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Tag Archives: science fiction
- There is a single schoolhouse and the teacher is universally beloved by the townsfolk. Her name is Miss Glenda Nelson. She is young, dainty, pretty, soft spoken, wonderful with the children and bets around the saloon run towards her still being a virgin. She lives with her mother who doesn’t let her out at night so she has little social opportunity as opposed to her older sister who moved out some time ago and has a reputation as a bit of a wild girl.According to saloon gossip, pretty much no one has ever bedded or claimed to bed Glenda Nelson except Jeb Jiggerson, who has lied about sleeping with so many women most everyone at the saloon just assumes he’s a virgin too. Miss Nelson is a looker for sure and she would have more than her fair share of suitors if it wasn’t for her mother, who is as ugly as Glenda is pretty and frankly, downright intimidating and scary. No man has ever made it past her front door into the house.Her older sister, Gretchen, is a more worn version of Glenda and has definitely been around the bush a bit, although it’s been some years since anyone can remember partying down with her. She was wildfire some years ago but seems to have hung up her dancing boots except for the occasional weekend bender at the saloon. And even during the benders she don’t put out no more.
Carlos Valencia knows a secret however that saloon gossip would find most interesting. However Carlos is a very intelligent man. Intelligent in ways most folks aren’t. He knows why to keep his mouth shut, when to keep his mouth shut, and most importantly how to keep his mouth shut, so it’s unlikely another one is going to find out about some of the things he knows. For instance, he knows that Miss Nelson’s mother is the witch everyone thinks lives on the mountain and who does in fact have a cabin up there for solitude and performing the kind of borderline type arcane spellcraft one might want some privacy for.
He knows this because his own mama was a witch and a member of the same coven that Miss Nelson’s mama Viola was part of. Being the son of a witch and hanging around your mama’s coven as a boy is a great way to learn the enormously helpful art of keeping your mouth shut. Carlos’ mama isn’t around anymore, nor is most of the coven, although he knows Viola is keeping a stern watch for the day they make it back and once again knock at the door of this reality at which point she’ll let them in, close that door, and gratefully give up the task of guarding that rift.
There are a few interesting things Carlos does not know, which would blow his mind if he were to. Such as: Viola never had any daughters. Glenda Nelson is not Viola’s daughter. She IS Viola. She is Gretchen too. All three are the same person caught in a recursive age loop. She is young, she is old, she is middle aged… and she uses very powerful magik to keep some sort of control over the chaotic looping of her lifecycle.
As to her erotic life, while it is true she does not engage in sexual activity when she is Miss Nelson, and frankly couldn’t find any takers when she is Viola, she has a hearty sexual appetite that she indulges in as Gretchen. The reason that no one at the saloon has bedded her in years is because her taste has grown quite refined over the years and honestly, men don’t just cut it no more.
She likes to have sex with gods.
Now, finding an all out god is usually not so easy for mortals on this here plain, even though throughout the continent, most territories do in fact contain a set of twin gods who preside over the territory, or at least think they do. And there’s a bunch of different type spirits running around below them, and that’s just in our dimension, outside of that you can find all manner of weirdness. If bangin’ spiritual entities is your thing, you got plenty of choice, assuming you know how to access and seduce them.
Well i can’t speak to Gretchen’s seducing skills, although according to Dawson Calico they are airtight, but seeing as how she guards a gateway between dimensions, i.e. that old well that’s up there on her mountain property, she definitely has access to some funky places where some funky things live. So Glenda/Gretchen/Viola has her social life as far as she wants it, and while it’s probably best most of Lost Hallow doesn’t know much about it, she is a wonderful and beloved teacher, adored by her students. In fact the only class who ever misbehaved on her got Viola substituting for a few days. They say most of that class spent those school days in cages as the class frogs, hamsters and goldfish and afterwards it has been a long tradition to not get out of line in dear Miss Nelson’s classroom.
- The resident of the Town of Lost Hallow who has spent the most time in the “psych ward”, that is, Coraline Svendsen’s barn, is the town Banker, Shray Mati. He has an unusual grasp on reality. He believes all reality is an illusion, a simple enough premise, which is materialized by microscopic chemikal lifeforms who manifest as money. The flow of economics is what gives them the energy to exist and also to power the illusion, that is to say reality as we know it, which they beam around them. The illusion serves one primary purpose which is to move money thus feeding the chemikal lifeforms and allowing our temporary reality to exist. To this end he is but a simple servant of these great creatures, and perhaps owing to this rather strange theology, he is an excellent Banker, since he believes his very life depends upon healthy, balanced economic commerce. No one would think of replacing him as town Banker or of allowing him to be replaced, but on occasion the pressure, the horrible knowledge and the subtle messages encoded into reality that the little money creatures leave for him gets to be too much and he has a breakdown. Coraline keeps his stall at the barn always free and tidy for him, and takes care of him kindly and compassionately for however many days or weeks it takes him to recover this time around.
- There is, technically, a Church Of Elysianism, which consists of three people who meet in Gable Carson’s tool shed on Thursday nights. They have a whole range of plans of where to take their organization, their Lodge if you will, should it manage to expand. They practice secret handshakes, have worked out a 23 level system of degrees and initiations, and otherwise have pages and pages written out in great detail. Their belief centers around the idea that the world is a spiritual asylum, and there is a larger, grander world beyond it which you can only reach if you achieve Spiritual Sanity before you die. Gable Carson is originally from a city some distance away called New Albion. However, any form of Voodoo is strictly prohibited.
- There is a coyote spirit who roams the area about the Town and who predates the town by a long, long time. The spirit tends to physically manifest randomly, several times during the summer months and does this by causing a townsperson to change into the coyote in a similar manner as to a werewolf. The catch is it is a different townsperson every time, and there is little warning or choice. You might be walking down the dirt street on 7PM on a lovely summer evening and the next thing you know you are a coyote until dawn the next day. It is thus a popular excuse young people use to blow off work the day after a particularly ribald party. (“Yeah, i know i didn’t come in yesterday, sorry about that but i was possessed by the coyote. You know how it is. Nothing i could do…”) The downside to this excuse, which does have to be taken seriously since it is a real occurrence, is that after large parties, several youths will all use it to excuse the same day, thus everyone negating each other.
- The Town of Lost Hallow is a frontier town, and since it’s not city sized, there tends to be one person who does each particular job. There is one banker, one blacksmith, one butcher, etc. There is thus one tailor. He is a lonely man who lives alone in a small room above his little storefront shop. He is a refugee of a far off city called Victoria, which was conquered by Faeries. While most residents of Victoria simply disappeared when the human city blinked out and the faerie city blinked in in its place, the Tailor and his family were just outside the city and watched it happen. The madness that transpired just following this event as faeries ran wild with triumph and wild magic drove his sister mad, but he took her, her husband, his wife and their 2 children with him and they all fled as far as they could get.The journey was long, arduous, and terrible. His sister killed herself and her husband during the journey, but her mad soul didn’t find peace, it stuck around to plague the tailor’s family for 3 weeks straight. Afterwards it never really left altogether and reappears occasionally.The trek across the desert though was the real killer. The tailor’s wife and 2 children died along the way, and the tailor was found by some homesteaders crawling his way through the desert towards Lost Hallow, half dead. He has since recovered and worked hard to stake out a decent enough business for himself. He is good at his work and liked well enough by his neighbors although he has a sadness about him that shows even in his smile. His mad sister shows up every spring to plague him from spring solstice to summer solstice. She beckons him to come join her and sometimes he wonders how long it will be until he takes his needles, stabs himself in the neck and lets his ghost fly free to join her.
- There are a number of interesting tales involving the wolves and how they came to be integrated into the town, the most poignant of which involves the Sheriff. However, i am not at liberty to disclose this story, much as i’d love to, since it is part of Miss Hannah’s Cabaret, and she has made clear anyone telling the stories told in her cabaret will be met with most dire consequences. Now, i’ve been whipped a few times by Miss Hannah and had a grand ol’ time doing it, but you do not want to be on the receiving end of that whip of hers when she’s not in playful mood, so i am keeping my mouth firmly shut and reminding you that performances are every Saturday night, and get there early cause seats fill up and the waitress gets real backed up with drink orders.
- In a town such as Lost Hallow, where there are folks who turn into wolves, coyotes and even birds (we’ll get to that some other time) you can imagine one tricky profession to be is the town butcher.Well, this might have once been so, but the situation is currently quite amendable what with the butcher being a ghoul.Now, a ghoul typically denotes someone who has returned from the dead, which is of course a ludicrous suggestion. And even though Gable Carson sometimes drunkenly declares down at the saloon that this is exactly what happened in that city he comes from, no one is fool enough to believe his drunken ramblings. I mean could you imagine? Even if it were possible, that would be one guaranteed ticket to sending the whole place to hell in a handbasket.
Of course you cannot bring back the dead and that’s not what happened with the butcher here. It’s actually a hair more complicated.
The butcher was Bobby Diaz, brother of the Mayor, Carmen. Most folks round here know a bit of his checkered past, but all you need to know right now is that damn fool or not, he was a hell of a gunslinger. Well one day he was drinking his face off in town when who should be right there drinking their face off next to him, other than Salle Awn Mbutu, herself one of the most notorious gunslingers round these parts, although not actually from Lost Hallow. Anyways, she was passing by, came to town, was drinking up a storm and of course within a matter of time the place was not big enough to hold them two egos.
So drunker ‘n that worm at the bottom of a tequila bottle, off they go into the street to have themselves a duel. To their credit, they really, really were great shots, because even though they couldn’t walk a straight line, they managed to shoot each other right on target.
As they lay there dying, folks were running around trying to get help and of course someone went and got the mayor. The mayor wanted to save her brother of course, but Doc Svendsen was out delivering a baby at the Razor’s Edge Ranch. Sophia Suarez, the herbalist, had a bed above her herbal shop she slept in sometimes and fortunately she was there. So they brought Bobby to her and she tried a whole heap of tricks to help him and that Salle woman. After a spell, she told those standing around that she simply could not keep both of them from slipping into death and that honestly, her brother’s best chance was to get a witch.
Now there is a witch who lives on the mountain behind town, but everyone is poop your drawers scared of her and absolutely no one wanted to go there and seek her out. Not to mention it would take an enormous amount of time that Bobby didn’t have. (Or Salle for that matter, but she wasn’t quite at the top of the priority line). So someone ran and got Feena O’Kelly, the town tarot reader, who arrived, assessed the situation and promptly asked what the hell anybody thought a gawdamn tarot card reader could do to help.
The next suggestion was to get the Queen of Crime here in Lost Hallow, Han-Mi, who it is rumored knows a bunch of ancient and arcane oriental black magic. Now Han-Mi and the law don’t see eye to eye all the time, but in she came, and when she heard the bit about how she’s supposed to know said ancient and arcane oriental black magic proceeded to call Dawson Calico a half brained racist numbnut. She did however proceed to outline what might the best plan Bobby was likely to have if we were indeed down to requiring occultish type aid.
Thus did Han-Mi bring everybody to the library in the middle of the night. The librarian is always there and while not particularly pleased to see so many visitors after hours, was courteous enough to let them in, dragging the bodies of Bobby and Salle. They carried them down to the basement where the librarian fetched a few books that were then turned over to Feena and Sophia, who despite having made clear they were utterly unqualified for this type of thing, proceeded to track down a spell and try to perform it.
The issue was that Bobby did not have enough life force to keep him going. However, they decided that although Salle was a lovely girl and truth be told they preferred her company to that of Bobby, Bobby was after all a local and the mayor’s blood to boot, so they would use Salle’s remaining life force to kick start Bobby’s.
Dawson Calico, who was there for the whole thing from the saloon to the library, assured me that the spell, although taking a real long time to cast, was really, really impressive once it got going. He says it got whistles of awe from just about everyone, ‘cept the mayor of course, and Han-Mi who is just not the “whistle of awe” kind. When it was all said and done, the spell did have an effect, just not quite the one they were going for.
Bobby was kicked back to life and Salle croacked deader ‘n a sack of roadkill that’s been ground up into a doorknob and thrown in a casket and buried for a week, but… but they had indeed given Salle’s life essence to Bobby. Hell, they actually put Salle into Bobby.
So best anybody figures is Bobby got put into Salle’s now thoroughly dead body, so she/he was buried with all proper props and Bobby, who now is actually Salle in Bobby’s body, stuck around and became the town butcher. Salle never really got the hang of working Bobby’s body completely, or she’s just stuck in there a little too loosely, cause Bobby just doesn’t move about quite right and talks a bit funny too, but Salle as Bobby is a way more enjoyable drinking partner than ol’ Bobby ever was so all’s well that ends well i guess.
Lost Hallow is in a position where the desert meets the forest. Desert runs for miles and miles, endlessly in front of the small town, but behind it runs a mountain range where dense forest grows and wild things run free and hunt in the dark nights. Strange noises come from the mountains and more than one resident has claimed they heard a call in the night which they could only resist for so long. Those who hear the call all eventually go, some after a week, some after 6 months, but one day, sure enough, off they go under the stars, into the mountain forest. It would be wrong to say they are never heard from again as some are in fact spied by a resident gone camping who can only describe the person as having gone native, reclaimed by mother nature.
The desert side is where the sun rises and the skies go on forever into the distant. There are a few ranches here and one small artist collective who takes cactus buttons and tries to paint the sky they see afterwards, to varying effect. The desert is calming to the soul, the peaceful side of town, but deadlier even than the forest. A person can survive in the forest. Wander off too far into the dessert past where you can see back to the town and they say
you will never find your way back again. And the desert offers no hope of survival. Plus you don’t want to accidentally stumble on the settlement of giant, ill tempered, sentient scorpions because the truce doesn’t count if you wander into their territory.
Still, as a frontier town, Lost Hallow has all the resources it needs to run itself. It has wood, plants and water, mud, clay, sun and rain. And for a place so isolated and difficult to come by, it has a surprisingly large assortment of characters who wander in from all sort of places and all walks of life.
It is not a particularly large place. There is of course a main street and a few side streets running parallel and perpendicular. there is an open air market to the east of main street and the nightlife street to the west where the Saloon is. The Saloon is a popular place on the weekends. It is not a rickety, wooden thing. The inside is covered in red and violet satin with candles everywhere. It is one of the few businesses that allows wolves inside, although they are expected to mind their manners and for the most part do.
It is no secret about the presence of a werewolf compound at the foot of the mountain, just outside the town. it contains all manner of lycanthrope, running the gammit from those who are human who turn into a wolf every full moon, those who turn into a wolf nightly, and those who only turn human every crescent moon. They can get loud on full moon nights but otherwise are very good neighbors and are roam freely in the town with no ill will from the non furry residents.
Other notable points of interest are:
– the town library is rather small above ground, but is said to run for quite a ways below. There are all sorts of books of interest the librarian can pull for you, and some say below ground eventually the books give way to stacks of other things that give information. The librarian never speaks and is in some ways the most feared person in town although she is nothing but quiet, well mannered and helpful.
It’s the way she looks at someone who is acting rude, rudeness being a trait she will not abide, and the access she has to forms of forbidden knowledge you don’t even want to guess at. If she decides your quest for knowledge is worthy and what you seek cannot be found above ground, she will take you down into the stacks. But DO NOT stray from her. If you are lost down there it could be years before you are seen again. Just ask Old Man Gaynor. He was in his 20s when he went running off down below. he was only gone 2 years above ground time, but he came back over 30 years older, and definitely not all there. He can be relatively lucid, particularly in the mornings, but once he starts rambling it’s best if you stop listening. Those who try to understand what he’s saying end up going off the rails of sanity themselves, although usually for only a short time. Still, Carlos Valencia once tried to follow Old Man Gaynor’s ramblings while he was well liquored up one Sunday night, and ended up in the psych ward for 3 weeks. It should be noted that the psych ward is actually a refurbished barn out in back of Doc Svendsen’s property that his wife tends to, where the horse stalls have been fitted with plenty of hay in place of rubber rooms.
– The Preacher is a mythshifter. He changes appearance mildly, but more so he changes belief system. This is not superficial, when he changes into a Mormon or a 7th Day Adventist ( or Elysianism) the theological knowledge that comes to him is deep, encyclopediatic and intense. Same for African Shamanism, Jainism, Hinduism, you name it. There might be some places where this might negatively affect Sunday service attendance, but in Lost
Hallow, Sunday service attendence is through the roof. Some of course come out of pure curiosity to see what kind of crazy dogman they’re going to get an earful of that week, and some honestly find it to be spiritually inspiring.
The Preacher was the son of a rambling tent revivalist, who was known for his snake work. He often bragged there was no snake in existence he could no subjugate, and his reputation suggested this was certainly true. He came to town seeking Sophia Suarez, the town herbalist. If it grows, Sophia can someone how get it or grow it, and she supplies Doc Svendsen with most of his medicines, none of which are in pill form. Sophia’s peyote is world famous. This Tent revivalist caught wind from multiple sources of the presence of a great multi- dimensional Snake that exists within the peyote landscape, and having bested the serpent of Satan already, wished to tame this new challenge. Thus he came to
purchase and consume Sophia’s famous peyote buttons, which he did. He tripped
his balls off and sure enough, met and battled the Great Snake.
After a week had passed and he still hadn’t come down, his son, now our current Preacher, decided he neede to go in there and rescue his fool old man. Sophia flat out refused to sell the boy peyote buttons and it took the boy another week before he convinced Feena O’Kelly, the town tarot reader, so purchase some for him. Feena wasn’t too keen on the idea, but she consulted her cards and saw that sure enough, the father was indeed locked in a heated and endless battle with the serpent and that the serpent being engaged like this for too long a time would cause terrible consequences on both the psychic and eventually the material realms. So she bought the boy the buttons and went in
with him to see that he came to no harm.
They found his father locked in a fierce battle with the Snake. The story of the negotiation session isn’t worth getting into here, but the long and short of it is: the father eventally married the Snake and stayed in the spirit realm. The boy went back, but as part of taking the Snake as his step mother, he took on the mythshifting ability which would define his long and well received preaching career. Back in the material world he was adopted by Feena O’Kelly who looked after, finished raising him and who he loves like a mother.
– The town Firestarter is a Hasidic Monk named Yitsak Isaacs. He practices a unique form of Kabbalic Tai Chi which can produce fire and otehr forms of light, including laser and subtle luminscence. He lives next to the river, and contributes to the town a number of ways, the most banal and obvious being he lights the nightly gas lamp that line the town center. He does this by doing a slow, graceful, swirling dance down the center main street every evening, the lamps lighting themselves as he passes. Many residents enjoy sitting and watching this nightly ritual.
More importantly, Yitsak was responsible for stopping the awful scorpion raids that had been the terror of the town prior to his arrival years ago. Deep in the desert is a hive of giant scorpions who would raid the town from time to time. These skirmishes these raids resulted in were brutal. Yitsak for some reason had the ability to communicate with these creatures and managed to work out a truce, although it was a long, difficult process. The scorpions were not keen on a truce, still aren’t all that thrilled with it to this day, and some nights in a saloon you can hear some talk to the effect that it’s only a matter of time til the truce breaks down.
Frank R Paul was an illustrator for the great pulp magazines of the 20s and 30s. His full color covers for Amazing Stories, Wonder Stories Science Fiction Magazine defined the look of what was at the time the brand new genre of science fiction Not only did he illustrate hundreds of covers, he did the cover of Marvel Comics #1. You may have heard of Marvel Comics, it went on to be quite successful.
He is the template for the look of science fiction and what all those who followed would draw from.
He invented the flyer saucer look and it is his illustration that people would describe during the UFO crazes that came afterwards.
“He was very innovative in the depiction of spaceships. Several of his illustrations were disc shaped and it has been speculated that he may have, accidentally, created the UFO craze when the first sighting of lights in the sky were described as disc shaped; this would have been the result of the psychological phenomenon known as mental set” -Armanda Simon
This is one of my favorite things EVER, of all time. If you’ve never seen it i envy you. It’s only 26 minutes and yet it is one of the greatest masterpieces of sci-fi ever put to film.
It’s great for several reasons. First of all the storytelling is brilliant. It’s exactly the kind of thing i aspire to. It’s out of the ordinary, unlike anything else, fresh in it’s storytelling methods but clear and coherent. It’s told entirely through still photos and voice over. Does this attract you? Dull your interest? Just watch it. I don’t gush this passionately for nothing.
Two, the story itself is Drop Dead Awesome. It’s a brilliant story i can only aspire to. GREAT concepts. Moving. Touching. Mind blowing.
You DO probably know the general story, though. This 1962 short film was remade my Terry Gilliam as The 12 Monkeys. Now i like Terry Gilliam. A lot. But i’m telling you, the black and white 26 minute original made using still photos and voice over BLOWS AWAY 12 Monkeys. It does. And 12 Monkeys is a very good film. But the original is a masterpiece. Seriously. Masterpiece.
Made by Chris Marker in 1962, i present to you La Jetee, although i give you the English voice over.
Hear me out.
I know know what you think of the concept of a webseries. I’ve seen a few, but they were all light, comedic stuff. I’m aware that they are a burgeoning media form and are getting more serious and ambitious, but none of substance have interested me or crossed my radar. Until now.
Following the theme of that vid i posted a few days ago, here are the first two (and only so far) episodes of this webseries called H+, which honestly seems pretty damn cool. It’s also working the theme of next gen apps installed into your widdle brains.
The Atompunk hero began in the great depression. Tales of outer space, wild futures, and ray guns, always ray guns became immensely popular, thanks to the invention of the daily comic strip Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.
Due to the success of Buck Rogers the syndicate Kings Feature was looking for a strip to compete with it (read: jump on the bandwagon) and young writer/artists Alex Raymond, who worked for them on another strip, Tim Tyler’s Luck, begged to have a crack. In 1934 he created a character Flash Gordon, who would soon eclipse Buck Rogers and for the 30s and 40s dominate the science fiction landscape of american youth.
The strip became a huge hit and soon outshined Buck Rogers. For one thing, young Alex worked hard to improve, and improve he did, his style becoming adored.
The story was fun, interstellar, fantastic and imaginative. Earthman Flash Gordon, female interest Dale Arden, and scientist Dr. Zarkov leave earth to face impending threat which turns out to be interplanetary emperor Ming The Mercifless. Highjinks ensue. “In the course of their improbable and breathtaking adventures they meet Princess Aura, Ming’s daughter, Prince Barin, the rightful ruler of Mongo, Thun, Prince of the Lion Men, Vultan, King of the Hawk Men, Azura, the Witch Queen of the Blue Magic Men, Fria, Queen of the frozen kingdom of Frigia, and countless other friends and enemies—all beautifully illustrated with the lush, sensuous artwork for which Alex Raymond is so justly remembered.” (Clark Holloway)
Alex worked on the series for 10 years, until 1944 when he enlisted in the US Marine Corp to go and kill some nazi bitches. Bravo, sir.
But of course, as with most popular characters from the pulp era that are still remembered today, the thing that cemented Flash Gordon’s fortune was his treatment in other medias.
He was featured in 2 radio serials, the first of which followed the comic strip closely. Except of course for the last 2 episodes of its run, where all of a sudden Flash and Dale go back to Earth, meet Jungle Jim and get married in said jungle. They run off and next week begins the exciting adventures of Jungle Jim.
But the thing that cemented his legend, which led to that atrocious 80s movie and numerous other horrid attempts to reinvigorate the characters (although some will argue the 80s movie is so bad it’s good, and the soundtrack by Queen kicks over the top ass)…
the thing that made Flash Gordon the adored memory for a generation of imaginative youth, is the epic, classic film serial.
Shown before the feature movie presentation, serials were HUGE back in the day. Every character who you can think of that existed in the 30s and 40s had one, but by far one of the most remembered and revered is the Flash Gordon serial. Beloved by both Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas, it starred Buster Crabbe and Charles Middleton as Ming the Merciless. It’s popularity was through the roof. kids lined up every week to breathlessly catch the next installment.
By today’s standards it’s… well look you can’t compare the two. But the PBS station where i grew up would play the entire serial on some holiday every year and it worked.
Interesting note from imdb: “Despite its large budget, this serial utilized many sets from other Universal films, such as the laboratory and crypt set from Bride of Frankenstein, the castle interiors from Dracula’s Daughter, the idol from The Mummy and the opera house interiors from The Phantom of the Opera. In addition, the outer walls of Ming’s castle were actually the cathedral walls from The Hunchback of Notre Dame .”
My mom would bring home the collected Flash Gordon comic strips from the library and i adored those even more. Even in this late age, Flash Gordon was a significant part of my childhood and colored my view of science fiction adventures just as it did for so many kids in the early days of fantastical, science fiction adventure.
One of the towering giants of sci-fi fantasy, writing in the 1930s and whose works blew me out of the water when i read them 60 years later is Olaf Stapledon.
In particular, his two books First And Last Men and Star Maker, are two of the best sci-fi books i’ve ever read, and as such are naturally far, far outside the tropes and cliches of the genre. His works influenced the next generation of sci fi writers and he is the contemporary of C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. In fact, C.S. Lewis wrote The Cosmic Trilogy in horrified response to Stapledon’s Star Maker, which was too amoral for him.
These two seminal works by Stapledon, while hugely influential and wildly beloved by segments of the sci-fi, fantasy, speculative fiction reading community have not acheived anywhere near the level of popularity of Lewis or Tolkien, mainly because he neither dwells in a pleasant realm of elves, witches and medieval myths, nor does he actually tell normal stories, where heroes go on adventures to save great Lands which are in danger. Stapleton is something entirely other. He tells long histories until the end of species or the end of time.
Last And First Men
Last And First Men is a history of the human race, from now through our next 18 evolutions.
“A work of unprecedented scale in the genre, it describes the history of humanity from the present onwards across 2 billion years and 18 distinct human species, of which our own is the first and most primitive. Stapledon’s conception of history is a repetitive cycle with many varied civilizations rising from and descending back into savagery over millions of years, but it is also one of progress, as the later civilizations rise to far greater heights than the first. The book anticipates the science of genetic engineering, and is an early example of the (up to now) fictional supermind; a consciousness composed of many telepathically-linked individuals.”
It is wildly imaginative, and indeed that is what Stapledon does: he throws deliciously awesome concepts at you, one after the other after the others. The human race undergoes incredible transformations across numerous planets, including inventive biological transformations.
But this is no space opera. Honestly, it’s like reading a fantastic history book of an unknown future going on and on until the final end of humanity. I loved it. Adored it. Swooned over it. Didn’t think he could be any more awesome until i read:
What kind of history do you write after you’ve covered the entire rest of the human species? Well duh. The future history of the universe.
It’s not just that it’s jaw dropping, it’s not just that this guy eats psychedelic mushrooms for breakfast (okay, not really. I’m just saying he’s THAT creative), it’s not just that this books invents species and planets and species interactions that were a joy, a neverending orgasm to read… it’s that all this is within a through line of creation reaching, straining, desperately searching for its Creator.
Jorge Luis Borges, Arthur C Clarke, Doris Lessing, Virginia Woolf and Winston Churchill all raved about it.
I cannot recommend it highly enough. This is imagination, vision and creativity at work.
I give you an excerpt. As mentioned before, his work reads like remarkable history books of times and places unseen. You need to be able to embrace this instead of a character driven narrative:
One of these submarine worlds was exceptionally interesting. Early in the life of our galaxy, when few of the stars had yet condensed from the “giant” to the solar type, when very few planetary births had yet occurred, a double star and a single star in a congested cluster did actually approach one another, reach fiery filaments toward one another, and spawn a planet brood. Of these worlds, one, an immense and very aqueous sphere, produced in time a dominant race which was not a single species but an intimate symbiotic partnership of two very alien creatures.
The one came of a fish-like stock. The other was in appearance something like a crustacean. In form it was a sort of paddle-footed crab or marine spider. Unlike our crustaceans, it was covered not with a brittle carapace but with a tough pachydermatous hide. In maturity this serviceable jerkin was more or less rigid, save at the joints; but in youth it was very pliant to the still-expanding brain. This creature lived on the coasts and in the coastal waters of the many islands of the planet. Both species were mentally of human rank, though each had specific temperament and ability. In primitive times each had attained by its own route and in its own hemisphere of the great aqueous planet to what might be called the last stage of the subhuman mentality. The two species had then come into contact, and had grappled desperately.
Their battle-ground was the shallow coastal water. The “crustaceans,” though crudely amphibian, could not spend long under the sea; the “fish” could not emerge from it. The two races did not seriously compete with one another in economic life, for the “fish” were mainly vegetarian, the “crustaceans” mainly carnivorous; yet neither could tolerate the presence of the other. Both were sufficiently human to be aware of one another as rival aristocrats in a subhuman world, but neither was human enough to realize that for each race the way of life lay in cooperation with the other. The fish-like creatures, which I shall call “ichthyoids,” had speed and range of travel. They had also the security of bulk. The crab-like or spider-like “crustaceans,” which I shall call “arachnoids,” had greater manual dexterity, and had also access to the dry land. Cooperation would have been very beneficial to both species, for one of the staple foods of the arachnoids was parasitic to the ichthyoids.
In spite of the possibility of mutual aid, the two races strove to exterminate one another, and almost succeeded. After an age of blind mutual slaughter, certain of the less pugnacious and more flexible varieties of the two species gradually discovered profit in fraternization with the enemy.
This was the beginning of a very remarkable partnership. Soon the arachnoids took to riding on the backs of the swift ichthyoids, and thus gained access to more remote hunting grounds.
As the epochs passed, the two species molded one another to form a well-integrated union. The little arachnoid, no bigger than a chimpanzee, rode in a snug hollow behind the great “fish’s” skull, his back being stream-lined with the contours of the larger creature. The tentacles of the ichthyoid were specialized for large-scale manipulation, those of the arachnoid for minute work. A biochemical interdependence also evolved. Through a membrane in the ichthyoid’s pouch an exchange of endocrine products took place. The mechanism enabled the arachnoid to become fully aquatic. So long as it had frequent contact with its host, it could stay under water for any length of time and descend to any depth. A striking mental adaptation also occurred in the two species. The ichthyoids became on the whole more introvert, the arachnoids more extrovert.
Up to puberty the young of both species were free-living individuals; but, as their symbiotic organization developed, each sought out a partner of the opposite species. The union which followed was life-long, and was interrupted only by brief sexual matings. The symbiosis itself constituted a kind of contrapuntal sexuality; but a sexuality that was purely mental, since, of course, for copulation and reproduction each individual had to seek out a partner belonging to his or her own species. We found, however, that even the symbiotic partnership consisted invariably of a male of one species and a female of the other; and the male, whichever his species, behaved with parental devotion to the young of his symbiotic partner.
I have not space to describe the extraordinary mental reciprocity of these strange couples. I can only say that, though in sensory equipment and in temperament the two species were very different, and though in abnormal cases tragic conflicts did occur, the ordinary partnership was at once more intimate than human marriage and far more enlarging to the individual than any friendship between members of distinct human races. At certain stages of the growth of civilization malicious minds had attempted to arouse widespread interspecific conflict, and had met with temporary success; but the trouble seldom went as deep even as our “sex war,” so necessary was each species to the other. Both had contributed equally to the culture of their world, though not equally at all times. In creative work of every kind one of the partners provided most of the originality, the other most of the criticism and restraint. Work in which one partner was entirely passive was rare. Books, or rather scrolls, which were made from pulped seaweed, were nearly always signed by couples. On the whole the arachnoid partners dominated in manual skill, experimental science, the plastic arts, and practical social organization. The ichthyoid partners excelled in theoretical work, in literary arts, in the surprisingly developed music of that submarine world, and in the more mystical kind of religion. This generalization, however, should not be interpreted very strictly.
The symbiotic relationship seems to have given the dual race a far greater mental flexibility than ours, and a quicker aptitude for community. It passed rapidly through the phase of inter-tribal strife, during which the nomadic shoals of symbiotic couples harried one another like hosts of submarine-cavalry; for the arachnoids, riding their ichthyoid mates, attacked the enemy with bone spears and swords, while their mounts wrestled with powerful tentacles. But the phase of tribal warfare was remarkably brief. When a settled mode of life was attained, along with submarine agriculture and coral-built cities, strife between leagues of cities was the exception, not the rule. Aided no doubt by its great mobility and ease of communication, the dual race soon built up a world-wide and unarmed federation of cities. We learned also with wonder that at the height of the premechanical civilization of this planet, when in our worlds the cleavage into masters and economic slaves would already have become serious, the communal spirit of the city triumphed over all individualistic enterprise. Very soon this world became a tissue of interdependent but independent municipal communes.
At this time it seemed that social strife had vanished forever. But the most serious crisis of the race was still to come.
The submarine environment offered the symbiotic race no great possibilities of advancement. All sources of wealth had been tapped and regularized. Population was maintained at an optimum size for the joyful working of the world. The social order was satisfactory to all classes, and seemed unlikely to change. Individual lives were full and varied. Culture, founded on a great tradition, was now concerned entirely with detailed exploration of the great fields of thought that had long ago been pioneered by the revered ancestors, under direct inspiration, it was said, of the symbiotic deity. Our friends in this submarine world, our mental hosts, looked back on this age from their own more turbulent epoch sometimes with yearning, but often with horror; for in retrospect it seemed to them to display the first faint signs of racial decay. So perfectly did the race fit its unchanging environment that intelligence and acuity were already ceasing to be precious, and might soon begin to fade. But presently it appeared that fate had decreed otherwise.
In a submarine world the possibility of obtaining mechanical power was remote. But the arachnoids, it will be remembered, were able to live out of the water. In the epochs before the symbiosis their ancestors had periodically emerged upon the islands, for courtship, parenthood, and the pursuit of prey. Since those days the air-breathing capacity had declined, but it had never been entirely lost. Every arachnoid still emerged for sexual mating, and also for certain ritual gymnastic exercises. It was in this latter connection that the great discovery was made which changed the course of history. At a certain tournament the friction of stone weapons, clashing against one another, produced sparks, and fire among the sun-scorched grasses.
In startlingly quick succession came smelting, the steam engine, the electric current. Power was obtained first from the combustion of a sort of peat formed on the coasts by congested marine vegetation, later from the constant and violent winds, later still from photo-chemical light traps which absorbed the sun’s lavish radiation. These inventions were of course the work of arachnoids. The ichthyoids, though they still played a great part in the systematization of knowledge, were debarred from the great practical work of scientific experiment and mechanical invention above the seas. Soon the arachnoids were running electric cables from the island power-stations to the submarine cities. In this work, at least, the ichthyoids could take part, but their part was necessarily subordinate. Not only in experience of electrical engineering but also in native practical ability, they were eclipsed by their arachnoid partners.
For a couple of centuries or more the two species continued to cooperate, though with increasing strain. Artificial lighting, mechanical transport of goods on the ocean floor, and large-scale manufacture, produced an immense increase in the amenities of life in the submarine cities. The islands were crowded with buildings devoted to science and industry. Physics, chemistry, and biology made great progress. Astronomers began to map the galaxy. They also discovered that a neighboring planet offered wonderful opportunities for settlement by arachnoids, who might without great difficulty, it was hoped, be conditioned to the alien climate, and to divorce from their symbiotic partners. The first attempts at rocket flight were leading to mingled tragedy and success. The directorate of extra-marine activities demanded a much increased arachnoid population.
Inevitably there arose a conflict between the two species, and in the mind of every individual of either species. It was at the height of this conflict, and in the spiritual crisis in virtue of which these beings were accessible to us in our novitiate stage, that we first entered this world. The ichthyoids had not yet succumbed biologically to their inferior position, but psychologically they were already showing signs of deep mental decay. A profound disheartenment and lassitude attacked them, like that which so often undermines our primitive races when they find themselves struggling in the flood of European civilization. But since in the case of the symbiotics the relation between the two races was extremely intimate, far more so than that between the most intimate human beings, the plight of the ichthyoids deeply affected the arachnoids. And in the minds of the ichthyoids the triumph of their partners was for long a source of mingled distress and exultation. Every individual of both species was torn between conflicting motives. While every healthy arachnoid longed to take part in the adventurous new life, he or she longed also, through sheer affection and symbiotic entanglement, to assist his or her ichthyoid mate to have an equal share in that life. Further, all arachnoids were aware of subtle dependence on their mates, a dependence at once physiological and psychological. It was the ichthyoids who mostly contributed to the mental symbiosis the power of self-knowledge and mutual insight, and the contemplation which is so necessary to keep action sweet and sane. That this was so was evident from the fact that already among the arachnoids internecine strife had appeared. Island tended to compete with island, and one great industrial organization with another.
I could not help remarking that if this deep cleavage of interests had occurred on my own planet, say between our two sexes, the favoured sex would have single-mindedly trampled the other into servitude. Such a “victory” on the part of the arachnoids did indeed nearly occur. More and more partnerships were dissolved, each member attempting by means of drugs to supply his or her system with the chemicals normally provided by the symbiosis. For mental dependence, however, there was no substitute, and the divorced partners were subject to serious mental disorders, either subtle or flagrant. Nevertheless, there grew up a large population capable of living after a fashion without the symbiotic intercourse. Strife now took a violent turn. The intransigents of both species attacked one another, and stirred up trouble among the moderates. There followed a period of desperate and confused warfare. On each side a small and hated minority advocated a “modernized symbiosis,” in which each species should be able to contribute to the common life even in a mechanized civilization. Many of these reformers were martyred for their faith.
Victory would in the long run have gone to the arachnoids, for they controlled the sources of power. But it soon appeared that the attempt to break the symbiotic bond was not as successful as it had seemed. Even in actual warfare, commanders were unable to prevent widespread fraternization between the opposed forces. Members of dissolved partnerships would furtively meet to snatch a few hours or moments of each other’s company. Widowed or deserted individuals of each species would timidly but hungrily venture toward the enemy’s camps in search of new mates. Whole companies would surrender for the same purpose. The arachnoids suffered more from the neuroses than from the weapons of the enemy. On the islands, moreover, civil wars and social revolutions made the manufacture of munitions almost impossible.
The most resolute faction of the arachnoids now attempted to bring the struggle to an end by poisoning the ocean. The islands in turn were poisoned by the millions of decaying corpses that rose to the sea’s surface and were cast up on the shores. Poison, plague, and above all neurosis, brought war to a standstill, civilization to ruin, and the two species almost to extinction. The deserted sky-scrapers that crowded the islands began to crumble into heaps of wreckage. The submarine cities were invaded by the submarine jungle and by shark-like sub-human ichthyoids of many species. The delicate tissue of knowledge began to disintegrate into fragments of superstition.
Now at last came the opportunity of those who advocated a modernized symbiosis. With difficulty they had maintained a secret existence and their individual partnerships in the more remote and inhospitable regions of the planet. They now came boldly forth to spread their gospel among the unhappy remnants of the world’s population. There was a rage of interspecific mating and remating. Primitive submarine agriculture and hunting maintained the scattered peoples while a few of the coral cities were cleared and rebuilt, and the instruments of a lean but hopeful civilization were refashioned. This was a temporary civilization, without mechanical power, but one which promised itself great adventures in the “upper world” as soon as it had established the basic principles of the reformed symbiosis.
This is of course merely one world amongst many as the author joins with other sentient beings to create a cosmic hive mind which travels the universe and time to find its Creator.
So… great fantastic fiction of the Dieselpunk era. Olaf Stapledon.