as archetypes because they fulfil some primordial niche in the human imagination. It is for this reason that they persist. I am in the habit of engaging in recreational reductionism in a lot of contexts and I am especially fond of mocking humanity in its hubris. I think there is a perspective from which we can view the latent human need to confabulate that is simultaneously humbling and ennobling, and one that need not resort to magical thinking. Human beings are composed of matter and energy, we are not merely embedded within cosmology, we are ourselves components of cosmological processes and part of the universe-in-motion. The mythic archetypes that so easily delude human beings are as much the product of naturalistic processes as anything else and it is precisely because they are part of the naturalistic process that they have such traction. They are ancient, primordial relics of our animal heritage. Magicians, fairies, monsters and otherworlds seem to lurk in the essential structure of our shared humanity. If they did not exist it would be necessary to invent them.

So when I think of the things I like to write about - the bill of goods – I keep returning to the same things; the nature of the world as imagined by the ignorant, how this crudely imagined representation of things can be described in a consistent way and whether there is any value in consistency, how there is a necessity to reserve some moral judgment with regards to those that people the narrative and even to embrace their immorality as a form of integrity, how everything seems to be extruded by the idiotic machinery of spacetime. For all these things I keep returning to fantasy. It would be interesting to imagine a future world that based a genre upon the delusions contemporary humanity holds, a kind of pseudoscience fiction, complete with messianically-empowered reptoid televangelists and anti-vax sasquatch CIA-insiders flying planes into buildings to foil Illuminati plans to control humanity with chemtrails. Discovering M. John Harrison has assisted me in debunking some of my own delusions: the Laighlands (Lowlands, Lawlands, Meagrish Realm) is not a place (it is actually Doggerland) and exists only as a means to convey ideas and emotional impressions into the brains of other primates. That is plenty.

I leave you with Ruskin, from Seven Lamps of Architecture, 

...the Power of architecture may be said to depend on the quantity (whether measured in space or intenseness) of its shadow; and it seems to me, that the reality of its works, and the use and influence they have in the daily life of men (as opposed to those works of art with which we have nothing to do but in times of rest or of pleasure) require of it that it should express a kind of human sympathy, by a measure of darkness as great as there is in human life: and that as the great poem and great fiction generally affect us most by the majesty of their masses of shade, and cannot take hold upon us if they affect a continuance of lyric sprightliness, but must be serious often, and sometimes melancholy, else they do not express the truth of this wild world of ours; so there must be, in this magnificently human art of architecture, some equivalent expression for the trouble and wrath of life, for its sorrow and its mystery: and this it can only give by depth or diffusion of gloom, by the frown upon its front, and the shadow of its recess.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Some Quasimortals

So I spend time writing one thing and then go off and write another that seems like it is a different thing until I realise that the roots of both of the things are somehow intertwined. I realise that I still have a paracosm and it has grown out of the same mind as the one that has always been there. In this sense, as was the case with Eddison and Tolkien and many others, one’s juvenilia can be utilised as the historical backdrop against which one’s mature work can be seen. [Insert obligatory disavowal of hubristic comparisons here].  The personal rewards of publishing the things I have written are insufficient for me to pursue just yet and the personal reward of pursuing the great interconnected thing beckons enticingly.

Writing is something I only ever pretended to be interested in in much the same way as everyone vaguely literate tends to express a desire to write at some point in their lives. But for much of the time I spent writing I dabbled fecklessly and was generally shambolic in my irregularity. Now I am trying to dig my way out of a creative stalemate I am finding that writing might be a useful neurological exercise and not just as a self-reflexive practice but also as a means of sharpening the wits.

The way I figure it, when anyone conceives an artwork of any description they start with an idea that manifests as a series of emotional impressions. For me it is like a dumb, pre-verbal looming-out-of-chaos of mingled glory and sadness and bitter irony and deadpan hilarity and the process of trying to capture it is always always crude. The enunciation of the idea changes the idea. For me, writing seems like amateur carpentry, whatever unspeakably wonderful thing glimmers at the edge of consciousness, its representation is splintery and rickety and has too many nails.

Over time the translation into carpentry grows less rickety.

'I am that astonishment from which you write in those brief moments when you can write.'

Russell Hoban, The Medusa Frequency

Also, while I am throwing in quotes, this is Thomas Pynchon from Mason and Dixon describing something vaguely familiar;

“The Astronomers have a game call’d “Sumatra” the the Rev­d ­often sees them at together,-  as children, sometimes, are seen to console themselves when something is denied them, - their Board a sort of spoken Map of the Island they have been kept from and will never see. “Taking a run in to Bencoolen, anything we need?” “Thought I’d nip up the coast to Mokko Mokko or Padang, see what’s a-stir.” “Nutmeg harvest is upon us, I can smell it!” Ev’ry woman in “Sumatra” is comely and willing, though not without attendant Inconvenience, Dixon’s almost instantly developing wills and Preferences of their own despite his best efforts to keep them uncomplicated, -  whereas the only women Mason can imagine at all are but different fair copies of the same serene Beauty,- Rebekah, forbidden as Sumatra to him, held in Detention, as he is upon Earth, until his Release, and their Reunion. So they pass, Mason’s women and Dixon’s with more in common than either Astronomer will ever find out about, for even phantasms may enjoy private lives, - shadowy, whispering, veil’d to be unveil’d, ever safe from the Insults of Time.”


Unburdening myself from the need to make things intelligible to the reality of the game is liberating. Conversely, the realisation that the purple prose is of less use than the poetic resonance of the concept is grounding.

Some Quasimortals:

It is possible to become so lost that the home you return to is no longer home. When a magician starts to transcend mortality they realise that the self they were was rooted in that mortality and that the transformation they seek makes a mockery of all the reasons they seek it. The enunciation of the idea changes the idea. Loss is the price of gain.

1. Cornbrash Stratum, erstwhile pupil of Ravelhain the Garganaut, opted, in his quest for immortality, for a kind of irresistible physicality that would daunt time’s vicissitudes with unyielding material toughness. Replacing, over the course of several decades, all that in him was frail with heavier elements he became the embodiment of fortitude, a ferrous thing that wades thighbone-deep through the world and sees through the things he once loved like vapour.

His peculiar obsession is the structure of things, as he replaced all that was within him of whim and passion with structural components devised in such a manner as to stave off decay. He communicates now with humanity only through architectural manipulations of masses of stone. Unable to recognise individual human beings he nonetheless can perceive in architectural style as it shifts from age to age the presence of some kind of agency that is the aggregate of thousands of minds. It is with this aggregate that he now seeks to communicate, at intervals of three or four generations, by enacting reconfigurations of the geometries of their communiques or producing constructions that parody the degradation of abstract mathematical ideals manifest in human structures.

2. Glowbason Kale, the cauldron witch, is attended by her Savoury Characters and by the delectable fragrance of roasted meat. The attendants number seven to ten, range from medium rare to blackening bones and bear her along upon a palanquin brazier trailed by a turnspit dog who gnaws at their ankles and laps at the juices they leave. The witch herself has boiled away for seven hundred years and languishes in her simmering bath of broth. They travel in search of firewood from the Hundred of Onbethankit long abandoned where her toothsome crew have chopped down the spinneys and dug all the peat to keep the fire burning. She requires, for the recipe that ensures her continuity, certain herbs - by moonlight plucked from unhallowed ground - and spices from the far lands.

Her Savouries are variously glazed or garnished or stuffed with writhing young. All are tasty save those who are now, sadly, overcooked.

3. Behold Auld Jack Smelt on his pitchfork, riding backwards through dreams. He can live there, in his phantasmagorical Clud-Haas above Galligantus Peak, somewhat outside a reality he rejects. Upon seeing the exhilarating wildness of his ride through the sky-wrack, one half-expects him to cackle madly, as mad cackling seems so obviously his domain. He does not cackle but weeps, or remains stony-faced and dark of countenance. Sorrows fly with him like hoodie-crows, in his Magonian house they besmirch the golden-whiteness with their purpureal sootiness and incessant dirge. They roost above his empty bed and bespatter all that place with the stinking memory of times before all was lost.

Aspics adorn his gate and writhe upon every floor in poisonous relief. They remind him of the time it happened and of the time before.

4. Manigate Querken: prenticed to Ysgithrog the Metempsychotic in an early saeculum, Querken sought and found a conduit into his own past that he might relive his lost youth over and over. Many times now he has crawled through the Tunnel in the Ivy to capture and murder the precursory self as it skulked under a bridge one day in its fourteenth summer. Querken reinhabits the youth’s life with his sinister foreknowledge and meticulous record of the trammelled paths of his cyclical reality. He bears with him a grimoire of exploitable occurrences and passes through the world each new time with more cunning means of advancing his position and status to enigmatic purposes.
The position of the Tunnel in the Ivy he keeps secret or fortifies with walls of stone and soldiers bought with extraordinary wealth plundered from those thralls of conventional causality and sequence who have the misfortune of falling his prey.

Nobody sees him coming. Nobody knows how many times he has passed backward through the decades or lived forth again along his timeline, his head full of foresight and cunning schemes. He may be the oldest of all.

With him Hobshanks, Querken’s man, formerly a Drungary of the Twelth Assize, now loyal to the death to the master. In which former life Hobshanks was Sir Layloc Theophagus, his current sobriquet arose from his habit of falling to his armoured knees in the presence of the master. He is huge and scarred and his purple cloak is ragged. None may stand before him.

5. The Bearer of Ill-Tidings: In her maidenhood she had fallen victim to catastrophic sorrow and had thrown herself into a chasm. She did not die, her broken body hung pinioned in a thorn tree for six days and nights. On the fifth day a gastrel came and plucked out her eyes. In the darkness of the seventh dawn the Thicketty Man came (whose cowardly habit was ever to avail himself of untoward occurrence) and planted in her a seed of the world’s destruction. It grew in her, this seed, and she grew strong again and stronger still. Now she walks in the world again a witch unbridled, tall as a tree, gaunt and hollow and swollen with century-child burgeoning inside. When she speaks no words come but knives instead, clattering at her feet, etched with glyphs that speak of ruin.

Mostly she dwells beyond the sky in a star of serrated black iron that hangs in the utmost void. Upon the earth she casts a tripartite shadow that tells of forgotten suns, invisible to man. By their light she sees.

6. The Get of Ravelhain: A feral thing, sudden and brutal, furnished with immeasurable potence, squats in the hideous twilight. Its essence is a blazing blackness: furred, simian, and eloquent in all the languages of violence. Upon a long chain an angel of bronze, rearing magnificent in gleaming counterpoint to the black one. The angel is crowned with lightning and sorrow. She is immortal and captive to a thing born of the wicked earth.

He wields her like a flail. She keens her celestial lament for the wickedness of man and he batters mighty citadels to dust and splinters and drags her from world to world in search of empires to trample and cow.

He is his father’s son.