fiction

Star Wars: The Force Awakens- An Asymmetric View

I grew up on the original Star Wars trilogy. Saw A New Hope in theaters at age six. Loved it then. Love it now. The implied backstory, cryptic references to long ago wars and blitzkrieg Empire, heroes with strange names and a menagerie of magnificent creatures all made Star Wars perfect for kids, adolescents or teens; as well as sci-fi devotee adults. I grew older, my science fiction palate diversified and expanded, but I always had a soft spot for those first three Episodes and their associated action figures and toy ships.

I saw the prequels with some excitement, but not ecstasy. I was never charmed by them, often put off by wooden dialogue, stiff acting, and mind-numbing CGI. To me, they exist, but as ill-conceived experiments rather than fully formed exercises in film making. I was also a little ‘old’ and busy with professional life to embrace The Clone Wars animated series, the Star Wars touchstone for the 25-and-under crowd. All of this leads me to The Force Awakens.

Filled with anticipatory glee and goosebumps, I awaited the pre-Christmas release with bated breath. I saw it. I liked it. Didn’t love it. I felt the magic was gone. Understandable, it can’t recapture the alchemy of big screen science fiction’s effect on a 6-year-old’s brain. Surely, though, a skilled film making team could induce chills and thrills reminiscent of those heady days of 1977? Maybe lighting cues, camera filters, score triggers, or the nuanced details of in-camera traditional FX could tease out the warm comfort of days gone by? Think of a favorite Christmas song and how it immerses you in the smells, coziness, and bliss of an amalgamated holiday gone by. You are not attempting recreation a specific moment in time, but rather a pleasant echo or whiff of scents which create a WHOLE picture of a broad timeline.

It is there where my issue with what Star Wars, especially The Force Awakens, has become and where it falls short. Instead of crafting a symphony of sights and sounds that create a new story with colors and sensations of the old pallet, TFA instead attempts to repeat rather coldly a nostalgia. This is never a good thing. Nostalgia can cripple creativity. Instead of working through the toolbox you go back to the same components time and time again in a subconscious, or planned, attempt at recreating a moment gone by. When modern viewers watched TFA they wanted, nay, demanded answers and immediate backstories to every conceivable question about the film. A cool ancillary character is clamored over and consumed, cries for more require immediate satiation online. Main character shortcomings or directorial/production weaknesses are explained away or ignored. This is storytelling by 1,000 pin pricks. Each bleeding a little more life away from the story.

When a Stormtrooper engages Finn in hand to hand combat within hours and days complete backstories are cobbled together by official sources. This starkly differs from almost EVERYTHING that made A New Hope special. Clone Wars? No explanation. Hints and suggestions, backhanded comments about extinct religions and outdated weapons are views from the outside in. The examples of unexplained, but interwoven, backstories fill every corner of the original trilogy. Some are slowly expounded upon. Others hover in the background. These are often passed over by fans and critics, who understand the universe with hindsight. Why then can’t we approach the coming movies in the franchise with the same template. Does it have to exist in Wookieepedia before or immediately after? Can’t off-handed remarks or hints be left to breath a moment or two? Yes we know the Force inside and out. But why must we have in one movie answers to everything that happened in the previous 30 years? The better demand is not for answers to old questions, but wonder about what did the Force become or turn into? No, instead we pound the keyboards and want to know about why Luke was barely in the film, despite being the focal point of the opening scroll. Perhaps Captain Phasma will become this generation’s Boba Fett, fleshed out in movies to come? But the marketing build up resulted in ballistic expectations for the chrome clad trooper. Instead of a stoic bad-ass, we got a wooden, three scene character who succumbs to the simplest tactical bait. Perhaps the most simplistic and angry demand is the one levied on director JJ Abrams on his handling of R2-D2. The fact that R2 is relegated to a dusty corner and awakens at the post-climax is considered a massive plot hole. Why MUST we know or understand why the loyal droid is in stasis? Why can’t we wonder, speculate and dream about his state? Instead fans consider it an indictment of the director’s storytelling ability and a plot hole. I liked this handling, felt sorry for R2 and left wanting more. That is what episodic storytelling does best. Unless every nuance or shiny object is explained, apparently we are to view it as a failure.

We have 30 years of history to tell in these new Star Wars movies and we have a generation more of new discoveries to make. We cannot live in the past in an attempt to recreate nostalgia as at its heart nostalgia is subjective, a personal observation made in a single moment in time and space. A painters pallet is dollops of colors, each selectively daubed to suggest a scene. The whole is new, but echoes the old. Pursuit of the old to clone it anew only creates muddled mutations that never stand the test of time. And remember, nostalgia is defined as “a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition.”

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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.

King Camp Gillette: Utopian Avenger

razorsThis morning the Gillette World Headquarters in Boston was converted into the East Coast R&D center of Stark Industries. Unveiling new razors called the Repulsor 1, UltraStrike, Thunder, XL Gamma (each corresponding to Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and Hulk) Gillette has placed itself onto the razor’s edge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Another cross-promotion of movie franchise into the consumer world is nothing new. Yet, in a strange way, the fantastic was the dream of the man that gave Gillette it’s name.

King_Camp_GilletteIn the late 19th century Wisconsin-born King Camp Gillette (left) was deeply invested in the world of personal shaving razors. With mens grooming dominated by traditional forged and sharpened straight razor, Gillette was struck by an idea- what about a simple, disposable razor and blade? After several years Gillette’s disposable razor hit the market and was an immediate success. Gillette’s first year, 1903, saw sales of five dozen razors and few hundred blades. A year later Gillette’s mass-manufactured 90,000 razors and nearly 12.5 million blades.Gillette_razor_patent

Success was his and Gillette’s imagination wasn’t confined to the world of grooming. Not unlike the fictional Howard Stark and his “Stark Expo” a place where the future could be experienced through modern technology (circa 1943,) Gillette saw a world rife with potential for harmony, social, economic and cultural advancement.

In the years before finding success as the razor brand, Gillette was an author with visions of utopia. Written by Gillette in 1894, The Human Drift and 1910’s World Corporation were both works bursting with optimism about humanity. Before the fictional Metropolis of the DC Comics universe, Gillette envisioned a mega-city in western New York that was planned down to the finest detail.gillet06

From the shape and height of the buildings, to the glazed tiles of each apartment, to the sewage and electric lighting, Gillette envisioned a world spreading from Niagara Falls in the west to Rochester, NY in the east. Sixty million Americans would live in Metropolis on the Niagara in the world considered a form of 19th century Utopian socialism. Organized by engineers and removing competitive destruction, humanity would flourish in this mega-city.

For three good views of King Camp’s Gillette’s Utopian visions check out posts at The University of HoustonCornell University and UCal Berkley.

Asymmetric Inspiration: Interstellar’s Heroes

interThis weekend I had the pleasure of seeing Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar in the theater. A visually brilliant, at times emotional and utterly breath taking venture into space; while finding a deeper spiritual connection between humanity.

I left the theater wishing I loved math more.

I’ve had an on-again-off-again love for physics. Mostly easy to digest popular non-fiction works on physics, but on occasion wandering into the harder theory side of the field. Yes, math is a big part of that. Interstellar made math and scientific curiosity traits of the heroes, women and men of different races, rather than devices for destruction.

The silence of space is unnerving. Its celestial violence is jarring and absolute. The warping of light or its complete avoidance is mind numbingly scary, yet beautiful. Not because its flashy or visually menacing as many movies portray space, but because you understand the physics, the overwhelming and unfathomable powers concealed in these black holes or worm holes. Like the monster concealed in the shadow, the terrible power lost in blackness of space is equally as riveting.

Surely Nolan’s film is not perfect and it does seem to borrow inspiration from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Contact. Yes, you do rebel against some of the climactic devices, straining what you understand about the theoretical physics of black holes. Then again, worm holes don’t exist so we’re allowed a level of creative license, especially if the bulk of the movie treats the perils and wonder of space exploration tonally realistic.

At times I was amazed at the broad efforts the actors and script exerted on my intellect and emotion. In these moments I was reminded heavily of the fantastic PBS series Closer to the Truth. I HIGHLY recommend this series as it not only delves into physics, but religion and consciousness. It just so happens to include interviews with Interstellar’s theoretical physicist and producer Kip Thorne.

But Interstellar works because the most heroic people in the story are not muscle bound, gun totting badasses but thoughtful, intellectual and adventurous astronomers, physicists and engineers. And that alone makes the film worthy of inspiring, or aspiring to, greater creativity.

Interstellar makes me wish I was a bit braver. And a lot better at math.

Asymmetric Creativity: Down the Research Rabbit Hole

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I’m a fiend for research. I am addicted to the chase of ideas and facts throughout history. When I conjur up a story idea I often know how I will tackle my research before I have a fully fleshed out plot. Sometimes the research serves the story, fleshing out concepts or imbuing characters with more authentic voices. Sometimes, the addiction, the jonzing for new and more information can overwhelm, bog down, and drown a story in its earliest stages. Occasionally I dive into the creative process only to get lost in the rabbit warren of journals, books and articles.

For years I would start the research and essentially kill the idea because I exhausted all of my inquisitive and curious creative energy on the research process. Realizing this only just recently has given me a new lease on life as research addicted author. I now let the story outline lead the horse, rather than the research as cart.

Seems like a no-brainer, wanting to put your all into research in order to wring out the most from source or background materials. Yet the energy is sometimes expended, leaving nothing but a snake skin of the original inspiration. If creativity strikes like lightning for you as it does for me, then grounding the lightning bolt by burying your brain in research only diffuses all the writing energy. Back in the day of libraries and bookstore visits, this wouldn’t be so much a problem, but in the day of Internet research indulgences can be fed into gluttony.

My newest tactic in combating this obsessive level of research, denying the creative process,comes by setting a deadline. As a former journalist, deadlines don’t scare me. But denying the rush and thrill of research feels like denying yourself Halloween candy after spending all night going door to door collecting it. Instead of indulging this rush, I merely channel my research into a time-frame, say two hours, before returning to the writing process, whether that’s outlining or character development.

Most important, trust your creative instincts and voice. Let the story flow with the basic framework of research. Trust your outline, trust your wandering words and new strange directions. If you write yourself into a corner, perhaps generated by a lack of information you’d need through research, then dive back in to solve the problem. But immediately reemerge to finish the creative writing.

While this is easier said than done, requiring a discipline that eluded me for ages, I think that this simple advice may help keep you on track.

Asymmetric Creativity: Devil in the Military Details

soldiertypeFor almost eight years I was a newspaper reporter in the Boston-area. During that time my primary beat was law enforcement where I had daily experience with local and state police officers. I had the pleasure of getting to know them, training with them and writing about the job, its mundanity and its darker side. Overlapped during that period was my time writing feature stories about local men and women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, further hardening my appreciation for getting the details right. By getting stories and details right I gained the trust and respect of the soldiers and police I covered. That desire for authenticity has been transferred to my military or law enforcement fiction, even if the stories are about Lovecraftian monsters or future technological terrors.

Here are some basic tips that you might keep in mind when you plunge into the world of military or law enforcement fiction:

Authenticity builds credibility– Authentic language, structure and characters also go a long way to creating credibility in your work. Many authors will read military sci-fi or a techno thriller an mimic the language and jargon, but it often falls short in authenticity. Remember that authenticity builds credibility and fortifies the overall perception of your skill. A famous techno-author was great at ships and jets, but writing unconventional warfare and warriors he was quite lacking, eroding the overall credibility of the story being spun. But this idea of authenticity applies to all genre stories whether they are military, police or medical.

Magazine is not a ‘clip‘- There is a long line of mistakes made by authors when it comes to writing military and law enforcement but nothing is worse than ‘clip.’ Not to get all technical, but a clip is not a magazine. Yes, a clip can hold bullets, as in the M1 Garand’s ‘clip’ which holds rounds in a metal c-shaped clip, but it is not a ‘box’ magazine used in modern pistol or assault weapons. I learned from a police officer the need for credibility and clarity when speaking about ‘clips’ versus magazines. He told me that if he were to go on the witness stand during a legal case and called a magazine a ‘clip’ that would erode his credibility as an expert or authority as ‘clips’ and magazines are not the same thing. Similarly, a device attached to the muzzle of a pistol or rifle may have been called a silencer in the past, but its never called that now. Properly called a suppressor, or in slang as a ‘can’, it is a device that suppresses sound but never completely silences. So if you’re crafting a story of steely eyed professional, he or she should never “put a clip into the silenced rifle.”

Avoid the Slang Cyclone– You may get magazine and suppressor right, but avoid bombarding readers with too much slang. Yes, police communications or platoon leader instructions may be filled with lingo and slang, but recognize that its done with a purpose of brevity not drama. To the untrained ear most jargon or slang becomes gibberish, even if its used correctly. And if your reader knows the jargon and you load a sentence incorrectly then it lessens the credibility. Pepper the work with authentic language or details to keep the story grounded in reality, but ensure it is readable to laymen.

Never use Black Ops– This is a term that had very limited credibility for several decades, but was never the kind of term truly used in intelligence or military circles. Other jargon to avoid- wet works, commando (unless you’re writing a World War II story,) chopper (use helo or bird,) or bullet proof vest (ballistic vest/plate carrier are acceptable modern terms.)

Reference– There is a good quick hit list of slang in an NPR piece on the subject of fiction and jargon. For another list with more slang check out ITS Tactical or pick up a modern military-tactical magazine (the thing you read) for up-to-date gear and its associated language. Another way to understand the mindset or hear the cadence of modern military lingo, check out any number of videos on Youtube. These will give you a sense of character and diversity of modern soldiers, while also showing you the proper operation of many weapons used in stories but never personally handled by authors.


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

Asymmetric Creativity: Righting World Building Gone Wrong

YggdrasilI have an ongoing wrestling match with world building in speculative fiction. I revel in new writers producing ideas that challenge conventional story frameworks or characters. As one of those new writers I still learn as I go, producing some successes and tossing narrative failures. I plug forward with confidence and hope that my stories, short or long, will entertain readers around the world.

All that said, I do have an issue with the idea of world building some writers use in their works. To call it world building is a misnomer, as often we see a hodge-podge of cherry picked pieces of cultural and religious history cobbled together to form new faiths, nations or histories. I would suggest there is a cleaner, more energetic way at world building that harnesses creativity, while keeping the new world authentic to our shared historical knowledge.

Appreciating that many writers lavish countless hours to research before launching into a new story (a research fetishist myself) I feel sometimes the creative energy is lost in the action of stitching together. There needs to be a cohesive view of the world, not a patch work or “everything and the kitchen sink.” Perhaps other readers do not notice or take issue with such incongruities, but as a devotee of history, folklore and religion, I am sometimes distracted by the world building method employed by some writers. Sometimes speculative fiction is like the infamous movie scene where a Roman soldier wears a wrist watch. On the face of it, they seem authentic, but on closer inspection it doesn’t match up.

One of the reasons I started Asymmetric Creativity was to put down ideas that encouraged unconventional thinking that produced exciting results. World building is one such creative endeavor that I think benefits from asymmetric thinking. If I were to offer advice on how to find asymmetric influence in world building I would propose the following:

1- Museum Visits– Seems like a no brainer, but if you live in a part of the world with a robust museum community I would suggest getting outside of your intellectual comfort zone and visit a museum you would not be drawn to. If you are a classic art fan, go to a modern art museum and seek out unconventional sculpture or paintings. If you are a writer interested in world building, avoid the well worn museum galleries of Roman or Egyptian antiquities. Seek out the remnants of other cultures outside the big exhibits or popular galleries. Seek inspiration in the mundane household items or shard of pottery as often they provide insights into the greater culture. Also, spend time at local, smaller cultural institutions as regional history can provide creative triggers.

2- Seek Cultures Old or Overlooked– Unless I am constructing a story set in those culture, I avoid the typical empires or dominant societies favored by most world building writers. While I have non-fiction interest in Roman, Chinese, Egyptian and Medieval England I avoid using them as templates or research starting points for world building. Piecing together Roman imperial system with Chinese cosmology may seem new and inventive, but often they read incongruous or even silly. Find those precursor cultures which we continue to learn of their influence and astounding vibrancy. How do you find obscure or ancient societies?

3- Monitor Archaeology News– Social Media has provided an immediate and constantly updating flow of news about our past. I follow over a dozen archaeology and history organizations, websites and blogs. If you have the ability consider joining organizations like ASOR or at least following their social media updates. Or for a treasure trove of historical, anthropological and archaeological information, possibly join JSTOR. Read reputable history or archaeological periodicals.

4- Read Non-Fiction for Fun. Not Just Research– I have been a reader of non-fiction all my adult life. Currently I read 60% non-fiction to 40% fiction, with the non-fiction primarily folklore, religion and global histories. I read non-fiction for the enrichment, helping me keep the modern world in perspective knowing what came before and how it parallels today. This enrichment helps fill in the imagination, providing credible and realistic starting points for my fiction. World building fiction can only come by understand the way the world of the past operated on every level. Avoid confining the richness of your worlds to capes, armor, sword or sexual debauchery. Look at the names of men and women in 19th century America to forge characters in a strange future. Read about the faiths of Central Asia in the Bronze age to conjure a strange, yet authentic religion. While we all cannot be Tolkein, we can aspire to build authentic, individual and engrossing worlds on our own and not create a Frankenstein’s monster.

5- Write a History– If you feel compelled to create a world, then write a brief “paper” on the world you’ve imagine. Consider going back in time to your youth, to college, when you crafted papers with purpose. Now, as a fiction writer, you have a purpose to craft a world as authentic as any real society you would have profiled in college. Break it down in any form as you want, but create a level by level history of the world or society you imagined. Also, write the history with an authenticity and in a way that has a solid academic underpinning. Don’t worry about footnotes or following MLA standards, but take it seriously as you write a report on the layers of your imagined society. This becomes your history resource and creates a cohesive, authentic vision for your imagined world.


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

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.

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.”

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