Month: August 2014

Asymmetric Creativity: John Cleese

ministrysillywalksI am a fan of the illustration blog, Muddy Colors. For artistic inspiration alone its a great site, but from time to time the idea of inspiration and creativity is added to the conversation. This week a Muddy Colors contributor posted this video from Monty Python veteran John Cleese. In the over 30 minute long lecture, Cleese provides some amazing and insightful ideas about how creativity works. Throughout I laughed and nodded at Cleese’s insights into the nature of creativity, techniques for encouraging it.

What really rung with me occurred at roughly the 30 minute mark when Cleese talks about humor, explaining the laughter comes “at a moment when you connect two different frameworks of reference in a new way.” That is the essence of Asymmetric Creativity, the ability to have two entirely different frameworks or ideas meet and produce a new or unexpected result. Such as reading about religious ecstasy, finding a reference to the origins of consciousness and creating a science fiction short story set in 2030. That is Asymmetric Creativity.

Here is Cleese’s lecture in its entirety.



Asymmetric History: Drowning Culture

In the rush to preserve river valley flora and fauna ahead hydroelectric dam construction mankind’s cultural impact is often ignored and often lost. Here is an excerpt of a paper I wrote on Drowning Culture.

Modern protests against nature altering construction projects- in particular river halting dams- generally center on the defense of a geographical feature, saving a species of flora and fauna, or guarding the river itself. Historically, dam opponents and dam builders have overlooked or completely ignored a vital aspect of the landscape: mankind’s cultural artifacts, settlements and cemeteries clinging to river valleys around the world.

Traditionally, the dam construction debate rallies defenders of plants, animals or natural features. Rarely, if ever, has cultural heritage been weighed in these heated debates. The roots of this historically significant problem are entangled in the nature of human exploration. Whether cutting timber or damming a river to create a hydro-electric plant, developers often define the natural world as virgin or unspoiled by mankind. As we see time and again, in North America and around the world, mankind is a proxy term for civilized peoples, ones with technology and determination to shape the future. The very language of progress ignores or devalues the cultures of native or indigenous peoples that lived and thrived in the lands coveted for development.

Mankind’s culture is tied to river valleys even though it may not be obvious to all, according to a report from the World Commission on Dams. An international effort to study and assess the economic, environmental and social effects of dam building, the World Commission on Dams (WCD) possess a unique authority on the controversial subject. Without hesitation the report authors state that large dams, in particular, “have had significant adverse effects on this heritage through the loss of local cultural resources… and the submergence and degradation of archaeological resources”. It is incongruous that the dam is also considered by the WCD to be “our oldest tool” in controlling water, while also drowning ancient cultural artifacts. The detritus of earlier civilizations can take many forms from structures, tools, butchered animal remains and burial sites. The evidence of cultures lost to dams litter history, as the WCD authors explain, ” In most cases no measures have been taken to minimize or mitigate the loss of cultural and archaeological resources”.

In the case of Washington state’s Grand Coulee Dam, Native American burial sites submerged by the dam were relocated by the tribes, but only after waters receded enough to expose the burial grounds. Most famously when the site of the Egypt’s Aswan Dam was selected, the entire Abu Simbel temple complex was carved up and moved to higher ground, in order to prevent its loss. When planning for the large Three Gorges Dam project on the Yangtze River, Chinese developers chose to submerge  nearby ancient carvings and building an underwater museum, instead of proactively preserving the site.

Viewing the river valley as a natural place outside the culture of man, a place of detached admiration, implies mankind does not belong there and therefore should not long for a connection to it. Scott Russell Sanders captures man’s connection to place, and its importance, in his work After the Flood, “A footloose people, we find it difficult to honor the lifelong, bone-deep attachment to place. We are slow to acknowledge the pain in yearning for one’s native ground, the deep anguish in not being able, ever, to return” . By constructing a dam, building a housing development of cutting a countryside to lay a highway, we permanently sever our connection to our collective past. The language and act of building in the wilderness becomes an act of redefining history, ignoring a richer collective history in favor of writing a new one. Techniques to protect cultural heritage sites are at hand, according to WCD recommendations, but still very much ignored. Not every valley shelters irreplaceable cultural heritage, but we will never know unless we slow down, acknowledge the entire spectrum of potential loss, whether natural or manmade. Like Sanders, perhaps we should slow our pace, look past the winding river, its fertile shores and through its dense verdant vegetation in order to find those arrowheads. To see and save our collective past.

© Copyright site content Asymmetric Creativity/Kevin Cooney ( 2014-. All rights reserved. Text may not be used without explicit permission.


How Hayao Miyazaki Made Me a Better Story Teller

Hayao_MiyazakiA funny thing happened on my way to setting my writing free in the wild. I realized after years of flawed long winded prose, complicated structure, and dull inspiration, that I needed to keep my writing short and sharp. Scene and chapter breaks needed potency and force the reader to keep going. Some of my short stories posted here in Asymmetric Creativity span about eight years. I am sure you can see a progression. Hopefully.

It wasn’t until roughly two years ago when I threw off the influences and distrations I picked up as an adult and returned to the entertainment I loved as a kid and teen. Not finding refuge in the wistful ‘good old days,’ instead I looked to those movies, comic books and stories that sparked something deep inside me. The anime, monster movies and science fiction of my youth has more pull on my mature creativity than just about anything new produced by comic book publishers or movie studies.

I returned to the media and genres of my youth last year and since that time I’ve experienced a writing and creativity boom. Now, the fine tuning of my writing is a never ending process and made a huge leap forward when I took a class in environmental writing (thanks Professor Taft!) But the content, the diversity, the strangeness of the ideas were reborn when I decided the things I loved as a child were not childish. This was the starting point of Asymmetric Thinking. Realizing the potency and clean inspiration of entertainment of my youth, the power of memory and rediscovery had a disproportionate influence on my creative output. There was the asymmetric influence, something small and forgotten caused a greater creative explosion.

But it was Hayao Miyazaki who made me a better story teller.

I remember seeing Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind on cable in the mid-1980s. Now I realize the anime had been heavily edited and changed to appeal to kids, back when animation was the sole domain of American children. Even through the bad dub and immature story, the images and daker tone of Nausicaa stuck with me. When I became a teen I was able to see a bootleg LaserDisc copy (courtesy of an unnamed university anime club) in 1988 of the original Nausicaa and it blew me away.

Able to see other anime of the period (all unfortunately pre-Internet VHS copies of LaserDiscs…yes I am that old) including Akira, Fist of the North Star and Metal Skin Panic- Madox, I saw there were new ways of telling adventurous or mature stories through animation. Each had its share of influence. Creators like Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira shaped the hard edge visuals and nuanced stories, while Masamune Shirow’s Appleseed and Ghost in the Shell showed detail, and fantastic action. Each influence me to this day.

But it wasn’t until my return to my youth  did I realize how much Miyazaki appealed to me as a mature story teller. I re-watched each of his works starting with Nausicaa through his last film The Wind Rises.

From his compassion, strong female leads, to the environmental and spiritual themes, and sweetness inherent to his characters, Miyazaki directs films unlike any other. Sure the themes may sound like typical science fiction or fantasy, but there is nothing typical about his work.

The following are my favorite and most influential Miyazaki films.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind– Post-Apocalytic fantasy, like none other. This movie is the gold standard for great story telling without relying on typical gendre tropes. In Nausicaa I learned that fantasy science-fiction is deep, from front to back, in detail and ambition. Mixing medieval concepts with World War II technology and a bleak environmental message could be done effortlessly, so long as you believe in the heroes you paint in the foreground.

Princess Mononoke– Like the ecological message in Nausicaa, Princess Mononoke showed a perfect balance of environmental spirituality with sharp, focused characterization and evocative action. In Mononoke I figured out the spiritual, faith and religion, can be intermeshed with unconventional stories of science-fiction, fantasy or even horror.

My Neighbor Totoro– A beautiful intimate story perfectly captures childhood and the strangeness of the grown-up world with all its dangers and heartbreaks. The fantasy elements provide not a brain pleasing escape, but rather teach you coping mechanisms by opening your eyes to the otherwise veiled to our reality. Never be afraid of telling a quiet, sad and fanciful story with  hope filled characters, that is what I learned.

The Wind Rises– Brilliant in its detail, silence and emotion, this film cemented by admiration and love for the director. Here the story of the young idealist aircraft designer who would go onto create the Mitsubishi Zero fighter, is told in its beauty and sincerity. This is not just the story of an engineer, but a man in love with a woman. Their love, the sweetness of their story, intertwined with the tale of flying machines and war, taught me that in the most foreboding worlds there is a place in story telling for sweetness and love.


© Copyright site content Asymmetric Creativity/Kevin Cooney ( 2014-. All rights reserved. Text may not be used without explicit permission.

Asymmetric Fiction: Spawn of the Lost Moon – Finale


carlandWhile I’d never visited Carland before, I knew the town well. Like the hundreds of other communities from Cape Cod to the North woods of Maine, the common, church and small main street of stores followed the same model.

The centerpiece of Carland was its Minuteman statue anchoring its public common. Adjacent to the now overgrown grassy area is the typical high spired meeting house. Its white washed facade peeling already, its Protestant congregation sign pulled down in some fit of iconoclastic violence. The facades of the local cafe and gift shop, once filled with overpriced Berkshire tchotkees and t-shirts, were looted gaping holes of jagged glass.

Based on this familiar layout as I walked along the sidewalks, I easily located the address of the woman that claimed she’d seen ” a falling star” spewed from the exploding moon on that June night.

Barbara Bryant, 70, retired librarian at the Carland community library waited almost 90 days to talk about the moon rock. Her story trickled out of the Berkshires to Boston, picked up by newspapers spread around the globe. Eventually experts confirmed that something did enter the Earth’s atmosphere on that night. Its trajectory came from inter-lunar orbit and appears to have landed in western Massachusetts. Like the Gold Rush of 19th century California, the Berkshires were now the location of the most important scientific hunt in human history.

Bryant was a typical New Englander, frugal, privately pious, sheltered and yet worldly. Her home, a crumbling Victorian,  was almost made uninhabitable as every inch of floor space was stacked high with books.

“A few are from the library,” she guiltily confessed. “After things began going mad, I worried they would go after the books. I know it’s wrong, but I needed to rescue some of them. If not me, then who?”

“Tell me, Mrs. Bryant, about that night.”

The widow, one of ten children of an Episcopal minister, had left the town of her birth only a hand full of times seemed like no cloistered townie, but clear headed and of sound mind.

“I don’t sleep well since my George passed in 2010, so I tend to wake up around 1 or so, have a little cup of tea and read for a bit. It was warm, that night, and I had my windows open. There was no moon that night, who knew there would never be another. Then suddenly the entire sky lit up as if it were brightest summer day. I was scared, you know. Thought maybe the terrorists were coming or something. I got up and saw the sky dimming back to black, but right there above the trees was this awful, glowing fist in the sky. It reminded me of a fiery hand of God, reaching out ready to smite a wicked humanity. I fell to my knees and grabbed my Bible.”

“Were you scared?”

Bryant smiled in a reassuring grandmotherly way, “Why would I be? If it was the end, then that means I could be with my George.”

“But it wasn’t the end.”

“No, no it wasn’t,” Bryant’s tone saddened, perhaps with more than a little regret. “I looked back to heaven, seeking out God’s face, when I saw a fire ball shoot out of the air. It looked like a comet, almost amber in color, screaming an awful sound. The forest exploded with that same sulfur tint and dreadful rumblings. That’s when I knew it was the moon, or at least part of it.”

“If you saw this chunk of moon rock crash onto Carland, why haven’t experts been able to see it from the air?”

“I will tell you, like I’ve told all the other reporters and scientists, even the young woman from Boston who was just here. There is a bog at the foot of Mount Tyog, yes another one of those strange old Native names Massachusetts is known for. The bog swallows up anything, leaving nary a scar or ripples. That is where it is.”

Scientists had scoured every corner of the globe efforting to find a piece of lunar rock that might have been flung off from the moon’s detonation. Yet when that instantaneous explosion spit 81 million tons of rock into the void, not one pebble or chunk hit the Earth. It all streamed off into high Earth orbit like a rocky tentacle. Those learned men and all their billions of dollars of equipment and education were outdone by a retired Massachusetts librarian.

Before leaving Bryant’s home, I asked her about her most recent visitor, a woman from Boston.

“Dr. Minot is from a museum there, the Cabot Museum, she says. Nice girl. She seems to know a lot about the moon rock. You should find her, would be interesting for your story.”

My feet sunk into the greasy green earth, black water pooling around my shoes as I pushed towards the bog. An aroma hung low over the marsh, stagnant and rotting, like a city dumpster in summer.

I’d found the bog only after locating Dr. Minot skulking into the woods. Our initial meeting was a bit confrontational, with her taking me for a “one of them.” After a good 45 minutes of questioning and reassuring her I was interested in the story, not the lunar rock, she took me to the site.

From soft forest edge I looked about the watery depression of once verdant marsh reeds faded to dead brown. I aimed my camera to a strange yellow flicker of light playing amid the rooted bog.

“Wow,” I could only muster the uninspired exclamation. “Is it normal to still be glowing?”

The moon rock barely breaking the surface looked like a piece of modern art, twisted and pitted with dull light emanating from the interior. Tendrils of golden light pulsed like flaxen hair caught in a breeze.

She described the lunar fragment as we lay behind a large stone still concealed by the forest cloak. “Nothing about this event or this rock are normal. The rock is not rock at all, it’s like a kind of basalt and iron, the only way I can explain it.”

Attempting to rise from my muddied stomach Dr. Minot frantically yanked me down.

“What are you doing?”

She said nothing. Her eyes tracking something in the distance, opposite us. Something that terrified her.

The pine trees swayed in the diminishing light, the darkness at their heart gave up a trio of white, gauzy phantasms.

“The cult,” she whispered.

“That’s how you found the rock?”

“By following them,” she nodded, pointing across the clearing.

“Who are they?”

“They’re the Acolytes of the Son of Suen.”

“You know a lot about them,” I was transfixed by their pagan gesticulations.

“Days before the news about the shard broke, a member of the Suen showed up at the Cabot Museum. He warned me their great father had fallen to earth and was hidden in a bog. I dismissed him as a kook.”

“Why was he at the museum?”

“You’ve obviously have never been to the Cabot,” she sneered. “To see the Dyer Antarctic lunar rock collection. Ever since the explosion, we’ve had thousands of visitors a week to see our samples. We were lucky to get a thousand a month previously. And this guy announces himself as leader of the Acolytes of the Son of Suen, followers of the ancient Mesopotamian moon cult, and starts screaming about the end of the world, the rebirth of their father from his stone coffin.”

Knees sunk into the fetid mire around the stone, the two men and one woman began to heap mud and piles of reeds over the barely visible stone.

“We will poison her,” sang the two men now pulling their cloaks off to the waist.

“Ho ho,” the woman removed her hood, swaying in a rejoin.

“We will smother her.”

“Ho, ho.”

Their ritual chants darkened to rumbles as the woman pulled a small rough cloth satchel from her gown.

“What the…” I gasped as a still writhing hare was pulled from the bag. The two men reached out to the jumping rabbit, holding tight its head and hind legs.

And with a howl, they yanked the life from the hare.

“Oh god!” Minot squealed in horror.

Her muffled scream shot across the bog and the three cultists spun in unison towards us.

“You cannot be here, unbelieving children of Abraham,” screamed the tallest acolyte, rising like a bog ghost, his outstretched arm jabbed into the failing light.

My fist found a heavy branch, clenching it tight in a sense of fight and survival I had never felt before. As if in slow motion, the man and woman trudged towards us through the unforgiving suction of the bog.

“Go! Run! I can take care of them.”

“But what about the lunar fragment?”

“Go! I’ll take care of it.”

That was the last I saw of Dr. Minot, running back along the old country road tucked at the foot of Mount Tyog. I fled in the opposite direction, deeper into the woods, towards the rock fall, nearest the Berkshire peak. The younger man in the trio followed me into the dense forest, while the woman took after Dr. Minot.

I found myself blindly running forward, eyes flitting across the fence of trees and saplings that filled the forest floor. The sound of my own panting was matched in cadence by the crunch of feet on leaves giving chase.

It occurred to me then, the cultists did not want to merely scare us off. They wanted to kill us. I ran straight towards the pile of grey stone, shed like rocky scales from the mountain. Instead I  stumbled towards a faint yellow glow just through the trees. How far had I run? Where was my pursuer?

I rushed to meet the light and my straight line had become a panicked circle as I tumbled into the boggy clearing of the moon shard and the raging acolyte.

I don’t remember making the swing that put the lead acolyte on his knees. One second I was tumbling in the mud, the next I was flailing away at a man now prostrate and bloody faced. He looked at me, shattered teeth and blood glistening in the last light of day, leading into another moonless night.

The moon shard rest right at my feet, its amber glow splashing light on my mud covered shoes. Jamming the bloodied branch into the murky water I got under the precious fragment and levered it up. Applying every last bit of strength I had against the heavy rock and suction of the thick bog mud, three furious times. The fourth dislodged the lunar splinter with a splash, landing just a fingertip away from the prone acolyte.

He reached out. Then froze.

His once pale skin spotted in dead blacks and browns, until his body looked like a bog mummy. While his body stiffened like so much burned pigskin, his eyes and mind were exercising in panicked.

And that inanimate chunk of lunar debris began to crackle and shiver sending off ripples in the shallow bog. The faint golden glow of earlier was now brilliant and blinding. The stone exploded, sending shrapnel in every direction of the compass, peppering my shins and dropping me among the marsh grass.

I pulled clump after clump of weeds from the bog as I attempted to crawl away from the hissing stone. Making it ten feet from the acolyte and the sizzling moon rock, I rolled back over, clearing the caked mud from eyes, to see not a stone anymore. Writhing next to the acolyte in the center of the swamp was a creature of unspeakable horror. The ugly slithering beast, starting out as nothing more than an oily black slug, split from the stone like a demonic birth from a bitumen egg.

The acolyte choked, gurgling what sounded a laugh as his eyes glistened with excitement as the slug became large. It tripled in size as it hissed and thrashed in the mud. Its smooth glossy form began to bubble and erupt in gruesome pustules, popping and giving birth to slapping, darting tentacles.

Eyes, or what appeared to be eyes, blinked and swirled on the broadest part of its ‘head.’ Those puss born tentacles grew with astonishing rapidity, flailing overhead as to grasp for something. It can’t be me. I can’t die here. I am not ready to die.

I struggled to prop myself against the rock that once concealed Dr. Minot and I, given a clear view of the creature’s ultimate form.

The beast whipped its longest tentacle about, snagging the paralyzed body of the acolyte. Savagely the creature snapped the acolyte in half with its once concealed, now grossly obvious toothy orifice. Bones, muscle and flesh crunched and burst within the beast’s jaws.

“Ho! Our father has awakened from his slumber,” the voice came from behind me. The female acolyte ran into the marsh, ignoring me. As she passed, enthralled in unnatural ecstasy, I caught from the corner of my eye her hands, covered in blood. Dr. Minot’s blood.

She ran with rapturous abandon towards to creature, nearly leaping into its flapping tentacles for a deathly embrace. The demon welcomed its newest feeding as hurriedly and hideously as the first.

I wish I could tell you I reacted like a hero, saying or doing something noble, but I did not. I turned from the clearing and ran into the woods. I heard a man’s shout, prompting me to turn back to see the other male acolyte run to the swamp, dropping to his knees in prayer before being bitten in half by the beast.

Suddenly there was a stiffness in my legs, alarming me. Broken? Torn? Exhausted? Or was the creature doing to me as it done to the leading acolyte? Starting at my feet and rapidly working up my legs and torso, I found my paralysis unyielding as it was inexplicable.

I flopped to my belly, head turned left watching bugs inch along the forest floor, passing me in a rush from the marsh. I was paralyzed, but my eyes and breathing continued to flutter in panic. I would wait for a terrible end.

And there it was, sliding along grass, crushing saplings and  bending trees with every inch forward. I was wrong, those tentacles were not appendages, but seven heads with small snapping jaws and a dozen greasy eyes. The beast of Armageddon in physical form.

I wanted the noise to go away, the panicked cries of birds fleeing the woods, the sounds of ancient conifers snapped under its ponderous form. They were drowned out, as if on command. Replacing the noise of a dying world, was a voice, guttural, low and foreign. No, alien? No, ancient? Both? An ancient voice hammered a mad monologue into my head.

“Reborn from Budur’s rocky womb, product of my father’s seed, I have come to reclaim this world in his name.”

“I killed my mother, Budur, the moon,  because her pale light hates me. All but one piece of her stony corpus was spit into oblivion. A single shard, however, was given back to Earth for my rebirth. Without her light I can thrive and without her weight upon the sea, my father can rise. Commanding my soon to follow armies, we will feed on the corrupt and debased crumbs of humanity and resurrect my progenitor from his briny grave. ”

I prayed for the death I long feared. But in a strange alien tongue, the beast mocked me with salvation.

“Boy, you are witness to a rebirth of an empire lost for an unfathomable millennia. And you shall live to describe my triumph and record for those chattel left behind.”

Terrified, I wanted an answer from the voice in my head. And so, I asked, “Who are you?”

“I am Ghatanothoa, destructor of humanity, first spawn of Cthulhu. The long excruciating  Apocalypse has come.”

© Copyright site content Asymmetric Creativity/Kevin Cooney ( 2014-. All rights reserved. Text may not be used without explicit permission.


Asymmetric Fiction: Spawn of the Lost Moon Pt. 2



Carland, Massachusetts is a small hamlet located near the Vermont border, about 90 minutes west of Boston. With the nearest rail station 12 miles away from the tiny mountain community, I was linked up to a patrol of Massachusetts National Guardsmen heading north.

Master Sergeant Ben Williams leads his squad on a mid-day patrol, his voice crackling through a headset inside the Humvee.

“We’ve had to fortify gas stations the most, especially since the rationing rules were put into effect,” said the four tour combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. “Folks love their cars, they want to flee, head for the hills loaded down with gas and guns. I don’t blame them. But until the government gets a handle on this whole crisis, I think it’s smart to restrict gasoline usage. It’s making people crazy though.”

Driving the armored vehicle through the once tourist clogged mountain road was Specialist Martin Schwartz, ” I saw a woman sneak her 5 year old under a Humvee to get at an underground gas tank valve. She was going to try to siphon off gallons of it into an inflatable kiddy pool in her minivan. Crazy.”

Williams is a stout and likable soldier, his helmet concealing a salt and pepper receding hairline. His hands, those of a peace time mechanic, expertly handle his M-4 carbine. Several miles from Carland, Williams ordered his three vehicle convoy to dismount at the first check-point we’ve encountered.

“We’re going to walk you up to the CITGO check-point, you can make it to the town center in about 20 minutes.”

Each of the men in William’s Massachusetts National Guard unit mustered when called. Some units around the country weren’t so lucky, experiencing 70 percent absenteeism when the federal government declared nation-wide martial law. New England based Guard units had nearly 80 percent reportage, resulting in a more stable, calm, if dystopian environment.

“We’re mostly Berkshire guys in the unit, a few from Worcester and Springfield. When we got called up it made sense for us to report. It’s our duty.”

“You didn’t feel the need to stay by your families, protect them personally, and remain in your home towns?”

“This place,” Williams pointed around to the green hills knotted with dense pine, “this is home. Where else would we go?”

Asked about any problems with violence or looting, Williams halts the column, spreading his team out to form a defensive perimeter. He takes the opportunity to bring out a tourist map of the Berkshires.

“It’s not been too bad,” Williams combat gloves trace a few Guard positions, check points and observation posts. “We had a riot in Worcester two weeks ago when a rumor started that the government was confiscating guns. A dairy farm, out in Lee, was robbed of 40 head of cattle one night. Same for a chicken farm in Carlton. And a farm off the Miskatonic River had its entire 10 acres of corn plucked clean by a mob. Sure, there has been some looting here and there, but it feels weirdly calm. Y’know?”

Calm is the consistent term for life in New England after The Loss. The same cannot be said for other parts of this nation or the world. The Mexican border erupted into a 600 mile conflagration of riots and firefights after the central government fell and when hastily raised Texans militia started cross-border raids against the ruling narco-gangs. Chicago burned, again. The UK became a fortress trying to piece together some semblance of a future. India and Pakistan engaged in two days of tactical nuclear exchange, killing 15 million. China is crumbling amid revolt and Eastern Europe is drifting back to a state more like the late Middle Ages.

The world had come to an end, in slow motion, all because of the panic over loosing the moon and the realization that eventually the seas would die and so would we.

As Williams moved the patrol forward, Carland’s town limits come into view.

“Viking base, this is Thor Zero One, radio check. Over.” Williams took the radio handset from the young Specialist always by his side. The radio crackle began a quick exchange between the Guardsmen and the nearby patrol base. Their language is rapid, cryptic and seems fit more for a war-zone than the Berkshires. I mention this to Williams as he signs off.

“It’s SOP,” Williams pauses, “standard operating procedure. And while this may be home, its sure as hell not peacetime.”

A few rapid instructions to his senior soldiers and hand gestures got the column moving forward again.

“Besides,” Williams remarked, “things may be calm here, but stuff can get dangerous very, very fast.”

Anticipating my follow-up question to the statement, Williams slows his pace.

“You’re here to meet residents, talk about life after the moon. But you’re also here to see what this whole moon debris story is all about.”

After I nod, Williams continues, “There are some NASA nerds, Cambridge and California scientific types wandering around the hills looking for the rock. We just brought one in before your train arrived, a curator from some museum. Quiet woman.”

As I exchange handshakes with these Massachusetts men, citizen soldiers, I left behind modernity and stepped back in time. Crossing into Carland after The Loss was probably not unlike the town before the moon’s explosion, permanently suspended in the late 19th century.

Concluded in Part III…this Friday.


Here is the link to Spawn of the Lost Moon Pt. 1


© Copyright site content Asymmetric Creativity/Kevin Cooney ( 2014-. All rights reserved. Text may not be used without explicit permission.


Asymmetric Fiction: Spawn of the Lost Moon Pt. 1

Galileo_moon_phasesEverything changed in a flash of the darkest night. Nearly three months after the destruction of the moon, resulting in global panic and steady maleficent affects on the environment, a rumor emerged that a fragment of our lost orbital mate may have landed in the remote Berkshire Mountains.

As part of an ongoing series about ‘The Loss,’ my newspaper sent me to the Berkshires to meet residents of Massachusetts and see how they were adjusting to the new normal without the moon, how they are surviving the turmoil and doubts about our ability to endure this strangest of calamities. I also hoped to join the search for the moon artifact in an effort to find an answer as to why it burst into cosmic dust.

Life in Boston remains strange and strained as I boarded the train at Back Bay Station last night. The city was recovering from the initial panic that crushed many metropolis around the globe. The Internet and cell phone service that crashed mightily in those hours right after the moon exploded at 2:45 a.m. on June 21 struggled to come back. Banks and Wall Street are limited to two hours of exchanges each week. Commodities, like oil and cotton, shot up to inconceivable values. Those first few weeks of no more moon rises were bleak. Most nations declared varying degrees of martial law or loosed draconian economic sanctions upon their populace. Churches, mosques and synagogues all remained packed full of expectants of an impending Apocalypse.

Three months in, however, the world has not ended entirely. And people are trying to figure out what life will be like next. Most are worried. They should be, according to a New England-based scientist.

“We’re seeing the first stages of ecosystem collapse in the world’s oceans,” said Harvard scientist Sarah LeBlanc who accompanied me on the train ride to the Berkshires in search of the fallen moon stone.

“The coastal ecosystems are declining dramatically without the tidal effects of the moon. A vast majority of the world’s population live within 60 miles of the sea and almost four billion people rely on the ocean for daily sustenance. Sea life in the valuable coast zones have essentially plummeted to extinction,” explained LeBlanc.

“We believe the lack of tides, coupled with the shift of ocean volume towards the poles, along with mans previous abuse and pressure on the sea have put the entire ecosystem on the brink.”

According to LeBlanc, the moon of course, influenced tides, but its push and pull also kept the sea water evenly distributed around the surface of the globe. With the moon gone, she explained, the volume of water is moving towards places like Iceland and Greenland, Norway and Scotland to the north; and the to the south Argentina, Australia and New Zealand, resulting in sea-level rises of inches per month that has already taken several thousand acres of land in those nations.

The final outcome, LeBlanc believes will be the speeding up of the Earth’s rotation, “Without the moon to act as a gravity ball and chain, if you will, the Earth appears to be accelerating. It is possible that within a year, our days will be as short as six hours. Same for the night. Weather systems appear to be moving faster and more violently as well. You can imagine the devastating affect this will have on not only man, but more importantly, crops and livestock may not be able to adjust to these diminished cycles and aggressive weather changes. If mankind falls, it will occur in the next 12 months and it will happen because of a complete collapse of the food system.

I asked LeBlanc if mankind could survive without the moon, she watched the countryside sped by the train window.

“Most experts will say yes, the moon didn’t make life on Earth possible. But do I think mankind will survive? No.”

To Be Continued…


© Copyright site content Asymmetric Creativity/Kevin Cooney ( 2014-. All rights reserved. Text may not be used without explicit permission.

Marvel Movies : Trading on Myth Without the Magic


Ronan the Accuser (above) the main villain from Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy film. Different in tone Guardians has a soul or a certain “magic” missing from most Marvel movies.

Within the Marvel comic book universe their stable of superheroes and villains are often cherry picked versions of once pagan gods, in particular and popularly the Asgardian universe of Thor. Marvel, however, chose many decades ago to remove the magic and turn these gods into super men whose technology was indistinguishable from magic.

In removing the “magic” these demigods went from omnipotent, and psychologically beguiling to so forthright and predictable that any morally ambiguity has been washed away. Pseudo-science and technology are the gods of Marvel movie and comic book universe. That is the joy of pulp science fiction.But in the process of creating something new, something was lost.

Stripped of their core magic, the gods of Scandinavia were syncretized again. Where Christianity did it in medieval times, the modern Marvel comic book movie replaced the mystical or fantastic with an pseudo-technology. Turning myths to science fiction, to infuse it with ‘science’ is a natural modern process of re-interpretation. Yet, does the techno-mystical of the Marvel universe reward the viewer with bigger answers that only spur bigger questions? The heroes relate and revel more in quantum mechanics than maleficia or miracula. And this exposes the weakness.

Ultimately, Marvel’s movie universe trades on the name of gods, religions and magic but never delivers. Instead it does the skeptic’s bait-and-switch, turning magic into theoretical physics and exposing the divine as the little man behind the curtain. Effectively these movies kill the mysterium tremendum and puts an expiration date on ageless myths.

Rituals of Asgard in the Thor movies are glossy pomp and circumstance. They carry no weight or gravitas. It becomes merely super powered men wielding directed energy weapons. The magic is gone. Yet tonally this summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy establishes a dark faith with the introduction of the maniacal antagonist Ronan the Accuser (top) that is unlike any other entry in the Marvel movie universe. Ronan’s emergence from a pool of blood, ritualistically attended to by servants, dressed in armor and symbolically painted implies a developed ritual, something that is performed for effect rather than application for pure ornament. Drab gray and a stylized medieval coif turns Ronan into a dark knight on a crusade.

Ronan’s several monologues carry the weight of laws of the old faiths, a vengeful despot in a vanquished kingdom. Under Gunn’s direction and script co-written with Nicole Perlman, Ronan’s dialogue has a tone akin to an Old Testament king defeated by King David or a passage from the Mahabharata, and that feeling triggers something inside the viewer. Something bigger, older, and more  ominous. You fear Ronan more than most of the cookie cutter bad guys who sneer, smirk or cheekily seduce viewers.

Using technology to drown magic and its connection to myths, these movies crush the uncanny, the fear, with a pithy quip and some techno-babble. There is no sense of awe or wonder in the clash of peoples, nations or even galaxies. It is an arms race where the familiar hero becomes almost indistinguishable from his enemy in the power they seek or wield. And that makes sense since for the most part, comic books were born at the height of the Cold War. Technology and stampeding science created new heroes and villains and no deity was required for the narrative. Superheroes are creations at the height of the scientific-cultural-revolution with no room for gods. The magic of unconventional solutions is missing from many of these Marvel movies. Instead it falls back on the hackneyed turning the weapon on the bad-guy motif, generally spiced up with a snarky one-liner.

Can science fiction or comic book movies integrate traditional magic or myths? Absolutely. It should not be the domain of hazily constructed fiefdoms of the fantasy genre. Magic, faiths or religions integrated in a science fiction universe require a close reading of the myths or epistles. Instead of ancient characters being conveniently and quickly cherry picked by authors and screenwriters in order to populate a universe. The gods of myths breath deeply in much of modern fantasy. Why not science fiction too?

Within the Marvel stable there is Dr. Strange, a “sorcerer” who has yet to be knit into the new movie plan. What will happen to this occult figure when/if he is thrust into the techno-babble of Tony Stark? Or will his magic be denuded,  Midichlorian-ized, by the Marvel movie scribes?

Superheroes can be  fun and escapist, no disagreement from me on that. They are men and women of technology, generally, performing superhuman acts against calculating evil. They are our modern myths. Yet, if we look back at the ancient tales and myths and compare them to now, the magic is gone.

Asymmetric Study: Odin as Proxy Satan

With missionary zeal Christians trekked across Europe seeking to convert pagan peoples with vigor in the first centuries of the last millennium. Some Christian missionaries of Europe in efforts to  expand the flock, without inciting absorbed peoples, seemed to embrace conversion with syncretic results by selectively incorporating pagan elements. This adaptation of earlier pagan traditions meant a more accessible monotheism for the peoples of Europe. However, the same rich pagan connective tissue of European syncretism became the building blocks for demonization of gods.

In a letter from Gregory I to Abbott Mellitus, the pontiff recommended the missionary and his brethren adopt a softer approach when converting pagans in England. Gregory believed missionaries like Mellitus should not destroy the pagan temples they encounter but simply remove the pagan gods and sanctify the old space in the name of God.  Later in that same letter, Gregory endorses a sacrifice of an oxen as part of a religious feast,” They will sacrifice and eat the animals not any more as an offering to the devil, but for the glory of God to whom, as the giver of all things, they will give thanks for having been satiated…Thus, if they are not deprived of all exterior joys, they will more easily taste the interior ones.”  In Gregory’s own words the act of eating and drinking, already ritualized by the church with the concept of the transubstantiation of the Eucharist, was a sure way to win over pagan converts by embracing parts of their ritual feasting traditions.

 During the conversion period, Nordic pagan feasts featuring animal sacrifice and ritual drinking designed to honor the gods continued but ultimately took on a decidedly Christian purpose. Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway describes one such instance, “Odin’s toast was to be drunk first- that was for victory and power to the king- then Njordor’s and Freya, for good harvest and peace.” Ritual consumption of libations shifted from pagan to Christian, exemplified by Norwegian Gulaþing laws from the period of King Håkon in the tenth century where Christ and Mary were thanked for abundance and peace instead of Odin and Freya.

 If there is a single figure in paganism that so dramatically and liberally linked to the devil during the Middle Ages it is Odin.  Tried in Stockholm, Ragvald Odinskarl was accused of  robbing four Swedish churches in 1484. Importantly, records claimed that Ragvald Odinskarl had confessed to serving Odin for seven years. Linking the familiar name of Odin to the sacrilegious act of robbing  a church was no mistake. Who else would coax man into defiling or thieving from a church, but Satan. It was clear to the cosmopolitan population of Stockholm that Satan worked through the old ways.  An example of charm magic connected to the now demonic Odin was a thief finding runestick dating from the late 14th century invoking Odin’s name, as the “greatest among devils.” And throughout the period the chief of the Norse pantheon is known as “the devil Odin.”

Odin as tempter of sin in Christianized 15th century Sweden was furthered by the trial and execution of Erick Clauesson. The servant to a property owner, Clauesson was said to have renounced God and “all his servants” over nine Thursday nights. During those nights Clauesson became a servant of the devil, Odin, in order to gain riches. Convicted of the thefts and burned, Clauesson became a contemporary of Odinskarl in apostasy.

Like the examples of ecclesiastical disbelief in witchcraft, we see the idea of a monolithic approach to conversion of European pagans is far from absolute or unified. Yet when conversion was achieved, the old ways became the ways of Satan and a sure way to spiritual ruin or death.

The following is an excerpt from a personal paper on Witchcraft and Charm Magic. © Copyright site content Asymmetric Creativity/Kevin Cooney ( 2014-. All rights reserved. Text may not be used without explicit permission.

Asymmetric Fiction: Crystal Ball

Here is a short story nearly seven years old now. I wrote it for a occult World War II anthology I was putting together for self-publishing. Some of the stories were rubbish. But a few were worth revisiting. I quite like this idea and debate reviving it. Yes it is rough and has some flashes of my current style. I believe in the new trend of seeing the rough ideas, the wart covered early works of fellow writers to know that ideas are not born perfect or polished. The idea came to me while watching 1978’s Force 10 from Navarone, a nice little World War II movie starring Harrison Ford and the great Robert Shaw. The setting for Kristallkugel is Yugoslavia in the months before D-Day and came together as a weird war story by combining ‘Navarone’ and some research I had done on the revival of occult pastimes of the early 20th century. Please enjoy.

Yugoslavia…early May 1944…   A snack consisting of a tin cup of milk and bread would hush Zulfo Pasic’s gurgling stomach. Emerging from the chow hall, the Waffen SS Corporal made sure his green felted fez aligned just right on his head.

A voice startled the Bosnian volunteer, “How are you my friend?”

“Well, I am doing well Mirko Bukvic,” Zulfo hoisted the food and drink sheepishly to his friend’s salutation. He wasn’t supposed to leave his post during an ‘interception’ operation of the mysterious Kristallkugel device.

“Ah, took you out of the field and into code breaking duty.”

Meekly Zuflo smiled,” So it seems. I hope to be reassigned soon, but they say the work we are doing is very important, not just in Yugoslavia but for the whole effort. I don’t do much code breaking. I sit in a room, write down notes and retransmit.”

The two former school mates stopped mid-conversation, realizing they were speaking too freely in public, just outside the Posavina Hotel, command post of the volunteer Bosnian SS division.

“Time for me to return to my cave.” Zulfo stuffed the butter slathered bread into his mouth. Zulfo watched the clock tick above his bank of military radios. A few more hours and his uneventful watch would wrap up. Unlike many days recently the staff inside Kristallkugel remained quiet. No urgent dispatches or encryption breaks that should be communicated to command by Zulfo.   Rumors swirled through Brcko-based division concerning the mysterious machine that pulled signals from the air and broke codes effortlessly. The amount of information derived from the intercepts seemed overly detailed for a simple radio transmission, Zulfo opined. Direction of aircraft and the altitude which they flew, travel plans of Tito’s officers and the vehicles in which drove were passed from the Kristallkugel room to him for retransmission.

One popular theory among the unit was Kristallkugel technology was given, or possibly stolen from former countryman and scientific patriot Nicola Tesla. His inventions were wildly advanced and spectacularly powerful- death rays, building disintegrators and his remote control of vessels and aircraft. All these technologies seem to argue for Tesla’s influence on or possible creation of the Kristallkugel.

A man, in his late 20s, of calm demeanor and close cropped chestnut hair came out of the darkened nerve center adjacent to Zulfo’s radio bank.

Wearing the uniform of the Handjar Divison and its distinctive scimitar wielding fist collar tab the man passed a hand written note. Zulfo peered over the note, layers of information hastily scribbled on the ruled sheet of paper.   The man said nothing, there was a procedure established for months now. He would emerge only to pass along intelligence gained from the Kristallkugel device. No other contact or communication. Zulfo wasn’t even sure he had ever heard the young soldier’s voice.

Inquisitiveness forced Zulfo to break protocol, “Is there anything I can get you or your comrades inside there?”

Not looking back, hand on the doorknob, the soldier paused, “We are fine. We enjoy the peace of our work.” Kulfo was focused on writing notes and transmitting communiqués when the door to the Kristallkugel room opened again. The soldier exited, swapping fresh intelligence for a MP-40 submachine gun

“Arm yourself, two Allied commandos assaulting the building and will be at our door in one minute.”

“What? How,” Kulfo shot to his feet, nothing but silence blanketing the sleeping headquarters building of the 13th Handjar Division.

Rushing the door, the Kristallkugel operator shouted an order. “Do not question! They are in the building. Prepare to die!”

“How do you know that? You’ve been locked in a room without windows! How do you know that!?” Kulfo distressed and panicked by the uncanny prophetic ability of the Kristallkugel operators.

“They have to get past a building full of security.”

The mysterious soldier racked the bolt spur on the submachine gun’s left side.

“Anyone the intruders confront will be killed before they reach us.”

Kulfo picked up his Mauser rifle when the door exploded inwards, knocking him beneath the radio console.

Entering the radio room Lt. Bradley Kennedy put a single .45 ACP round into the head of the anonymous Kristallkugel operator. The American commando, member of the elite OSS was followed in by his British counterpart, SOE Lt. Jeffrey Drew followed his American teammate, shuffling past the fresh set of corpses to the second door in the room.

Past the single door, loosely closed and with no robust defense, lay the nerve center of German anti-partisan operations. For weeks, as Allied trained Yugoslav guerillas were being snuffed out by dozens of astonishingly effective and accurate the German assaults. Spies were suspected, but none were routed out leaving only one possibility, technical intelligence capabilities buried within the Posavina Hotel that suggested impossibly prescient abilities.

“Good evening, Bradley and Jeffrey,” a voice came from within the darkened anteroom.   Bradley stepped in next to Drew, pressing a light switch mounted near the door.

Expecting a room full of massive equipment and strange electronic devices, wires lacing the walls like veins and banks of dials to calibrate the prescient machine, the commandos found a room decorated for a boy.

“Who are you? How do you know who we are,” Bradley demanded.

“Where is the machine? Where is the Kristallkugel device,” Drew followed up.

The reader, barely 13 years old, closed a collection of poems by Haci Bektash.

“There is no device gentlemen, no machine,” the boy pushed aside a greasy black swath of hair obscuring his eyes.

“Communications were being intercepted here boy, tell us,” Bradley pointed his DeLisle carbine at the child.

A strange tingling swept over Drew, just like that feeling he experienced as a child and a few minutes before. Déjà vu or premonition he feared made him insane had disappeared when he reached this boy’s age. But in the young man’s presence, the feeling came back.

The boy smiled, “Welcome to my home.”

“I am sad you killed my Baba, but I knew the time was coming to an end. I was expecting you. I am not scared,” the boy reached out and clasped Drew’s hand.

“Boy, where is the machine that captures and decodes the partisan communication,” Bradley demanded.

“Where is the radio interception equipment? The direction finding!?”

The boy smiled, tapping his brow with a smile, “It inside me.”   Bradley felt sickened and confused, while Drew quietly battled a ghostly and intimidated sensation.

“What do you mean it’s inside you?”

“I see things, I have always seen things. I see them before they happen. Sometimes, I see them in great detail, other times like flashes of lightning. If the Germans ask me to ‘listen’ to the air, I will hear the partisans talking.”

“You aren’t hearing the radio, you hear the partisans talking?”

He smiled again,” I do not need a radio to amplify them. I hear them. I see them too.”

“This is crazy,” Bradley barked.

“Drew once shared a gift similar to mine, isn’t that right,” the skinny young man returned to his chair.

“It was nothing,” Drew anxiously turned to Bradley, “I used to get déjà vu, but it was nothing.”

Drew lied and the boy knew it.

“Some of us keep the gift. Others lose it,” the boy giggled. “Drew, Bradley thinks you are crazy. He doubts you.”

“Let get out of here,” Drew said.

“I want answers to what the fuck is going on,” Bradley pulled away from Drew’s grip.

The boy handed Bradley a small pamphlet, in German, “I was just shown this. I was to be examined and brought to Berlin to meet the Fuhrer. As you can see, I am not playing to crowds at the Palast des Okkulten in séances.”

Bradley’s German was impeccable and his surprise was undisguised, “Seer? You are a clairvoyant?”

“That is the manual to create future Baba’s in the Sufi tradition. Ways to train men to nurture future psychics like me. I am going to train them. Isn’t it exciting?”

“You are crazy kid.”

“I am no parlor magician on the Lietzenburgstrasse like that dreadful Hanussen.” The boy walked to the bricked over window. “You are safe here now. No one knows that I have been exposed.”

Bradley pulled Drew aside, “What is this kid going on about? I am fucking confused.”

“I think he is telling the truth Bradley, I think he is psychic.”

“A psychic? Reading tea leave and shit? Bullshit. He needs to prove it.”

From the opposite corner of the windowless room, the boy spoke, “Bradley Kennedy, born 25 years ago in Los Angeles, California. Father grows oranges.”

The boy smiled again, in that sickening way of intelligence beyond his years, “The smell of oranges makes you sick now, Bradley.”

“Shut up!” Bradley aimed the .45 caliber weapon at the boy.

“Jeffrey Drew, raised in Liverpool, a bastard child with no family to speak of. Abused by your custodian until you nearly beat him to death when you were 15.”

“Where are you from? What is your name,” Bradley demanded.

“I am Abdullah Dudakovic. I am from Sarajevo. I was born to a mother who is said to have been a clairvoyant. She did not know how to control the visions and voices, she went mad and slit her own throat,” the boy said detached.

“My father discovered my gifts when I was just a baby. We were raised Sufi, so we appreciate the mysterious elements of the universe better than any other Muslim. I am no prophet. When the war started, he felt my talents could be used to help the Germans. I am asked questions, I listen to the air or concentrate, and I can see or hear things from hundreds of miles away.”

Abdullah touched Drew again, this second time, their reactions different than the first.   “Bradley, Drew wants to kill you. He feels you are lazy and moronic.”

The book of poetry was much more interesting to the young Bosnian than the two soldiers seething with mutual distrust and doubt. “I will continue my reading and let you two decide how to deal with the information I blessed you with.”

The two allied commandos, once arrogant and cock sure of their killer instincts, silently sized each other up.

Wetting his fingers, Abdullah slowly flipped a page, “Decision has been made.”



© Copyright site content Asymmetric Creativity/Kevin Cooney 2014-. All rights reserved. Text may not be used or reproduced without explicit permission.

Witchcraft: Centuries of Dissenting Views

blasphModern popular perception of witchcraft is almost entirely informed through popular culture, from The Crucible and Bewitched, to Charmed or WGN America’s Salem. To ferret fact from fiction, to understand the roots of America’s witchcraft hysteria, takes up volumes and is continually being reinterpreted by authors and academics. Yet if we look back at the debate on the validity of witchecraft we find some dramatically differing opinions: from pragmatic or dismissive, to the violently merciless.

Burchard, Bishop of Worms, handled beliefs that witches were all around acting with malice as lingering superstitions remedied by penance detailed in his widely distributed 10th century work, The Corrector. In it Burchard hypothetically questions the faithful by asking if they had consulted a magician or recited incantations over medicinal herbs. The remedies to these sins and other sins were variations on penance and fasting over a few days or up to seven years; a stark contrast to later beliefs that witchcraft was Satan’s direct manipulation of humanity and needed to be dealt with swiftly and without mercy.

Interestingly, Burchard delivers a penance for those who accept witches, “Do you believe that there are women who, like the one people call Holda, ride by night on special animals in the company of devils which have been changed into women, as some people— deceived by the Devil— believe? If you do so believe, you should do penance on the appointed days for a whole year.”

An early image of the witch in air speeding to a conjugal visit with Satan was dismissed as misguided spiritual activity according to the 10th century’s Canon Episcopi. When describing the strange image, compiler Regino of Prum wonders, “Who is so stupid and foolish as to think that all these things which are only done in spirit happen in the body.”

The roots of the witches sabbat has its roots in the pagan past of Europe, in particular the idea of the Wild Hunt. In the Wild Hunt, Odin led an army of supernatural hunters or magical beings through the night sky in a tempest of action. Segue to post-conversion; the Wild Hunt becomes a demonic onslaught and a perfect model for a witch’s nightly ride to commune with Satan.

Some 500 years after Canon Episcopi the image of the sabbat as a Satanic orgy is real to Pierre de Lancre who, after putting 80 women to the torch, assembles a 200 page description of the sabbat. DeLancre believes women take flight nocturnally, assemble in numbers as large as 12,000, to meet the devil who they would greet with a osculum infame, before detailing their malefice, feast on babies before dancing naked and copulate with the three-horned goat that was Satan.

In 1486’s Malleus Maleficarum, Dominican inquisitors Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Spranger declare not believing in witches alone is heretical, “Whether the belief that there are such beings as witches is so essential a part of the Catholic faith that obstinately to maintain the opposite opinion manifestly savours of heresy.”

The deeply misogynistic work from Kramer and Spranger (which I will cover in a future post) essentially created a threat where there was none. Kramer and Spranger positioned themselves as unsurpassed witch prosecutors after leading 50 witchcraft executions in Germany. As they met a variety of resistence from communities and political leadership, the two men received a Papal bull from Innocent VIII. Calculating, Kramer and Sprenger attached the Bull to the front of Malleus Maleficarum, effectively sanctioning their writings and remedies for ridding Europe of Satan’s servants, witches.


Portions of the following post come from a paper I wrote two years ago for a Witchcraft and Charm Magic class.