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The Lair Of Gary James

Archive for February, 2011

Some Thoughts Not Directly Related To The Sparticle Mystery

Posted by BigWords on February 23, 2011

As BBC News poses the question of what a world without adults would be like (in anticipation of the CBBC series The Sparticle Mystery), I find myself wondering if such a premise hasn’t been tackled in enough forms to give an educated guess. It would be easy – and overly simplistic – to sneer that Hobbes was right (or, inversely, that Rousseau had a point) as the argument would hinge on the overall number of survivors and their alignments, which ignores individual choices and actions. So far, and without bothering to search for the material I haven’t yet encountered, there has been at least a dozen attempts to show how children would behave if adult supervision was removed. The most controversial may be Big Brother-esque Boys And Girls Alone, but of more interest is the classic novel Lord Of The Flies

With the necessary removal of the adults taken care of, Lord Of The Flies sets out to show how cliques and antagonisms can arise amongst a group of British schoolchildren (all, tellingly, male), which quickly descends into anarchy and murder. That schools across the world are now installing metal detectors at entrances is enough for anyone to see that such behavior is not merely in the realms of fiction, but is a danger which is taken very seriously by authorities. It should also be noted that the subsequent attempts to outline such an eventuality have managed, by and large, to steer as far from the darker elements as much as possible. William Golding knew better than to expect civilization to remain when all traces of civilization had ceased to be…

The specifics of the novel have been chewed over by so many people before, and in some cases very, very well, that there is little point in reiterating the plot or the themes, so I will leave this introduction to the book by Mr. Goldman lingering in your mind as I move on to an altogether less refined example of the sub-genre.


You may have heard of ACTION!, the late-seventies IPC/Fleetway comic which caused so much trouble that questions about its’ influence were raised in parliament (the resulting fuss leading to its’ cancellation), though the historical impact of those early issues were much wider than merely upsetting the same people who would go on to blame Child’s Play 3 and Grand Theft Auto for all the world’s ills. There were some fairly typical entries amongst the early strips – Dredger was a Dirty Harry clone, while Hook Jaw was… Well, Hook Jaw was Jaws ramped up to 11, and even had a couple of color pages every few issues. Appearing in the September 11th, 1976 issue (#32), with the unassuming title “Kids Rule O.K.!” (typical of the humor), we had our first look at how a comic-book would handle the situation…

The first appearance:

You can read the rest of the strip here.

For a weekly comic, there was little restraint in the depiction of the violence which would be unleashed if adults disappeared for whatever reason. Interestingly, the strip forgoes the usual hypothesizing and reels off a bunch of possible answer before moving on to the real reason of the strip’s existence – the uncontrolled anarchy. Setting the action in the far future of 1986 was a marvelous joke which was lost on most readers – with everyone over 16 in the strip dying dramatically, the kids who were reading it as it appeared on the shelves of their local newsagent would have been over sixteen by that point. Such subtlety was not evident elsewhere in the strip, and the excessive violence would eventually be the downfall of the comic itself.

The comic was, of course, pulled before the characters’ adventures had been resolved, and any lingering hope at learning the fates of the gangs was utterly vanquished when the title merged with Battle. Two entirely different scenarios, and one common theme prevails – children, left to their own devices, will end up killing, maiming and destroying property. And probably stealing sweets from shops as well… I haven’t even mentioned The Tribe yet.

The Tribe (not the series with Anna Friel) is basically Mad Max with children, as seen through the aesthetic values of Baz Luhrmann. It really is one of the most ridiculous television shows ever made, and has all the hallmarks of truly cult viewing. If it is remarkable for its’ gaudy visuals, it is truly groundbreaking in its’ tenacity. With seasons running to 52 episodes apiece, it is one of the longest sustained examples of the trope, though whether you think this is a good thing or not depends entirely upon your tolerance of child actors, warpaint as an everyday accessory, awful FX and dialogue so cheesy even George Hamilton would balk at delivering some of the lines.

Saying that Sparticle Mystery doesn’t inspire confidence is probably misleading, as the basic concept isn’t a bad one. The lack of bold programming for children is slowly being remedied – returning Doctor Who to television was the start of a trend which should see The Tripods recommissioned any day now… Any day… Hey, TV peeps, why the hell am I still waiting on season 3? C’mon already. Um. Yeah. I was talking about the Sparticle thingy, wasn’t I? Aside from the dumb name, I’m gonna make sure to record this, so a proper review, or mockery of, or dismissal (or whatever) is probably going to blight my blog at some point. I really would rather be watching the third series of The Tripods though…

There are more classic British strips at The Full Strip, which (especially for those outside of the UK) should be a great education in just how far the British market had come from the days of Miller’s Fawcett and Boardman’s Quality reprints.

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AW Cross-Genres POV Blog Chain

Posted by BigWords on February 12, 2011

I know I am meant to provide a complete and nourishing intellectual meal for this particular challenge, but the rigors of writing in omniscient seems to be getting the better of me. Go have a look at the last post to see the ways in which even a Word War could not bring forth the Muse, then read on…

Quite a time ago, though not so long as to be lost in the murk of human memory, and in a land which isn’t as far as some would have you believe, a small group of men set forth on an adventure which I shall regale you with. The reasons for their excursion into the strange hills and valleys of Ossuary isn’t important, nor is it entirely true, so I will merely state that their mission was of great importance to them, but of little importance to anyone else. Such is the way with ventures as theirs, many curious and over-eager tongues set about telling tales almost immediately upon news of their departure. These tales tend to arise around men of singular purpose, and retelling them here would be of disservice to those men.

Oh, delicious fate weaved upon Lachesis’ thread, the tale which I will tell should be told in more decadent a setting, and with drinks for all. Such a setting cannot be hastily arranged, so this, I am sorry to say, will have to suffice.

For reasons which will become clear, I will refrain from stating outright the location of this fabulous fable, and the identities of those involved will be obfuscated somewhat. Such authorial intrusion will be minimal, and for the benefit of all who peruse this account. Apologies must be made in advance to the students of Abdul Alhazred, for there are elements herein which bastardize his works. Others, of lesser reading, may notice elements drawn from folklore and myth, though such commonalities can be attributed to the nature of the land in which my tale takes place, and not to laziness nor queer humor.

There are ways to begin which would explain the motives of those involves, and which would amuse the more puerile interests of my audience, though I will start with the dying words of the man I shall be calling Waldemar –

Here There Be Dragons

It should be noted that the esteemed Spaniard was not noted for hyperbole. I state this fact in the hope you will not think ill of him for such a statement, but indulge the notion – for a while, at least – that there are places where the laws governing biology are rather less stringent than elsewhere. This isle of the dead, the land to which he sailed, was of a lost archipelago rediscovered through equal parts luck and misfortune. A few people have suggested, in their fictions grafted around the bones of his venture, that old Waldemar was a legendary hero who slayed great beasts and led his men into the heart of darkness. Lies. All of them. The truth about Waldemar is much more mundane, but is no less amazing for such a fact.

Whispering grass, of which songs have been sung, grows here in wild abandon. Stretching along the coast, it is the siren song which drew the attention of those aboard The Bastion Of Hope. In mentioning this fine vessel it becomes clear that there is something of a necessity in pointing out that it was originally a great deal smaller than people would have you believe. Built by common means, and of necessity, it was hardly to be considered the leviathan of subsequent telling. There is a painting of the ship which hangs in the basement of the British Library now, a sheet hung over it to quash the curse it is reputed to have. The frame is was carved from the carcass of the ship, cut from Yggdrasil more splendid than any other wood…

It is said that, there on the shore, the sight of the faraway hills incited the men to rush headstrong into the interior of the island, but it was far from the mad dash of legend. A firm and capable leader, Waldemar had planned every step of the journey as best he could under the circumstances, and for the unknown region had prepared several contingencies for the group to adhere to. Yes, there were flaws in his plan, but no great adventure is without uncertainty. It isn’t for me to point out where he went wrong just yet, for these things will become apparent in the full course of time.

Where was I? Ah, yes. The grasslands. Setting forth through the waist-high barrier was no easy matter, and on more than one occasion the men were rooted to the spot in fear as the hushed intonations of doom tugged at their mind. A distance of no more nor less than three rods took the better part of the day. You might wonder at how such experienced men were so swayed that their progress was made difficult, but if you have not experienced firsthand the terrors of the whispering grass, you ought not cast remark on men brave enough to traverse a field of the damnable stuff. I once had a salad where it was served in a side-dish – even cut from their roots, they refuse to be silenced.

I have no idea why this isn’t working for me, but I hope you aren’t too disappointed with such an abysmal failure on my part this month. Two days work is above, and if I spend any longer on one piece I am sure to end up in a padded cell, banging my head against the wall and muttering about “the coming of the master.” You really don’t want that to happen, do you?

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Word Wars Don’t Help Me In Writing Omni… The Proof:

Posted by BigWords on February 10, 2011

So I suck at first drafts. That is a given. There’s a little bloggish thing going on, and I’m meant to write in omni. This was the result of a Word War to help me warm up my writing muscles. Consider it a prevew of the even bigger mess which is to come…

The rain beats down in a tattoo of unearthly noise, ricocheting off leaves and men alike in the vast wasteland. This place has many names, though those who currently traverse the expanse call it by names which no cartographer would consider immortalizing. It is far from safe, and ancient structures pock mark the flatness in their absence, or remain – decaying tombstones upon the skyline – as warning to any who would consider the vastness an appropriate dwelling. Eight men walk the land. Their weapons held in front of them, they trudge through the thick water and swat away the insects whose habitat they interrupt with their inconvenient war. It is getting dark, and neither relentless rain nor gloomy skies can halt their progress.

Night. Night is the worst. They all think that the marshland is bad when they arrive, but few truly realize how bad until they live through their first night there. That is, if they survive. It has been said that such places are haunted, though military training and the cold necessities of war demand a more restrained view of the spiritual realm. I wouldn’t want to sway you, but there are things, however well hidden here, which defy explanation. But I am meant to be telling of those who ventured forth into the expanse in the hopes of military victory.

Who are they fighting? Why, that would be themselves, for mankind has always managed to set after itself in constant rivalries. To say more would require background, and I have little time to dwell at length on so trivial a matter. Regardless, the men continue their march, and their persistent chatter to a faraway command – a bodiless voice willing to order forth the assault though not willing enough to step into the fray with the others. And the butterflies… A remark on the butterflies here would draw your attention, no? Well, I can’t give away everything straight away. The riddle of the butterflies should be cleared up later.

So. Butterflies and military expansion. It’s another story which goes back to the dawn of mankind in this place, for the marshlands have been here since the epoch of great beasts which strode across the landscape utterly unaware of anything beneath them. They were the gods of their time, but are all gone now. Save for those which stick to the night. The things which you see out of the corner of your eye, then question what, precisely, you have seen. This is a place where the things in the corner of your eye exist. Don’t ask how, but know that I know.

This place is a riddle which has no answer, and a very difficult question to ask. It asks – of all who dare defile the landscape – if mankind is sturdy enough to survive the extremes it presents. It also asks, in a quiet voice which permeates the air – ARE YOU AFRAID?

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Going Out With Not So Much As A Whimper…

Posted by BigWords on February 8, 2011

One of the perennial dangers of reading (and clicking links on) a science forum is the way ideas seen to get conflated into larger and more depressing ways for the planet to die. Yeah, this is another one of my increasingly regular posts which seem to appear out of left-field. Having managed to avoid the subject of irrevocable planetary destruction for quite some time, I may as well indulge myself while these thoughts are fresh – and before it actually happens, which would be an annoyance of incredible proportions. So… Gamma ray bursts. If you aren’t aware of the phenomenon, then you might want to take a look at the sciencey stuff behind them. They appeal to me in a way which even pole shift hypothesis can’t match. It’s a matter of scope and inevitability which marks out gamma ray bursts as a very special way for us to meet our end, especially as the images which have been passed around are so cool – and resemble (in many ways) the visuals of black holes, which you can draw your own conclusions from…

Supervolcanoes, and other planetary disasters, are scary enough, but they don’t have the completely random and planet-wide effects to make people think of just how fragile our planet really is. Gamma bursts from dying stars however… Oh yeah, that’s the good stuff right there. That’s the kind of mind-crushing, galactic threat so large as to make people turn to their gods and start crying. I’m not going to pretend that the use of such a thing in a work of fiction hasn’t crossed my mind in the past, but it is only after reading all the theories and speculation about these mysterious blasts of power that I have, for the first time in ages, realized that some scientists don’t go far enough in their predictions. That’s not really their job though… It’s the job of writers and imagineers (shut up, it is too a word) to come up with the more outlandish theories and speculation. When scientists get to attempting the art of spinning out disaster scenarios, they get (most of the time) too much science and not enough explosions into their presentation, so that the folks who would enjoy the spitballing of ideas the most are made to feel left out of the party. I’m slightly less rigid about the definition of “probable” and “likely” than most scientists, so even though there are extreme odds against an event happening I never seem to be able to say the word impossible.

My thoughts were piqued by talk of volcanoes, and (yes) supervolcanoes, and it occurred to me that there might be more than a passing use for the comparison, as both are limited in their destructive capabilities – volcanoes by their mass and force of ejection, and gamma ray bursts by the relative position of their poles in relation to the rest of the galaxy. Supervolcanoes, unlike reg’lar volcanoes, are awesome in their destructive tendencies. So what, if anything, would cause a gamma ray burst to take on an even more destructive aspect? Yeah, these are the things which occupy my time when I should be writing, and I know I shouldn’t be playing with thoughts of planetary destruction, but I can’t help it. The image of a ray of blinding white light hitting the surface of the Earth and killing every living thing on the surface is too close to the imagery of classic SF films’ destructor rays and other superweapons to be mere coincidence. You didn’t come here for the slightly creepy admiration I have for them, so moving swiftly on…

The mix-and-match disaster scenarios which regularly appear in novels and films come out of people first asking “what if”, then expanding on the basic idea – taking gamma ray bursts and making them worse (a feat which some would say improbable) isn’t all that hard. Just add a source of massive gravity, for starters, then you get something approaching interesting. I use the term interesting, because using “potentially underwear-soiling terrifying” would merely scare people. It’s also a really cool thought, that somewhere – far from Earth, hopefully – a ball of light is spitting out bright death rays whilst spinning wildly, hitting multiple planets in it’s roaring rampage of destruction. When I thought of this image, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the balls which used to hang in clubs in the seventies… Which made me giggle for a moment before I realized such an event wouldn’t be in the slightest bit funny if it happened to have our little planet in its’ sights. The Super-Seventies Disco Ball Of Doom scenario (I thought it up, so I get to name it) would be as terrifying as it is an awesome sight to behold – as long as you don’t get too close…

The other thing… I guess this isn’t as much a theoretical possibility as it is a reeeally long shot (the odds of which I refuse to hazard a guess at), and – as such – should be shunted off into its’ own category. Whenever there is the possibility of one event (in this case the gamma burst, which is unlikely an event in and of itself), there exists possibilities which confound our rational belief in events going as expected. The unexplained is part of the fabric of science. The unexplained is integral to the motion of people wondering just what they have witnessed, and is the spur upon which further research is implemented. It is essential to our understanding of the universe around us. Could some unexplained energy out there have the ability to screw up a star’s magnetic poles? Yeah. It isn’t outside of the realms of science. It wasn’t that much of a mental stretch going from the The Super-Seventies Disco Ball Of Doom to an even more dramatic scenario – inspired as much by watching Star Wars as it was reading any textbook on interstellar phenomenon, but that’s not important…

The Big Kaplooey Destroy All Life Event is the The Super-Seventies Disco Ball Of Doom times infinity. It would necessitate some very strange stellar mechanics, but if a star was so severely compromised (and in the final stages of a star’s existence there are a lot of things which are not entirely understood), then it is just inside the line of credibility that a mass-expulsion of gamma energy could be emitted from the entire surface of the star. It’s probably not going to be something people are looking for, nor something any scientist ever wants to see, as witnessing such an outpouring of devastating energy would most likely shake them to the core, but it should be completely ruled out. In the billions of years the universe has existed (and the universe before this, if researchers are to be believed) there might possibly have been at least one event which corresponds to something of this magnitude of destruction. And if there is such an event discovered by mainstream science, I want you to remember that I named it here first. The Big Kaplooey Destroy All Life Event. That’s so what it’s gonna be called.

To think that I could have been editing, and instead I spent a valuable half-hour putting these strange thoughts together…

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As Ripples On Water

Posted by BigWords on February 4, 2011

Everything, as I have said many times before, is connected. The most seemingly isolated things are entangled, in ways which make even the most random and inconsequential items matter. When I started seriously putting the pieces of the non-fiction book together, adding fifteen years worth of notes and observations to the bare bones of an idea which I have carried with me from place to place, this became even clearer for me. I’ve (thus far) resisted the temptation to give too much away about the contents of the WIP, but as I cautiously move from segment to segment of the book, I realize that I’m not entirely sure of how much other people know. The notion of “common knowledge” seems to get further complicated as I attempt to write for an international, and more importantly educated audience.

The first thing which strikes me about writing non-fiction, and is in no way a slur on anyone else, is how often there are massive gaps in reference books. Not merely oversights, but whole sections of history which are so poorly represented that it would seem, to an indiscriminate eye, that such times have had no event of significance within the period described. I knew, right from the start, that I wanted to do something definitive with this, and having had long enough to consider how I wanted to proceed (in a subject which is still more or less virgin territory) it became clear that there were no suitable guides from which to draw on. A rough outline of contents has revealed to me the scope of the omissions in other peoples’ work, which means I have to strike out on my own if I want to do this right. In the short time I have been compiling the data, the vast world of interconnected information has slowly been revealed to me.

And it is scary.

Writing about books (in a way, for such is the nature of this tome), has been as complicated as anything I could possibly have imagined. There’s already over a hundred years of history I have to convey, and titles I need to track down, but of the material which is present and correct, very little information is already documented. This is not only new research I am having to do, it also bleeds into other areas I never expected to have to fix. The US side of the material (which is tertiary at best to what I intend) has so meager a bibliography that it isn’t worth my while reading further on the collated data there, and the European side of things is even worse – in English, at least. I’m opening myself to writing at least four or five books worth of information to back up the central data in the work in progress.

It isn’t just the paucity of good reference works about the books, it also concerns the magazines, comics and periodicals I am going to be covering. For a long time – until very recently – I had expected that there would be some sort of website or overly-priced reference book which I could work off as a starting point for further research, but that is not the case. I’m having to go through (by hand) decades of fragile documents to get the barest scraps of information required to find elements which correspond to the titles I am documenting, which is at least another book’s worth of great material sitting beside me. It’s slightly disheartening to think that there is so little interest in the history of an area of publishing that so little has been written as to necessitate such extensive research.

I’m going to hold my hand up here, and admit that I thought this would be easy. Hell, it’s not as if I ever go out of my way to do things which are on the very edge of impossible, even if it sometimes seems that way. It’s a good thing I am so obsessed with making my work as good as it can be, and – really important, given the titles which are in the same general area – encompassing, because I have the feeling the works which have set out to tackle similar areas were crushed by the ever-expanding reference pool which goes with crafting a definitive work in one area. It’s the ripples which get people every time. One thing leads to another, which opens a new field of query, then onwards… Outwards…

The ever-expanding pool of knowledge I am having to cope with may seem like a daunting task – and there are things I’m writing about which go back to the 1700s, so it is a very wide net I am casting – but I have the feeling that this is an important lesson, in many ways. If I hadn’t decided to tackle this work, then it would have remained forgotten by most as a blip which passed without much fanfare. There are names which are difficult to trace much of their work, and that’s another thing which annoys me a bit more than I find comforting. It’s pretty much up to me – as the only person who seems to be doing anything to preserve the knowledge – to make their work live on again. I really don’t like the responsibility which comes with that…

Maybe the ripple effect isn’t as bad for me because I need to write this. It isn’t because I have a feeling this will make heaps of money (in fact, I’m almost certain that the very limited audience for such a book is shrinking by the day), nor is it because there is a pressing need for such a book (given the absence of similar works on the market, that is a given), but the urge to write it remains. It’s the kind of thing I would buy in an instant if there was a title of distinction available. I may be overcompensating, by adding more information than is truly necessary for the work to stand alone, but all the elements build to something which has never been done before, and that excites me.

Do I want to be cited? To have my name in footnotes? This book, this folly of epic proportions, deemed a work which is to be read by people as a window into the small area of publishing it covers? I hope not. I do want the dissemination of information to go as well as possible, but the daunting and rather awful prospect of this graduating from a diversion to being an important title in its’ subject makes me uneasy. The way that I have been approaching the end-section of the book, unlike other reference guides, is to give it an equal weight of importance as the main body of text, and it’s probably the one thing I am most shocked with. There’s already indexed information which I can’t really grasp the reason for people excluding elsewhere, and the more I uncover (every day I seem to find some new and shiny fact) the more I am convinced that this book found me rather than the other way round.

Like ripples on water, the information grows.
Like ripples on water, it touches everything.

I can only hope I am up to the task of clearly explaining all that I hope to.

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