dystopia

Cosmic Horror and Climate Change: Lovecraft’s Climate Fiction

Nothing stirred the dusty plain, the disintegrated sand of long-dry river-beds, where once coursed the gushing streams of Earth’s youth. There was little greenery in this ultimate world, this final stage of mankind’s prolonged presence upon the planet.

Till A’ the Seas- H.P. Lovecraft and R.H. Barlow

The idea of Climate Change wasn’t even a whisper on the stiffest breeze when Howard Phillips Lovecraft crafted his stories of cosmic horror. Lovecraft worlds are a constant battle between demons within and without. Conflict set against urban settings or dark cellars were one of Lovecraft’s fortes, but it was his restless relationship with the wild that made him unique. From New England’s woods to the Antarctic waste, Lovecraft’s macabre travelogue uses environment, a tangible connection to Biblical and medieval views of the wild, as demonica personified. The best and perhaps prescient example of Lovecraft’s cynical view of nature comes in the form of a dying planet in Till A’ the Seas.

In this single work we see climate change as Earth’s slow demise with rising temperatures, faltering seas and withering environment echoing today’s climate crisis. It is not difficult to see drought stricken California in Till A’ the Seas, co-written with anthropologist R.H. Barlow. Lovecraft’s survivors double for modern inhabitants of Earth, blindly lumbering forward expecting perpetual favor from the world only to be surprised by its eventual doom.

Writing of the change, Lovecraft and Barlow noted, “It had not come at once; long aeons had gone before any could feel the change.” This has a prescience as one of the major debates among social scientists gauging humanity’s physical and psychological reaction to climate change. A growing consensus that climate change is happening (why is still being debated by pundits and from pulpits) is contrasted with the lack of worry. If individuals are not feeling direct and profound effects of a devolving environment, then the urgency and worry is non-existent. For a broader look at this phenomenon check out the Finite Pool of Worry.

At its most bleak, Till A’ the Seas captures the worst case imagery of climatologists, “Steady, universal, and inexorable was the great eviction of man from the realms he had always known. No land within the widening stricken belt was spared; no people left unrouted. It was an epic, a titan tragedy whose plot was unrevealed to the actors—this wholesale desertion of the cities of men. It took not years or even centuries, but millennia of ruthless change. And still it kept on—sullen, inevitable, savagely devastating.”

In the Lovecraft and Barlow work, the Earth is drawn close to the Sun and the oceans slowly dry up. In today’s climate, we see the seas advancing, rising with each year and decade. Yet apply these words to sea-level rise and it is chilling, “Only a few inches during many centuries—but in many centuries; increasing…”

Continuing with this drought theme, lived every day by Californians, the authorial duo wrote, “And now again the peace was disturbed, for water was scarce, and found only in deep caverns. There was little enough, even of this; and men died of thirst wandering in far places. Yet so slow were these deadly changes, that each new generation of man was loath to believe what it heard from its parents.”

The author’s overall relationship with the environment is not overt, but occulted, adversarial and complex. It is a “blasted heath” ready to be leveled by mankind seeking to build a reservoir in The Colour out of Space. Lovecraft’s The Tree on the Hill, co-written with Duane Rimel, features a parcel of land so ominous, inaccessible and dreaded, ” the hillfolk will tell you that it is indeed a spot transplanted from his Satanic Majesty’s front yard.”

Nature, to Lovecraft, is a strange hybrid of the mechanistic, yet too malleable, model favored by naturalists mated with the sleeping menace of a god ready to smite dullard acolytes. It is ancient and foreboding, never a place of respite or adoration for its natural marvels. To Lovecraft the climate, the environment, is a fiendish horror in-waiting.

Asymmetric Review: Mad Max- Fury Road

madmaxfrA kinetic masterpiece is the only way to simply describe this newest installment of the long missed post-apocalyptic adventure tale. Max Rokatansky, once played by Mel Gibson and now Tom Hardy, is still a resident of the wasteland. His V-8 Interceptor remains, as does his Main Patrol Force leather jacket, leg brace and even his double-barreled shotgun. Yet there is something new, stark and somehow gentle about the Road Warrior. Perhaps that is Hardy’s style, a bit soft yet more feral than Gibson’s square jawed rogue. Both haunted, Max in Fury Road is a creature bent on survival, on his own and at all costs, until his path crosses into the world of Immortan Joe, his harem of ‘breeders’ and a war rig driver, Imperitor Furiosa (played magnificently by Charlize Theron.)

Where the Road Warrior centered on a tanker load of gas and Thunderdome revolved around kids lost in a wasteland, Fury Road is the story of fearless women escaping a brutal and licentious overlord who holds together his fiefdom with gifts of water and brute force. When his prized brides flee with Furiosa, spirited aboard a ‘Mothers Milk’ tanker, Joe’s war-boy vehicular warriors give chase. This is where Max gets thrown into the fray.

From the start, George Miller’s Fury Road is a load harsh world. His color palette of amber and sun-baked red , rather than a drab grey of most dystopic cinema. His masterful use of a world already established- nuclear war, lawlessness and cult status of the automobile- weave seamlessly into the modern vernacular. I grew up on Gibson’s Max, including watching the ‘American’ English dub of the Australian original and the mechanical aesthetic Miller established 30 years ago flows perfectly into the celluloid of 2015. It feels as if 20 plus years have gone by and the cancerous and belligerent survivors have spawned an organized, but degenerate society.

Importantly, Fury Road has the viewer invested in two types of fear. One for the characters and the high speed peril they find themselves in from the first frame. The second fear is for the life and limb of the stunt performers and drivers that fill the screen with gear grinding, metal bending and vehicular eruptions unseen, well since Thunderdome. The crunch of each collision and tumbling body immediately prompt gasps. The human eye, connected to our highly evolved brain, understands the true pain and thrill of flesh-and-blood stunt performers hurtling around a film. We simply cannot get the same visceral emotion from pixels rendered in a climate controlled office in California. Fury Road is kinetic cinema that is required to keep film alive.

The movie goer is invested in the future of the women in Fury Road especially, and the few decent men trodding the desert landscape. The strength of the women- Cheedo, Dag, Toast, Capable and Angharad- to seek freedom at all costs is astonishing. Each actress brings their own interpretation of victim in flight, without becoming set dressing. They are innocent shut-ins, who crave freedom and release personal demons upon their enemies. They are press-ganged mothers who refuse to let their children be the next, possibly final, generation of men to destroy the Earth. Many consider Avengers director Joss Whedon a model of feminism in filmmaking, but I venture the women in Fury Road, their abused souls and determination to survive, make them astonishing characters worthy of note, exemplified by the involvement of Vagina Monologues creator and activist Eve Ensler in Fury Road.
Theron, always a tall and dominating figure of beauty, turns Furiosa into a character whose sex is secondary to an astounding drive and furiosity. Besides the obvious physical attributes, Theron’s Furiosa embodies humanity in precarious balance- hope or violence. She is magnificent.

Men are not portrayed too flatteringly in Fury Road. Joe is a pot-bellied muscled near -albino, his minions are cancer-ridden and delusional about Valhalla while huffing chrome spray paint in the moment of violent ecstasy. The bosses of the two other towns in Fury Road, Gas Town and Bullet Farm, are vile and violent misogynists. Human lives are less valuable than bullets, gasoline and nitrous oxide.

Mad Max: Fury Road is a loud, violent film, awash in more character building than the last dozen Hollywood blockbusters. Watch Mad Max, The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome, and then marvel at the modern incarnation of live-action filmmaking as it should be.

Cli-Fi: Eco-Disasters and Electric Sheep

Last month I wrote about eco-disaster as a form of entertainment and its lack of spirituality. While conducting some research I came upon a news story from the University of Copenhagen of a thesis defense that argued environmental disaster fiction prepare us or inform our imaginations on potential climate change disasters.

Gregers Andersen PhD, using the term ‘Cli-Fi’ (coined by climate activist Danny Bloom) for the genre, is quoted in the university news piece, “We use these films and novels to imagine what life and society might be like in a future when global warming has dramatically changed our world because, as opposed to numbers and statistics, fiction can make us feel and understand the changes.”

Andersen importantly diversified the spectrum of experiences created by the Cli-Fi he studied breaking them down into five themes: social breakdown of civilization, nature judges man, establishment conspiracy, loss of nature’s aesthetics and mankind developing technology to survive disasters.

Also, Andersen hit on something with fiction adding punch to our understanding potential ecological disasters. Only when rendered in print or pixels does disastrous consequence come to life, even if briefly.

An example of fiction’s power to portray ecological themes is a scene from 1968’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? In Phillip K. Dick’s novel the extinction level of animal life is vividly portrayed by the character of Rick Deckard encountering a wildlife menagerie collected at astronomical costs.

In the scene, Deckard is transfixed by an owl, long time symbol of wisdom and mystery, “For a long time he stood gazing at the owl, who dozed on its perch. A thousand thoughts came into his mind, thoughts about the war, about the days when owls had fallen from the sky; he remembered how in his childhood it had been discovered that species upon species had become extinct and how the papers had reported it each day- foxes one morning, badgers the next, until people had stopped reading the perpetual animal obits.”

Deckard longs for a real owl and sees a raccoon for the first time. He understands a clearing house has been created for the sale of once mundane now exotic animals and loathes the synthetic sheep which he cares for, “the tyranny of an object,” as Dick wrote. The sharp loss of something like a raccoon seems insignificant considering they are often nuisance animals to suburbanites. They are pest dumpster divers to be trapped or poisoned. Yet remove them from the picture entirely, as Dick does, and the raccoon becomes as precious and invaluable.

Perhaps our every day lives keep us preoccupied or blind to the news of climate change, disasters or extinctions. Or perhaps we retain an pre-Copernican view, where we are the center of the universe, the Earth merely a vehicle for our corporeal form to bide time until an after life? Potential disasters are as inexplicable or mysterious as the minute tweaks and changes of Darwin’s Evolution. And no fiction or scientific lecture will change minds.

The complete press release on Andersen’s thesis defense can be read here.

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 (asymmetriccreativity.wordpress.com) 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 (asymmetriccreativity.wordpress.com) 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 (asymmetriccreativity.wordpress.com) 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 (asymmetriccreativity.wordpress.com) 2014-. All rights reserved. Text may not be used without explicit permission.

Eco-Disaster Fiction: Mankind’s Folly? Why Not Displeased Gods?

From 2012 to Day after Tomorrow, environmental disaster films center on spectacle rather than substance. The modern movie goer revels in easy to digest worst-case scenarios rather than tackle the real-world questions about climate change that spur the fiction. The mainstream book world is also dotted with environmental calamities such as these lists from Bookish, io9 and The Guardian. These are horror stories, horrific tales on a global rather than intimate scale.

Many of these stories and films offer a bleak look at man-made environmental cataclysm, during and/or after the destruction. Taking a closer look at non-fiction environmental writing of the past century, you see bleak warning signs that fortify many scriptwriters and fiction scribes. These real environmental stories are mixed equally with rhapsodic prose of nature’s beauty and fragility. Mankind;s connection to nature was elegantly stated by environmental writer Wendell Berry who wrote in Preserving Wilderness, ” A culture that does not measure itself by nature, by an understanding of its to nature, becomes destructive of nature and this itself.”

From Berry to Emerson, we have a rich perspective on the preciousness of the environment that was intimately connected to the spiritual world. Where has this spiritual link between man and environment in our disaster fiction? Could there be another way of telling dire environmental stories without relying on the folly and failure of mankind? What would stories of environmental disasters of a spiritual nature look like? Nature folklore has never truly been syncretized into fiction.


Environmental Ecstasy


The stalwart and respected environmental essayist Berry wrote, “We need to come into the presence of the unqualified and mysterious formality of Creation.” Berry’s use of Creation, placing God within the conversation about the environment, and you have heavier, more Biblical language. The wilderness, according to Berry, is required for us to survive, as “an essential measure of our history and behavior.” The wilderness of the Bible is a place of hardship and discovery. It is the harsh crucible of races and individuals, the wilderness of the Bible. This is a language of devotion and reverence, a rarity written in today’s of scientific arguments.

Environmental writers of the last century freely used language of ecstatic religious experience where many modern environmental takes a decidedly secular tact. Conservation champions like Thoreau and Muir are what many associate with environmental writing. Ralph Waldo Emerson, articulated the Transcendentalist philosophy of soul and nature, “Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith.”

The wilderness of colonial Americans, those Puritans of New England, was not a place of trial and redemption but often a place of horror and temptation, occupied by the Devil and his pagan minions. Within two centuries, America’s progress changed the language of our relationship with the environment. The wild was either cheapened, conquered and harvested, or sanctified as a place of personal discovery. By the 20th century, environmental activism and awareness replaced theology and spiritualism with data and scientific theory. This non-fiction change is directly reflected in the tales of global disasters, now carbon footprints stomp our arrogance where fickle gods once did. The deluges of Gilgamesh and the Bible are replaced by humanity choked by greenhouse gas and mankind’s consumerism.


Spirit Never Left The Wood


The ideas of nature’s spiritual power, its potency and humanity’s relationship with it, are not lofty ideas generated by thinkers of centuries past. The spiritual connections between man and nature were being explored by David Abram in his 1990s, The Ecology of Magic. A trained stage magician Abram traveled the world seeking to rekindle humanity’s embrace of nature’s spiritual side. Abram would meet modern men and women, shamans and magicians of, who worked for man, but nature, performing “constant rituals, trances, ecstasies, and ‘journeys,’ he ensures that the relation between human society and the larger society of beings is balanced and reciprocal.”

Imagine Wicker Man‘s Lord Summerisle invoking Berry’s “culture” and “nature,” what tone does it take then? Strange, ominous or ‘backwards’? Or are they saying the same thing, just choosing a different path of worship to the same ends? Abram’s shaman and magician, like those of Summerisle, walk the path between the “human and more-than-human worlds.” Abram’s

The Green Man and Maypole are the environmental folklore descended from ancient tales born at the dawn of civilization. They are the mythologies of man’s relationship with the environment, shunned by the Christian world. The stories we are telling today about environmental horror are that of mankind’s doing, not a god displeased or spirit unsatisfied with tributes paid. Abram caught this modern oversight when he wrote, “modern civilized assumption that the natural world is largely determinate and mechanical, and that which is regarded as mysterious, powerful, and beyond human ken must therefore be some other, nonphysical real above nature, ‘supernatural’.” Modern mechanistic attributes of nature have left little room for the supernatural in much disaster story telling.

The cold sureness of science informs the screenplays and manuscripts about our bruised and battered environment. The narrative of nature before was told reverently through forest mythologies, faiths or religions; and are decidedly absent from modern disaster-tainment. Introducing the ideas of gods, spirits and beings tied to our environmental well-being would not trivialize the problems we face nor absolve us of guilt in the damage done. Watch Princess Mononoke or Nausicca of the Valley of the Wind to appreciate strong environmental stories told from a supernatural or magical perspectives. It is time to return to these old ways to provide new insights, add a spiritual and environmentally redemptive value to stories of global natural collapse.

High Octane Genuflection: Theology of Mad Max

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I grew up with the George Miller post-apocalyptic tales of Max Rockatansky, former pursuit specialist cop-turned dystopian Road Warrior. Through a series of Mad Max movies, the character survived one perilous descent after another into a world gone mad. The series, often imitated and never quite matched in tone or “pure” brutality, Miller’s Mad Max series is being given new life with a future film starring Tom Hardy, replacing Mel Gibson as the leather clad anti-hero.

With the new Mad Max trailer (embedded below) the imagery is a color saturated maelstrom of automotive mayhem splashed across an Australian desert. A single shot among the chaos of metal and dust caught my eye. A group of painted, gaunt figures in ecstatic gesticulations with skull adorned steering wheels hoisted above their heads.

This image of society in full collapse, breeding in a contaminated wasteland, but finding a faith amid hell is intriguing.

In Mad Max, society is on the precipice of total collapse. Their are functionaries left, like police and public safety, even small towns clinging to free market normalcy. But stalking these institutions and people, are outlaw gangs of unmatched brutality. In Mad Max we learn the roads are the battlefields for humanity. One by one, men and women fall prey to savage biker gang leader Toecutter. This is the fall, where normalcy and hopes die on the outback asphalt. It’s also the least theologically laced film. Seems God or gods have walked away from humanity in Mad Max, leaving a highway anti-Christ to pick away the souls too weak or too slow to flee.

By the sequel, The Road Warrior humanity has been blow torched away by war, left to rot in the deserts. In this film Max finds group salvation embodied in two forms: Humongous and gasoline. The former is a scarred, deformed hulk in a hockey mask and little else. He commands his berserker minions to carry out unspeakable acts in the name of fuel to power their machines. Humongous is the next degeneration of Toecutter, irradiated and muscle bound, capable of savagery in the name of survival. His gang encircles and pursues a small enclave of survivors who have turned to gasoline as their savior. This is striking as on the face of it the tanker is guarded with fury and determination reserved for an otherworldly preciousness.Gasoline takes on a supernatural quality, becoming manna, capable of guiding and sustaining these souls lost in an infernal desert. It is a subtle idea, as basic survival of marauding hordes dominates the narrative, but the gasoline feeds hope, lust or greed in every player in The Road Warrior.

By the third installment, Beyond Thunderdome, pockets of humanity can be found in towns powered by pig excrement methane and run by gangs, like the cage-match-coliseum centered Bartertown. This is not the world of hope, it is merely a place to eat, drink and survive, just for a while longer. No, hope is hidden in a desert gully oasis where the child survivors of a plane crash have adapted a complex mythology for their survival and salvation. Led by a strong female character, acting as a form of shaman, we understand their history through cave paintings, highlighted by a bird feather and stick rectangle designed to echo a television screen. The cult of hope, seeking a savior who will return and guide them to paradise is heart breaking in simplicity and naivety. They await the Messianic “Captain Walker” to bring them home, echo strong elements of South Pacific “cargo cults” after World War II.To the children, Captain Walker is Max, deliverer to a new land out of the wasteland.The tribe’s leader performs a shamanistic ritual “Tell” of the collapse of mankind and their survival is a highly ritualized process and is sanctified by use of a children’s toy, View Master, to see a Shangri-La of past and future hopes. Max bucks these idealistic children with a cynicism born from years of blood and violence. There was no divine intervention for Rockatansky when his wife and child were killed on the highway by the Toecutter gang. Why should there be one for the kids? Here, twists and turns rewrite their juvenile understanding of their faith and along the way write a new reluctant savior into their evolving pantheon: Mad Max.

We finally arrive at Fury Road. While the plot remains roughly outlined, the trailer provides some ritualistic glimpses of a society rebuilding without a clear memory of what came before. A striking image of the War Boy cult dancing about an altar of car parts and steering wheels adorned with skulls. The steering wheel echoes an automotive mandala cluing into a possible a warrior monk caste born on the move, perpetually on the hunt. Could these gaunt marauders be custodians of a new faith where offerings of food and water to the god of gears are be rewarded with propulsion and power. These machines take on divine qualities after simple but potent tribute, gasoline. Will the Machine come to life and roar with monstrous power? These are not the qualities of idle machines, but rather gods and demons bound beneath shells of metal and rubber.

The Mad Max series shows society and culture devolve with each installment. It is about the worship of the machine and the mechanized destruction it can visit upon humanity. As the series evolves we see the bleakness change, becoming a strange reverence for the machine as savior. While the machine age led to the destruction of humanity, in the wasteland it has been mythologized, taking an inanimate object that can be roused to life with tribute and sacrifice.