My dear friend, Rommy Cortez-Driks, has a book coming out on November 13th, and you can pre-order it now! What kind of book is it? Well, it’s full of faery tales. But they’re not quite your ordinary faery tale. They’re . . . well, they’re a little off from your ordinary faery tale. They’re a bit bent, you see. Merrily zig-zagged. Strange. Odd. Eccentrically eccentric. Lovably weird. And a bit bonkers. Rommy’s writing reminds me of Neil Gaiman, with a dash of Douglas Adams, and a hint of Terry Pratchett for good measure. She’s a little like Stephen Moffat on happy-gas. But in a good way. Seriously, you should check out her book. You’ll love her take on Faery Godmothers . . . who they are, the politics of their profession, and what they’re most certainly not. And mermaids. And what they get up to when they’re . . . well, when pirates and magic are involved, and I’ll say no more on that subject. For real, go check out her book, and pre-order it right this very second. Your life might just depend on reading these faery tales. You never know when you’ll need to know the vital information contained in this volume! Well, okay. It’s not “Doomesday Prepper” important. But they are fun stories, and you should definitely give them a whirl.
Sometimes, you feel like giving up. We've all been there. Whether it's a home-improvement project, or a particularly difficult assignment at work, or, say . . . a novel you're writing. You get to a point where you feel like the task before you is overwhelming, and you've bitten off more than you can chew. You get to a point where you feel like "Oh fuck a duck, just fuck it, the whole thing; goddamn it, I'll never finish this. It's too big, too complex, too much for me. Just fuck the whole thing right in the ear, toss it in the garbage disposal, and rough it up into tiny pieces for the dog to chew on, because I'm fucking done with this sumbitch! The end! That's it, and that's all! I've had it!" Well, if you've ever watched Babylon 5 — and if you haven't, I'm going to ask, "What the hell is wrong with you? Go watch all five seasons right the hell now!" — you know that the Minbari have a saying. "Faith manages." And ti's as true in the real world as it is in fiction. When those times come, when you feel like throwing the whole project into the incinerator and gleefully cackling as it burns to ash and all your hard work goes up in smoke as you give up and jus forsake the whole thing as a lost cause, you have to remember something: You started this journey — whatever journey it is, whether it's a journey to fix up part of the house, or a journey towards the words "The End at the end of your novel" — with faith not just in the idea, or in the vision of the finished product, but with faith in yourself. You believed enough in yourself to think, "Fuck yeah, I can do this. I can make this happen. I can create this out of nothing, I can spin this into existence with my bare hands. I can manage this, make this a reality." And that is a tremendous act of vigilant belief in oneself. But somewhere along the way you stumbled, lost the faith. You lost faith not in the idea, or the vision, or the principle . . . no. You lost faith in yourself, faith that you could see it through. Faith that you had the power to make whatever was in your head come to fruition in reality. You lost faith in your own personal godhood, your ability to remake the world in your image. The idea is still there, the vision is still clear. It is your eyes that are the problem.
So how do you get that back? How do you jumpstart your belief in yourself, bootstrap your own process of self-empowerment so you can feel ready to take on the world and win again?
You clear your eyes. You wash them out. You put on a pair of spectacles, you get a fresh perspective. How do you do this? Well, it’s easy. You just take a step back, take a deep breath, and blink a few times. You just keep calm . . . conjure up a tiny spark of desire . . . fan the tiny flame still inside of you, that part that still believes — because it’s in there, I know it is, and so do you — and you close your eyes . . . breathe in, breathe out . . . and look upon the work again, with clear vision. You see it as it once was, in embryonic form. The way you saw it in the beginning, as an egg. As it once began. You see it full of possibility, full of the promise of life, full of the potential it used to have. You see it the way you first saw it in your head, many moons ago when you first began it. And then you sigh, and clear away all the rubbish of worry, and doubt, and most of all, you clear away the fear that you can’t do it, that it’ll never be done, and that it’ll never be what you envision, or what you want it to be. You get rid of all that. Because all of that’s the future, and the future . . . hasn’t happened yet. It’s still the future, which is nonexistent in the now. And the time . . . is now. And right now, the idea is still an egg. It’s still new. It’s still fresh. It’s a baby. And it’s dependent on you — no one else — to bring it to life, nurture it, help it grow into what only you know it can become. So you pick up your tools, or maybe just one, for now — because there’s no pressure, there’s no deadline; right now, there is only just you, and the work — and you set to once again. You pick up your pencil, or your paintbrush, or your hammer and nails, and you once again begin the work. Because you can do this. You’re the artist. You’re the one who can bring this thing to life. You have the power. You are uniquely qualified to give this creation the blood in its veins, the breath in its lungs. Because only you know what it can be; only you can see it in its final form, only you can see it through. And that is a phenomenal power to possess.
This is how you get your groove back. This is how you get your mojo working again. This is how you get the muse to revisit you. If the muse seems to have abandoned you, it isn’t really so; it isn’t that the muse has left . . . it’s simply that you’ve lost the eyes to see her (or him), lost the ability to listen to their sweet song. So clean out your ears, wipe out your eyes. Take a step back, and breathe. And clear out your eye-boogers and your ear-wax as you do. Focus on the embryo of the idea. See it as it once was. And then see all it can be—again. And own your power as a creator . . . for only you can give your creation life. Only you can birth this thing. Who’s awesome? You are. You got this. Now go. Do it. Bring art into the world. And make it a more beautiful place.
Annnnd here we go again! I’m posting a second excerpt here, just to see if you like it! This comes from earlier in the book, and concerns the “Dreamworld” that Gadget visits whenever he falls unconscious with the Mind-Weirding Helm on his head:
Gadget—or as he was known in this world, the world of Fantazmagoria, Zanorak Prime—blinked the sun out of his eyes and rubbed the back of his neck as he sat high on the cliff on the back of his fusion-powered, clockwork horse, overlooking the Valley of Doom. Sunburn there on his neck. Damn. How long had he zoned out for this time? No matter. The sunburn was a grim reminder that daylight burned, so he’d better get a move on. Unlike the Wizards, he didn’t have any Magic to defend himself from the many and varied mutant creatures that ran amok in these lands after nightfall; and, he had a Quest to get on with, a Mission for the Sorceress. And of course, there were far worse things than night-creatures waiting for him in that Castle down there, in the valley, where he knew he needed to go in order to complete said quest. His damned fool “hero’s” quest. Heh. There were no more heroes in this world. The world had “moved on” from heroes. He admired the Sorceress for her nobility, her valor, but Fantazmagoria was a ruined world, a world beyond saving.
(Is this world even real? How do I know?)
Even the Wizards had lost their way. They didn’t even know how Magic worked anymore. No. That knowledge had been lost millennia ago, when the Great Burn had seared the World, and the power of Magic had arisen once more from the mutated ashes; the ability to enforce one’s paradigm of reality onto the physical world, heedless of the damage and destruction it caused. Now Wizards—Hedge-Mages and Dark Archmages alike—dueled over burned-out stretches of wasteland and claimed mastery of those upon them, places where farmers tried in desperation to get their crops to grow and where the people dreaded roaming bands of road warriors, diesel-fueled barbarians of the post-apocalyptic landscape. Clockwork animals like the one he rode upon plowed fields that saw sparser and sparser crops grow each cycle. Water was becoming somewhat scarce, too. Ancient fusion generators provided power, but for how long? And everywhere, virtual reality and the remains of the Great Network provided an easy escape for the weak-minded . . .
(Like me? Am I losing my mind?)
He shook his head. Yes, Fantazmagoria was a ruined world; a world beyond saving. Heroes here were hard to come by, and the Sorceress, though he admired her greatly, was probably wasting her time in trying to take back the Realm from the forces of Evil that now held it in their grasp. And she was starting by aiming for the heart of the corruption, the source from which all Dark Magic flowed—the evil Dragon, Schyzarchon, who haunted the Northlands of Cerebria.
(But is the Dragon even real? Or is it something I—he—imagined?)
But. To even try to take out the Dragon, the Sorceress needed the legendary Crystal Sword, Dràchynthýr . . . “Dragon Slayer,” in the Olden Tongue. And so she had sent Zanorak on a mission to retrieve it for her, and the Quest had led him here, to Castle Grayskull. Heh. Castle Grayskull. What a name for the place . . . though it had a ring of familiarity to it. Perhaps he had seen or heard the name in that place he called “the Otherworld.” In a show—or perhaps . . . a cartoon? Yes, a cartoon, he thought, most likely a cartoon. He sometimes dreamed of that world whenever he “zoned out” for periods of time; whenever he would feel his body growing thin, as though it weren’t really “here” in this world. The Otherworld was a place where there was no such thing as Magic, a world far into the past. A world where he was a simple “college student” named “Gadget” and where all of this—the real world where he lived and fought and survived—was the “dream.”
(Or is this the “real” world? How do I know?)
His lack of understanding frustrated him. The Wizards had gifted him with their arcane knowledge of techno-thaumaturgy—he knew, for instance, how to repair the fusion-powered, clockwork steed he rode upon; he possessed a roadmap of its innards, a schematic of its guts, in his head . . . and he had the tools and wisdom with which to fix it if it broke down, and the knowledge to know the difference between its various circuits. But still, he possessed no defensive or offensive Magic. Yes, frustrating as hell. All he had was the Multifunction Ray Gun he wore on his hip, and he was running out of charge pellets for that. Shit, that reminded him—he would need to find more soon. He also did not know how the Magical mechanics of his Travels to the Otherworld worked (and he was convinced it had to be Magical in nature). There seemed to be no rhyme nor reason to his departures from the shores of this reality and his entrance into that one. But when he was there, he was not himself. He was someone else. He had vague memories of his life here when he was there, but it felt as though it were all just a half-remembered dream . . . As did that world when he came back here. He possessed fragments of “Gadget’s” memories, pieces of his life. But that was not who he was. It couldn’t be, could it? He had tried to tell the Sorceress that he suffered from this condition—this Traveling sickness, wherein he would simply “vanish” for a time now and then—but she had been adamant that he was the one to do this, to journey here, to retrieve the sword. And so, he had obeyed.
(Yes, like a fool. But how do I know that this is real?)
Momentarily, he gazed down into the Valley of Doom, and looked upon Castle Grayskull. What vexed—and worried him—now was that against all reason, part of it was somehow a replica of a place he knew from his Travels to the Otherworld. But how? Castle Grayskull—the place he had come so far to find; crossed the breadth of Fantazmagoria to face; that had been written of in the Legends—bore a striking resemblance to a very real place he knew from his life as “Gadget” the “college student.” Impossible as it seemed, the lower four levels of the Castle were identical—sort of—to those of a place marked as 459 Broadway Ave, Cambridge Massachusetts, also known as “Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School.” He shook his head to clear it, disbelieving his eyes. But there the Castle remained—unavailingly real, impossible but extant. And come to think of it, yes, he had heard of a place called Castle Grayskull, as a child in that Otherworld: A show, and yes, a cartoon. He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, it had been called. Goddamn it . . . How? How could an ostensibly “real” place from the Otherworld be here? And part of a structure a thousand years old? And how could it share a name with something from a children’s show in the Otherworld? It made no sense. None of it made any gods-damned sense. Especially the way the school was built . . .
The “high school” portion of the Castle—for there was far more to it than just that—was not made of sensible concrete, stately steel, and other building materials one might find in abundance in the Otherworld. Though it shared the same basic architectural design, here it had been fashioned from blackened stone, and had crimson, glowing lava running between the cracks of its mortar, the iridescent blood that might flow through the veins of some rock monster stirring to life after centuries of slumber. The building’s main wings branched off diagonally in front, their square walls, made of crisp, black stone and marked at intervals by dungeon windows with a slight arch situated over their tops. Smaller, needle-like castle-towers extended upward, erupting out of the structure like stalagmites—or fangs. Twin spines of stone on either side of the entrance held a roof aloft, and big letters spelled-out the name of the place in a suitably-gothic typeface. The entrance itself was two giant, steel-riveted double doors. And shooting up out of the “high school” was the rest of Castle Grayskull: A spiraling, miles-high, cankerous structure of charred concrete, charcoal, steel, onyx, agate, jasper, jade, silver, iron, and obsidian, a dark rip in the fabric of daylight that reached high into the sky, reaching toward the heavens like an enormous finger of smoldering stone, an endlessly-rising monolith of staircases, balconies, swooping arches, and shadowy windows that stared like empty eye-sockets at all they surveyed. It rose upward like an infinite spear aimed at the eye of God Himself. Its tall, sooty spires soared into the air, like the skeletal spinal columns of fallen giants who had long-since turned to stone, blossoming into gruesome parapets that pierced the clouds as they ascended beyond sight, dwindling as they approached the stars themselves at their invisible apex.
And goddamn it, I’m not a scholar, I don’t belong here trying to figure this out. I’m also not a hero, so why did I let myself get talked into doing this? I’m just a man, struggling to survive, like everybody else in this world, and trying to do the most good I can while I’m here. But that was it. Doing “the most good he could” meant doing things like this. He knew that in his gut, and his conscience bit him for even pondering the thought of considering backing out. But he couldn’t be blamed for being human, could he? There were times he wondered if it still mattered that anyone chose to do good at all. The powers of Evil and their twisted offspring, Malice and Cruelty, practically owned these lands now, and beacons of hope were few in number. The Childlike Empress had long ago fallen into the Odinsleep. Rule over these lands had been handed over to the Noble Sorceress, Lady Amalphia Gizmo Discordia, and though the Sorceress tried her damnedest to fend off the swelling hordes of Tyrannen-Orcs, and challenges from Dark Wizards, it was an ongoing battle with no end in sight. And now she had sent him here, into the heart of Fantazmagoria, to Castle Grayskull itself, to do the impossible . . . to retrieve the legendary Crystal Sword Dràchynthýr. Well, shit. Trying to do the most good I can. There was nothing for it, then. Even if it meant certain death, by gods, he was going into that Castle and he was going to retrieve that sword. Fuck everything else.
He gazed down at the Castle. Wraiths guarded the entrance. Wraiths were ethereal beings that wielded deadly phantasmal force. He could see their translucent, wispy forms as they glided back and forth before the steel-riveted doors. Who knew what else awaited him on the other side of those doors? Tyrannen-Orcs, certainly. Dark Wizards, too. And him, with no Magic. He only had his trusty Ray Gun with its many settings. That would help. But it wouldn’t be enough. And it would be useless against the Wraiths. He needed something more.
The sun’s light was almost gone. Zanorak looked to the sky, to the stars. Dràchynthýr could only be retrieved from the Castle’s hold on it when the stars were in the right alignment, and they would only remain in the right alignment for another twenty-six hours or so. He had been waylaid by those Mutants in Arcworld, and had gotten here two days later than he had wanted to. So he had to make his move soon.
Zanorak sighed a deep sigh. So, this was it. This was where the Quest ended. Or perhaps began anew. Whatever. He breathed in deep breath through his nose; the wind carried with it the sage-like smell of the desert-growing creosote bush (a reassuring, restorative smell), what smelled maybe like some carrion off in the distance (yuck, gross), and the fresh, crisp odor of the ozone left behind after a lightning storm (always a good smell). He knew what came next. He needed to fashion a new weapon, something that could deal with those Wraiths on their own ethereal terms.
Thus decided, he dismounted with a nod. He patted the clockwork horse on its metallic neck, and quietly thanked the creature for the noble sacrifice it was about to unwittingly make. He went to his saddlebags, retrieved the extensive and rather elaborate portable toolkit he’d brought along. He reached up into the horse’s fiber-optic mane, found the master power-switch, and hesitated only a moment before he turned it off with a sigh.
So sad. The pitiful creature. Its life of service was over. The horse’s head drooped, the light in its eye-orbs going out. It remained standing, though its posture slackened. He took a moment of silence to appreciate the fact that a living soul had passed from its circuits and into the afterworld, gone forever from this world into the next. Maybe. Really, he had no fucking clue what happened to the souls of sentient machines. He hoped for the best, though.
Then, high upon the cliff overlooking the arid valley and Castle Grayskull, in the light of the quickly setting sun, he set to work upon building his new weapon.
And when Twilight washed over the valley and the cliff three hours later, it found Zanorak with said weapon nearly finished. Its had a rectangular metal chassis made with backpack straps,. about three feet tall by one and a half feet wide, and eight inches deep. He had fashioned it from cobbled-together struts, gears, and metal pieces using his spot-welding kit. Shining coils of copper wire stuck out in places. Three exposed, glowing circuit-boards winked with LED lights or tiny flares of current. A translucent plasma globe sat at the bottom, with tubes and wires running to it. The upper corner featured a ring of glowing red lights attached to a long vacuum hose wrapped in a coil of wire, which ended in a mechanical “wand” that looked akin to a shotgun barrel attached to a motorcycle handlebar. Mounted toward the end, near a set of switches and dials, was another plasma globe. A small circuit board, wired to a glass nozzle sat at the end of the wand. The wand itself hung in a receptacle mounted to the side of the backpack, stowed when not in use, like a sword or a bow. This was some damn fine work, if he did say so himself.
“And there we go, by gods,” said Zanorak, wiping the grease off of his hands and onto his duster, and then clicking the final circuit board into place on the side of the main chassis and attaching the last of the wires. His Otherself Gadget, the one he was in his Travels to the Otherworld, would’ve been proud. He had seen something like this contraption in a “movie” once. Then, it had been called a “proton pack” and had been worn by a brave techno-thaumaturgical knight of the supernatural known as a “Ghostbuster.”
He lifted the machine up, put the straps over his shoulders, and hoisted the thing onto his back. Gods but it was heavy as fuck! But, no heavier than the back-load of books that Gadget had carried home every day from Cambridge Rindge and Latin. And if Gadget could survive that, he would survive this, by gods. He reached up over his right shoulder and grabbed the motorcycle handlebar, and pulled the wand free. Okay, pretty good; easy enough to access and quick enough to pull free. He aimed the wand at a nearby outcropping of rock, threw the power switch, and felt the machine on his back come surging to life, like one of the ancient generators buried beneath the earth. He dialed the power to 20 percent, twisted the handlebar grip, and a slithering serpent of brilliant, yellow-orange light erupted from the nozzle. Bright electrical arcs jerked around the beam as it slammed into the outcropping of rock. The rock glowed red, then white, and then exploded.
“Whoa!” cried Zanorak, and he ducked to avoid a large splinter that flew at him. He staggered back three or four yards as the shockwave hit him. Then he recovered, and looked at the smoking spot where the rock formation had previously existed. He turned the weapon off. He heard and felt it power-cycle down. He smirked savagely. “Successful test, I guess. Yeah. I dare those Wraiths to fuck with me now. Ahem. Now then. Onto phase two . . .”
He sat back down— Gods but his legs and back hurt, and his arms were tired, but he kept going anyway—and took off the Proton Weapon, and began work anew, this time on the second of his weapons. The first weapon would power the second. He wasn’t sure how he knew this; he just knew. He attached a long-length of cable to the fusion reactor on the backpack device—about forty feet or so—which he then wrapped onto a set of small, protruding hangars he screwed onto the side. The cable ran to a small cylindrical device that sat on wheels, and that had an iris-like opening on top, with a set of circuits soldered onto it that connected to the interior. He had outfitted it with electrodes and lined it with coils that would, when energized, create a powerful forcefield, situated just above a “nuclear magnet” capable of attracting individual, free-radical quarks en masse.
“If this actually works,” he muttered as he attached circuits and soldered connections, “Those damned Wizards back in Arcworld had better make me an honorary Mage, just out of fucking respect for my talents at this . . .”
This device took two additional hours to construct, the only light to work by that of the moon and the disconnected eye-orbs of the erstwhile clockwork horse. By the time he had finished, his arms had were aching and his hands were sore from working with so many fine-grained tools and doing so much delicate, small-scale work. He leaned back on the stunted grass and hard ground and closed his eyes, resting for a moment. He let out a breath and let the sweat cool his forehead, and let his aching arms, legs, and back take a much-needed break.
“Gods I am so sore,” he moaned. “My kingdom for some of that Otherworld . . . what’s it called . . . Tylenol. Or a Wizard with a health potion. One of the two.”
A compliment to the “Ghostbusters” proton pack, this new device was a “ghost trap,” designed to incarcerate phantasms. It looked nothing like its cinematic counterpart, and it operated entirely differently; this one could hold multiple ectoplasmic entities, and could hold them indefinitely. He got up from where he lay a half hour later, slid the trap onto two tiny rails on the side of the backpack, and connected a secondary cable to it, which he then connected to a foot-pedal unit. He clipped that just beneath it. Whenever he disengaged the trap from the Proton Weapon, the foot-pedal would fall to the ground, ready for use.
He stood up reluctantly and put the whole thing back on again. He turned around, walked to the edge of the cliff, and put his hands on his hips. He looked down into the valley, toward Castle Grayskull. The constellations above gazed down upon him, as the Realm’s overlarge moon, twice as big as Earth’s, gleamed in the sky. The borealis blanketed the sky in hues of deep purple, blue, and orange, as the far-off clouds draped the mountains in shadows.
He heaved a sigh, closed his eyes, and centered himself, as his mentors had taught him to do before riding into battle. He retrieved the Proton Weapon’s wand from its receptacle, and held it in front of him. He flipped the “on” switch, and once more came the whir and the revving-up noises. He opened his eyes, steeled himself. Then he turned, and started down the dirt pathway that aeons of travelers on this very same road had traveled down ages before, and set himself on a path to the Castle.
Once the gate-guardians there saw him, there would be no turning back; he would have to commit to the fight, a battle to the death between he and the demons of the “High School” part of the Castle . . . just as it had once been a battle for Gadget, so long ago in his Travels to the Otherworld . . . but not so long ago that he could no longer smell the brimstone.
He soon enough reached the bottom of the cliff, the dirt path bottoming out onto the floor of the valley. The enormity of Castle Grayskull lay directly ahead of him, approximately an eighth of a mile away from his current position. The steel-riveted doors of Cambridge Rindge and Latin stood even with the ground, beckoning him closer with pangs of both Otherworldly nostalgia and immediate creeping dread. From this vantage point, he could see no other gatekeepers. But of course the Wraiths were on duty. They couldn’t be seen easily; they remained translucent until they struck out to wound or to kill; then, and only for just a moment, would they become semi-tangible phantasms, and thus, vulnerable to the weapons he’d constructed.
A number of rocky outcroppings and the scarred husks of long-dead trees dotted the dusty floor of the valley, giving him ample cover to run and hide behind as he approached the Castle in zig-zagging starts and stops. But just as began to dart from a tree only a hundred yards from the entrance, he caught something out of the corner of his eye—a quick blur of movement, floating past the doors. He squinted to get a better look. Then, from out of the corner of his other eye—another burst of movement and illumination, very similar to the first: Just a quick, blurry form, lit from the inside, that flitted across the doors.
Zanorak hunkered down behind a nearby boulder, and then carefully poked his head out over the top to have another look. He reached down beside his foot and picked up a rock, and weighed it in his hand.
Please, God, or gods, whoever’s up there listening—he thought, thinking of his life as his Otherself—please let this be the one time I don’t suck at sports.
He threw the rock. One of the lower windows of the Castle smashed to bits. The Wraiths guarding the entrance fell for it. Two blurry, wispy shapes zipped away from the steel-riveted doors to go investigate; they obscured whatever background lay behind them, and illuminated the path that they took. Zanorak reached up and over and grabbed the wand of his Proton Weapon, took it in both hands, and stood up, watching where the Wraiths had gone. Checking one last time to make sure he saw no more blurry forms near the doors, he set off toward the doors.
Gods fucking dammit; heavy interconnecting bolts barred them; they were locked tight, their entire surfaces covered in interlocking gears, wheels, metal cogs, and pistons; the doors themselves were part of the steam-driven locks that held them shut.
Oh well . . . The stealthy approach had never had much hope of working, anyway. He positioned himself about thirty feet away from the doors, dialed the Proton Weapon’s wand up to 15% power, and turned the handlebar. A slithering, whip-like beam of incandescent, yellow-orange fire shot out of the wand’s nozzle, with bright blue electric arcs whirling around it, and slammed into the center of the twin metal doors. The beam began to melt the metal, turning it to white-hot sludge. White and yellow sparks flew. The air began to smell like ozone and burnt metal. He chanced another glance at his surroundings as he tried to hold the slithering beam steady on the melting doors. He would need to get back to his hiding spot before the Wraiths returned. He would wait there for a few minutes, until the molten metal of the gates had cooled, then make a run for it and—
“GAAAH! FUCK!” he screamed, as burning, crippling shards of pain suddenly shot through his chest like stakes made of ice. He fell to his knees and cried out in agony. Something had torn holes in his lungs, or at least it felt like it had. He clutched at the place from which the pain had spread, and chanced a look down . . . and there was a blue-white, translucent hand—or the suggestion of a hand—reaching through him, penetrating his flesh and clothes. As it withdrew, the pain lessened. And then as the entire body of the Wraith passed through him, the pain returned full-force, even more excruciating than before. A stabbing, bitter dagger of pure cold, like a bolt of arctic ice shoved through him.
Zanorak managed to get to his feet and stumble, only to come face to face with the other Wraith. It reached out with ghostly arms. The sleeves of its cloak gave way to spectral, skeletal hands aglow with eldritch energy and translucency. It had no legs or feet . . . the bottom of its cloaked “body” simply faded to nothingness as it fluttered in the air. The hood of its cloak formed its “head,” draped over the place where a real head should have been. It might not have had eyes, but Zanorak could feel the cold weight of its glare; it had a look that could turn human blood into ice-water. Zanorak froze, its gaze holding him captive; he tried to move, but could do nothing. His arms and legs refused his commands.
He stumbled back a pace or two. Sweet gods . . . the horror! Pure panic squirted into his veins. He had been in gun fights, tight spots, even on blood-soaked battlefields . . . Nothing had prepared him for that icicle of pain he had just felt go ramming through his lungs. Nothing. And nothing had prepared him for what this was like, looking into this thing’s non-face, it’s emptiness . . . He wanted to look away, but couldn’t.
And then they attacked again, this time both at once. One flew through his stomach. He cried out and clutched his abdomen. Like a large jellyfish swiping its tendrils across his belly. He doubled over, vomited. The other one floated through his head. Vice-grips squeezed his skull, the bone about to split from the pressure. Blood ran from his nostrils, the pain excruciating. Visions flooded his brain . . . Men and women eating one another’s entrails after slicing one another open with knives. Brutal scenes of torture, of himself being ripped in two by wild dogs that sank their fangs deep into his flesh—he felt their teeth sink into his skin—as they tried to tear him apart. He tried to get to his feet, but his legs didn’t want to work. He staggered and fell to his knees again, and vomited a second time.
The Wraiths circled him like sharks, preparing for another attack. He couldn’t take much more of this. He was about to die. Death. The inevitable end. Here it came. The end of his career as an adventurer. And if he died here, in this world, he world he had known and lived in all of his life, he knew on pure instinct that he would never make it back to that “Other” world, the world of cartoons and movies and schoolwork, where he knew a man named Gygax and a woman named Zoë. Even if he made it across the gulf that separated the two, he would not emerge the same person. No. The Wraith thing would shred his mind, rendering him insane . . .
Then it hit him: He still had the Proton Weapon! Duh! He felt like an idiot. He grabbed the wand and cranked the power to 100%. dropped to the ground, rolled onto his back, tightened his grip on it, and wrenched the mid-section handlebar. The yellow-orange beam exploded out of the wand’s nozzle, bright, blue-glowing lightning bolts arcing as it flew at its target. It hit the Wraith, and the force of the collision echoed back through beam. He scrambled to his feet, and tried to keep the wand steady. He dug in his heels and pushed back hard against the force of the beam. The beam doubled back on itself and wrapped itself around the Wraith in a complex knot of energy, trapping the Wraith inside a “cage” of nuclear power. The other Wraith shrieked—a terrible noise that sounded like blunt steel knives or claws scraping slowly down a slab of slate—but it dared not get any closer. It floated above him, near to the other one, shrieking at him. Gods, did that sound ever give him and instant headache!
“Aw, what’s the matter?” he yelled, a grim smirk on his face. “Can dish it out but can’t take it? Yeah, I thought so. Well how do you like it, huh? How’s that taste? Ready for phase two? Because I sure as hell am!”
Moving the wand to the side, he dragged the energy-knot—and therefore the captive Wraith—toward its still-free companion. The second Wraith backed away, but Zanorak handled his captive and the energy-stream with renewed confidence . . . and whipped it through the air, intercepting the other Wraith as well. The moving energy-streams enclosing the first Wraith “opened up” just long enough to ensnare the other Wraith, as well. In a flash, the energetic flux-knot healed itself, and both Wraiths were at last his! Yes! Huzzah!
“Now then!” he yelled at them. “Phase three. And we’ll see how good I really am at repurposing a fusion-powered clockwork horse’s innards!”
Zanorak reached up and over his shoulder, and grabbed the Wraith Trap he had fashioned. He pressed a button to release the cable that connected it to the backpack unit. He sat the cylindrical device down on its four tiny wheels and—still holding the Wraiths steady in their electronuclear prison—gave it a firm push toward the action. It rolled out ahead of him and out underneath where the two Wraiths hovered. He took a step back to where—thankfully, it had worked!—the foot-pedal unit had fallen to the ground when he’d pulled the trap free. He stepped on the rightmost pedal, and the iris on top of the Trap spun open, revealing a coruscating purple and yellow light-show. He felt around for the other pedal. He found it, then stomped on it as he immediately cut the power to the wand, the holding-streams disappearing. The purple and yellow lights inside the trap exploded upward in a brilliant, upside-down cyclone of green sparks, a yawning vortex of purple incandescence, and blue-white lightning bolts that twisted around each other like entwining serpents dancing in a corkscrew helix. The lights ascended toward the heavens and swallowed the two Wraiths as they shrieked. Zanorak turned away, averting his gaze. A few seconds later, and the shrieks stopped dead—suddenly silenced—and the dazzling display of pyrotechnic fury ceased.
He opened one eye, then the other. Had it actually fucking worked? Had it? He turned around to look. The Trap sat there, about ten feet away on the ground, a tiny red light on the side of it blinking, indicating success. Two tiny green lights lit up beneath the blinking red one, indicating two trapped phantasms out of the Trap’s holding-capacity of five.
Ha! Gotcha!” said Zanorak, stowing the wand of the Proton Weapon and walking toward the Trap. His heart beat furiously in his chest as he smiled, panting for breath after all the excitement and the adrenaline rush. “Bet you won’t ever . . . screw with a guy . . . packing a Magical . . . positron collider . . . again . . . will you!”
Now then. How many other potential attackers were there? He looked left. Looked right. Amazingly, there didn’t appear to be any other guards of any kind. The fools in the Castle had put all their trust in these two Wraiths. Well, more fool them!
He stood for a moment and let his heart beat wildly, and tried to calm himself. He felt exposed, just standing here. The heat of battle faded only a little in the slowly ebbing moments. No, fuck this. He needed to get moving while the adrenaline still flowed, while he remained sharply focused.
He took off his Proton Weapon and wound up the twenty or so feet of cable that connected it to the Trap, and put the Trap back where it went on the side. Then he put the Pack back on and grabbed the wand again, and took one more look around for potential attackers lurking nearby.
Then he sucked up the rest of his courage, wiped the blood from his face, and approached the main gates of Castle Grayskull—the giant metal doors that led into this version of Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School, one of which he had melted into goo—and stepped through them . . . and into a realm that his Otherself Gadget thought he had forgotten for good.
Hey all! I thought I would post a quick excerpt from the novel. Just to whet your appetites! Here goes! This excerpt concerns Darmok, one of the aliens in the book. (Darnokj is a shapeshifter who is neither male nor female, but of a third gender altogether. So that’s what’s with the alternate pronouns.)
“So this is Earth, huh? In all its glory, the real thing, at last,” ze said to zirself. “The planet the Watchers prize above all others . . . except maybe mine. Or hell, maybe even that, I dunno.” Zir English, in zir opinion, was flawless. Ze had practiced it relentlessly in a thousand Simulations, training for this mission, thinking the chance would never come to demonstrate zir worthiness as a Field Agent. Afraid that ze would be stuck behind a desk, grading papers until well past zir prime. Heh. “Grading papers.” Zir words betrayed zir age. That saying still existed even on zir world, the Planet Shyphtor, nine hundred and eight cycles—and counting—since the last tree had been pulped and paper had become a thing of the past. But ze was young compared to the Eldar, who ruled Shyphtor with the wisdom and grace that could only come with Age. And it was they, who after communion with the Watchers, had sent zir on this mission. Why they had chosen zir—ze had terrific training, but little actual experience—was anyone’s guess . . . But dammit, ze intended to succeed, no matter what. The Watchers’ Will Be Done, come—as the Humans might say—“Hell or high water.”
Darmok was the designer, pilot, sole crew-person, and commander of The Renegade Angel, the craft ze now arrived in. Ze sat at the Helm on the ship’s expansive bridge—which had been designed for a much more comprehensive crew, but ze could be flown by just a single Shyphtorilaen, if the need arose—and carefully guided zir in with one hand on each joystick—one that controlling the ship’s power and pitch, and one controlling zir roll and yaw. The Renegade Angel responded instantly to the slightest of touches, zir motion through the clouds as fluid and smooth as warm butter. Darmok smiled. Ze was eminently proud of zirself, and even prouder of zir ship. Ze had slaved over the blueprints for zir—and especially the equations for zir next-generation engine core—for over a decade, and had fought a ton of bureaucratic red-tape and committees in order to get the funding secured for the dream of bringing zir to life, year after year, until finally, the Angel had rolled off the assembly line, as beautiful as any other baby’s birth. And now, Darmok zirself piloted the Angel on zir maiden voyage—and on zir maiden voyage, as well: They had finally granted zir what ze had wanted since the dawn of the Third of zir Nine Lives: An actual assignment in the field: Investigate the threat of a Zarcturean invasion of the Off-Limits planet known as Earth, a “special project” of the Watchers, a planet they also “loved,” insofar as they were still capable of feelings like “love.” Some of the Eldar thought the Watchers long divorced from such emotions; others thought the Watchers had become love in its purest form, surpassing all negative emotions when they had Ascended to a higher plane of existence thirty thousand years before. Darmok wasn’t sure what ze believed.
Descended from shapeshifters, they had long ago sacrificed most of their transformative ability; they had long since grown skeletons, and could now only shift between quadruped and biped forms. For this mission, Darmok had assumed zir ailuro sapien form, in order to pilot the ship and potentially interact with Humans. Many of zir kind—the Shyphtorilaen, their race was called in the Human tongue—stayed that way most of the time. It was simply the most efficient package that nature had come up with, they had observed. The simian body structure was unique in its utility and versatility. With a few tweaks, of course. For instance—if you took the Human form, and you added a muscular prehensile tale—like a monkey’s—only that could grasp and lift objects—you’d instantly have more utility. Also, the face: If you added whisker-like sensory feelers—like a cat’s—you would have better directional sense (if they carried an electrostatic current). In fact, if you changed the facial configuration to be more feline in general—zir culture had developed a fascination with the Earth species Felis silvestris catus—you’d be better equipped all around (the larger nasal passages; the ability to “taste” certain smells; the ability to see in the dark; much better hearing, with the larger ears; more and sharper teeth, for chewing food). Except, of course, in the speech department; if you wanted to use verbal communication, you’d have to slightly adjust the mouth, adding more muscles and finer-grained control over the lips and larynx than a normal, Earth-originated house-cat had. And fur, of course; one needed fur to protect one from the cold, and from sharp objects, and to cushion from close-range impacts.
The only thing Darmok hadn’t decided upon yet was zir gender. Ze was late in life. Normally, in zir society, one had decided upon one’s gender by now. A Shyphtorilaen usually decided to “fix” their gender—setting it in stone, changing from being “Of The Third” to being either Masculine or Feminine—by their seventeen hundredth cycle. Darmok was twenty-three hundred cycles old, and ze had not yet chosen a gender for zirself. A Shyphtorilaen could only truly “set” their gender once, and could only shift their gender once every two thousand cycles . . . and could only usually do so twice in one lifetime, usually around eight thousand cycles. And doing so involved elaborate rituals, ceremonies; it was a big deal, culturally speaking. Not to mention that doing so involved the biophysical process known as Chrysalis. Darmok hadn’t the patience for elaborate ceremonies. Nor the twelve-cycle-long process of Chrysalis. Dear Watchers, what would ze do in there? Read a really long book? (That whole “paper” thing, again. Ze would really have to get better at this whole “dating” zirself thing with zir references.)
“Well, well, well . . . what do we have here?” ze muttered to zirself, as ze closed in on zir destination. The cybernetic hololenticular implants in zir eyes drew zir attention to a large, stately building outlined with glowing red lines in zir eye-displays, with tiny indicator arrows pointing toward the Zarcturean ship that had already landed there. Ze throttled back zir velocity and prepared The Renegade Angel to land. Ze set zir down about ten yards away from the Zarcturean ship, zir foursome of steel-wheeled pods gently crunching into the rooftop’s gravel. Like the Zarcturean ship, Darmok’s The Renegade Angel was far larger on the inside than zir exterior suggested, by way of transcendental dimensional technology. However, there the similarities ended. For example, zir ship’s engine core—the part ze was really proud of—was definitely superior to the other ship’s basic faster-than-light drive: zir engine—which ze’d dubbed “the Con-Fusion Drive”—was a device whose reaction chamber contained a rift in spacetime that took the form of a ten-dimensional Möbius loop . . . one wherein multiple parallel universes—which were always supposed to remain parallel and never cross paths—all intersected. The bottom line? It made everyone onboard the ship utterly immune to the effects of Temporal Paradox whenever ze flew the ship through a time-warp. In other words, it took a spaceship, and turned it into the ultimate time machine. Now, thanks to Darmok, the Shyphtorilaen had a time-ship that could visit any place or time that the Eidolon had touched—via the agency of the Zarcturean or any other race that had grown malignant and dangerous under their evil tutelage—and then work to uncorrupt, reboot, or “correct” that species’ timeline or evolution, without having to worry about a Paradox Fracture swallowing their world whole . . . and without risking permanent damage to Time itself.
Darmok shut down the Con-Fusion Drive and the ship’s Antimatter Propulsors, and put the Main Reactor into stasis mode. Ze then locked the controls to zir genetics and brainwaves, so that only ze could operate them. Ze rose from zir seat at the Helm, and walked into the Captain’s Ready Room, which sat off to the left of the bridge. Ze touched a glowing panel there on the wall, and it slid open. There, ze beheld what Ops called a “basic Planetside Wanderer’s outfit.” A smallish backpack unit featuring two pulse-thrusters; a long, thick, crimson duster made of what humans might’ve identified as a heavy, leathery material, with readouts and sensors attached to its left fore-sleeve. A dark pair of pants with air-seals at the cuffs and above its utility belt, and a special slit in the back for zir tail to poke through, along with a matching, long-sleeve tunic with air-seals at the neck, sleeve cuffs, and waist, with both it and the pants created from a soft-weave poly-alloy—comfortable and stretchy, yet capable of blocking almost any and all projectile fire and completely airtight—along with a pair of bright-red rocket boots that almost matched the duster. Finally, hanging there also, ze found zir gun-belt, meant to criss-cross around zir waist, its pair of Decimator pistols meant to sit on either hip. In the top compartment of the cabinet lay zir atmospheric-conversion helmet, with a built-in model of another of zir inventions, the Thought-Transilience Transmission Interoseter, and a pair of red, poly-alloy soft-weave gloves with seals at the wrists. An Earthling might’ve pegged zir headgear as looking like an ordinary motorcycle helmet . . . albeit one with a fancy illuminated face-shield and a rubber-and-metal seal around the neck, with hoses and bits of tech bolted to it in places, and with a pair of tall antennae on either side.
Ze got dressed, adjusted zir guns, and then put on the helmet and locked it in place—mostly just as a precaution, as ze wasn’t yet positive ze could breathe the Earth’s atmosphere. Zir superiors had told zir that it featured nitrogen-oxygen-rich air, the same as planet Shyphtor, but had also told zir that the humans wantonly toxified their atmosphere with harmful pollutants, even though in doing so, they actively murdered their only planet, and they knew it. Next, ze put on the red, soft-weave poly-alloy gloves, which featured magnetic grips on the underside, and connected the power-couplings to the tubes that fed from the duster’s wrists. Lastly, ze donned the small pulse-thruster unit, and strapped it in place between zir shoulders. Then, ze closed the compartment, turned, and exited back onto the bridge, then went to the glass elevators that stood in the rear. The doors slid open, then closed behind zir. The transparent elevator carriage began lowering itself on antigrav beams, moving through the ship’s lower levels—the mess hall, the engine room, the various storage and landing bays—then through a water-like membrane and the transdimensional bulk, the higher dimensional space between the inside and outside of the ship. Soon, the elevator gently touched down outside the craft, landing feather-light upon the gravel of the rooftop, and its glass doors parted.
Darmok ventured out, one Decimator pistol at the ready as ze scanned the rooftop for movement of any kind, zir hololenticular implants aiding zir. Dozens of sets of footprints—Humanoid, bipedal footprints, led back and forth all over the gravel rooftop, to and fro from the Visitor’s ship. Hmm, curious.
Ze approached the Zarcturean ship. Looking upon it, ze sighed, shook zir head, and said aloud, “Dear gods, how pragmatically fugly can you get?” One of zir briefings back home, entitled “Human Languages: English: Formal, Informal, and You” had been filled with some very strange words with even stranger usage contexts. It was a ruffian’s tongue, vulgar yet clever and sharp; colorful and oddly efficient, though at times bizarrely wasteful. Ze liked it a lot, and had made a mental note then to try and learn more about it, especially its more “colorful” side. Ze put zir hands on zir hips and shook zir head again. “What kind of species doesn’t even try to make their ships more streamlined and beautiful? Jeeze . . . what a piece of space-trash. Now then . . . if I were a Zarcturean Visitor, why would I come to this place, of all places?”
Just then, ze felt a stabbing pain slice through zir head, like someone had suddenly shoved an ice-sickle through zir eye and straight into zir brain. Ze dropped to zir knees, short of breath and with sweat beading on zir forehead as ze fumbled for the controls that governed the Thought-Transilience Transmission Interoseter. Ze turned the Gain control all the way down from +11 to +0. The pain receded, but did not go away completely. It was directional, as well . . . if ze turned to the right or the left, the pain abated. Not all of it, but some. Only when ze faced forward—and only when ze looked directly at the Zarcturean ship—did it come back in full force. So, that was it: the Zarcturean ship had a telepathic security system, one with a limited kind of sentience . . . it wasn’t fully sapient, but it was alive enough to defend itself, and alive enough to be deadly whenever it chose to be. It would have to be Mind-hacked in order for anyone other than its pilot to get aboard.
Luckily, one of zir electives during zir field training had been in a skill-set called “Affinity-Tech Hacking,” which had covered how to hack into systems similar to this ships’ psionic security system. Ze only hoped ze remembered at least part of the mental protocols correctly. Doing so would mark the difference between getting aboard the ship, or getting zir synapses fried from within. With a deep breath taken, ze sat down on the roof, zir legs crossed over one another, and put zir hands on zir knees. Ze slowly turned the gain-knob up once more, until ze could hear the thing whispering in zir head. Ze closed zir eyes, and began to work . . .
I just finished re-reading Clive Barker’s Imajica for the first time since high-school, and wow, it’s been a while. I first read this book in 1991, when it was first published, and wow, so much has changed since then. Since that time, I’ve actually taken courses in college where I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on things like religion, belief, ideology, and gender; on men, and women, and their roles in the world and society; on sex, its amazing power to heal and to curse and to drive us to do things, its power over us, its role in shaping who we are, what we do, and on people and society; on desire, its potency, and what it does to us; and on the power of belief and on imagination, and what that does to us, and how it inspires us, shapes the world we live in, and how it can help us, and maybe save us. And of course, I’ve thought about magic. Is it real? Does it exist? If so, what is it? How does it—or if it were real, how would it—really work? Are there other worlds beyond this one? Other planets with life on them? In other dimensions? What would other worlds beyond this one look like, feel like, seem like? Could we travel to them? What kinds of people and creatures would we meet there? I’m not religious, but, I’ve wondered, if there was a God, would it possible to find—and meet—God? And what if—and this is a big one—what if we found out that God, in all his “glory,” was actually the Bad Guy?
Imajica is a book that seeks, with immense majesty of prose and with drastic and breathtaking scope, to answer all of these questions and address all of these issues in one fell swoop; with one gigantic story arc that spans over thirteen hundred pages (in eBook form, at least). It remains Clive Barker’s most ambitious work, ever, and his most daring. It posits that there are, beyond the boundaries of our four dimensional world, four other, parallel dimensions—four other “Dominions”—each teeming with life beyond our wildest imaginings; cities of vast scope and methods of architecture that span a dizzying array of styles and inventions; and societies, landscapes, governments, and cultures of such dazzling variety as to make one wonder—how does Barker come up with it all? But all is not well in the worlds of the Imajica; for the Fifth Dominion, Earth, it cut off from her sister Dominions, floating in the dreaded wastes of the “In Ovo” (think of it as a kind of supernatural “hyperspace” hell filled with monsters and demons), and the other Four are controlled by the Autarch, a monstrous tyrant who, from his city-state of Yzordorrex in the Second Dominion, rules with an iron fist. The only hope for the “Reconciliation”—the bridging of the gap between Earth and the other Four Dominions, which can occur only every two hundred years—lies with a man who has no clue that he is the key to this great event: An art forger and womanizer named “Gentle,” who, when he meets a mysterious assassin named “Pie ‘oh’ pah”—who is in reality a shape-shifting, gender-fluid alien from the reconciled Dominions—finds there is more to life than just anonymous sex and faking great masterpieces. And also, part of the mystery lies with Judith, a woman desired by many men, but belonging to none of them; she and Gentle share a turbulent past, but neither can remember more than ten years into either of their own. With Pie ‘oh’ pah as a guide, they will find their destinies intertwined, and Gentle will, hopefully, reclaim his destiny as the Reconciler of Dominions . . . or else every world will perish in the coming apocalypse . . . an apocalypse brought about, perhaps, by the very God that the Reconciliation is meant to serve the will of . . . that God being, of course, the great “Hapexamendios,” better known in the Fifth Dominion as Jehova Yahweh.
The heroes have their work cut out for them, and the book’s villains don’t make it easy. First there’s the Tabula Rasa . . . an ancient society dedicated to stamping out all magical activity on Earth and stopping the Reconciliation at all costs, because the last time it was attempted, things went horribly wrong and a few people got eaten by creatures from the In Ovo. Oops. And then there’s the Autarch, mad with power and raging in his palace to his Queen, who bears a striking resemblance to Judith, and who might just be her twin, or her doppleganger, or her clone. Maybe. And then there’s Dowd. Dowd is the Familiar of Oscar Godolphin, one of the members of the Tabula Rasa, and he is a nasty piece of work. Just imagine a Neo-Nazi with the calm and almost sweet disposition of Alfred the Butler, and you’ll have Dowd. He has mites that he spits up out of his mouth and that can “unmake” you if you cross him though, so watch out.
Imajica is a fantastic epic “dark fantasy,” and I remembered enjoying it very much when I was in high school. And that hasn’t changed. I still love it. It’s filled with terrific, almost phantasmagorical and dream-like imagery, some of it whimsical, much of it dark. Some of it terrifying. Luscious, vivid descriptions that practically leap off the page and into your mind’s eye, picturesque mental images that are so lifelike in their prose-rendering that you just want to savor the words rather than speed past them, luxuriating in Barker’s turns of phrase and his gift for descriptive language. His action writing—when there is action, and there is quite a bit of it—is good too; he doesn’t waste time lingering on details except when he really wants you to notice something, or someone, and remember it for later. His dialogue is . . . well, not quite as good as his gift for terrific descriptions. Some of it is a little stilted and wooden, at times. But much of it is good, bordering on excellent; when he writes from the heart, you can really tell . . . But when it’s up to the characters to deliver exposition, that’s where he falters a little bit. But other than that, the writing is excellent, bordering on divinely inspired—if you’ll forgive the obvious pun—and you can almost see Barker frantically working on this manuscript as you read it, obsessively typing out every line, sweating over it long into the night like a maniac at the keyboard, a man gone wild with ideas and invention. Because that’s what it feels like most of the time—like this is Barker’s mind unleashed on the page; like this is Clive Barker’s mind let loose like a ferocious, feral animal to roam the wilds of our imaginations, stalking the printed word, and lashing out at us from the sentences and paragraphs of this book.
Of course there is sex in this book. It wouldn’t be a Clive Barker book without the freaky sex! And by God, there is a lot of it. And I do mean a lot. There’s so much sex in this book it ought to be retitled Imajica: Screwing Your Way Across The Reconciled Dominions. Really. I mean, this book has a lot of freaky sex in it, so if you’re not up for that, don’t read it. Laurel K. Hamilton would be proud of this book, let’s put it that way, okay? I’m personally not a big fan of graphic sex in fantasy or other fiction . . . I mean, okay yeah, they fucked. So what? I don’t need a full page description of what the guy’s penis looked like. (And Barker does exactly that on one page of this book. He spends three long paragraphs describing Oscar Godolphin’s rod.) I mean, okay, yeah, great, they’re horny and they love each other’s bodies. Great. What’s next in the freaking story? But. In this case, I understand why he’s doing it. Because it’s not just sex scenes that are scattered throughout Imajica. Sex, and sexuality, are woven into the DNA of the book’s plot, story, theme, and overarching narrative superstructure, and that’s part of what makes it so interesting and so fascinating a book to read; they’re part of the book’s psychocosmic structure, and they’re what define the boundaries of its mythological architecture.
Also, gender. Or more appropriately: Feminism. Clive Barker wrote this book in 1991, back when “#MeToo” wasn’t a thing yet; back when feminism was still gathering steam. But yet he wrote a book that is, basically, an “essentialist gender narrative” in which “men” and “masculinity” are depicted as the devouring, destructive, and conquering force, and “women” and “femininity” are the driving, creative, and nurturing force; in which men are portrayed as being both desirous and jealous of women’s power to create and nurture, and wherein they are often destroyed by this very desire and jealousy. And in which women are the true source of creation and magic, and in which men are the usurpers of that power; and in which they are the conquerers who create cities upon Mother Earth because they cannot be within Mother Earth. Yeah, he wasn’t subtle about it, folks. In the world of Imajica, the God everyone prays to on Sunday actually (SPOILERS) raped women to create the Reconcilers, like Gentle, and Christ before him, and others. It’s fascinating to note that in Imajica, God has either killed or imprisoned all the Goddesses (those who were too powerful for him to kill) before he took up residence in the First Dominion; and that at the end, (SPOILERS) all the Goddesses have returned, and thus we’re supposed to think that since God is dead (somewhere, Nietzsche is doing a fist pump), everything is okay, and that though the past was designed by men, the future will be written by women, and that this is somehow a better thing . . . even though Barker has already made big deal of telling us how, in the past, the female led cults and societies of the Imajica were just as bloodthirsty as this created and led by men.
This is my one problem with the book: I think it’s too one-sided, really. I’m all for feminism, and female empowerment, and for redefining the role that women have played in society for the last few thousand years . . . and I’ m all for disassembling the patriarchy. Hells yeah. You go, girls. But Imajica oversimplifies things. It’s an essentialist gender narrative, and therein lies its central weakness: The world is more complicated than just “women good, men bad.” The world is a lot more complicated than that. And if you go around telling people “women good, men bad,” then you’re part of the problem, because you’re oversimplifying a greater, more complex issue. The problem isn’t “women good, men bad.” The problem is that there is an unhealthy power dynamic between the genders in our society (including those people who are “gender-fluid,” like Pie ‘oh’ pah), and that there are unhealthy gender roles that have evolved because of it; and as a consequence of that, the dialogue between genders has suffered a breakdown, as well. And we need to deconstruct that power dynamic and those gender roles if we’re ever going to make any progress. And, also, we need communication between every gender—honest, open conversation; a reconstructed, reconstituted dialogue—if we’re ever going to make any progress toward a better understanding between men and women and all the gender-fluid people in between. The Goddesses need to come back, yes. And we need a feminizing influence, yes. And toxic masculinity needs to go die in a fire, sure. And in this particular universe, Hapexamendios needs to be exposed as a misogynist bastard of a god. And maybe even (SPOILERS) destroyed by his own creation, Gentle the Reconciler. But do we really need to go so far as to call all men destroyers and despoilers of all that is good? To damn them all, to curse them all? And to cast an entire gender as evil, even those who’ve done nothing wrong, and whose only crime is being male? No, we don’t. Because that’s stupid. As one prominent feminist scholar said in an article a few years ago that made the rounds on the Internet: “I’m all for feminism, but not if it means killing all the men.”
It is good that the book addresses gender-fluidity, though. Pie ‘oh pah is a wonderful character, and he (or she, or — problematically — “it” as Barker refers to Pie) makes a fine best friend and later (SPOILERS) a loyal and loving spouse to Gentle. Pie is a complex character, and Barker writes him (or her) with a certain grace and tenderness, and yet a complex darkness that is at once beguiling and charismatic. One could accuse Barker of going for a “magical negro” (only in this case it would be a “magical androgynene”), but what of that? Pie is a great character, and I fell in love with him (or her) as I read the book. (SPOILERS, but really, you saw this coming) I was extremely upset when he (or she) died, though Barker does manage to “bring him (or her) back” in various ways through flashbacks to Gentle and Sartori’s past, and when he (she) comes back at the end of the book . . . whoa, major tear-jerker moment. Major. I admit it, I cried. The only problematic thing about Pie is the way Barker uses the pronoun “it” to refer to the “mystif” (Pie’s species), though no other pronoun really “fits.” Pie can become whatever the observer wants, you see; he’s (she’s) not just any old “shapeshifter’: he (or she) becomes whatever the onlooker most desires, and he (she) doesn’t just appear that way . . . No, she (he) literally becomes that person or thing, changing even her (his) gender or her (his) internal organs to match whatever you wish she (he) was. This is part of what makes him (her) such a powerful character and such a symbol for change and growth. And Pie is such a fantastically rendered guy (or gal) that, like Gentle, you just never want to say goodbye to him (her).
Other than Barker’s radical approach to feminism — which I don’t entirely disagree with, in principle, but still, it kinda drives me up a wall, because, well, I’m a dude, and I don’t appreciate my entire gender getting slammed as “basically evil just because the author says so” — I still love Imajica with all my heart and soul. Truly, I do. I love this book to death, just as much as I love Barker’s other great fantastic adventure, Weaveworld (though I confess I love that one a little bit more). It’s one of my favorite dark fantasies, ever. It’s gloriously imaginative, fantastically written, and wonderfully majestic, flowing, epic, and dreamy. It’s got terrific imagery, beautiful prose, and great characters who I fall in love with every time I read it, for better or for worse, despite some of their personal failings — or perhaps because of them. It’s got action, suspense, horror, flights of fancy, and of course, it has lots of freaky sex that, while I personally could do without it (I’m not a prude or anything, I just don’t get into graphic descriptions of sex; I mean, okay, yeah, they fucked; big deal, get on with the story), I understand why it’s there, and I understand the role it plays in the overall story and it’s themes. (And hey, it’s good for a grin, and some of it never fails to make me scratch my head and wonder, “Uh, Mr. Barker, is there something you want to tell the nice psychotherapist?”) But yeah, Imajica remains one of my favorites that I will definitely revisit once every few years from now on, and will want to spend some time with now and then, remembering the waters of the Merrow Ti’ Ti’ and the grey wall of the Erasure; the Lenten Way and the desert of the Kwem; the heights of the Jokalaylau snows and the palaces of the city-god Yzordorrex. All of them are there, in Clive Barker’s Imajica, an epic, Dominion-spanning adventure that is guaranteed to take your breath away—and maybe even use it as a weapon!
Well, whatcha think?
When you vote for someone, you’re not just voting for a person. You’re voting for a philosophy, an ideology. A worldview. You’re voting for a system of ideas and beliefs, a way of looking at the world. And when you vote, you’re taking that system of ideas and beliefs and putting it into action. You’re basically taking someone else’s — and your own philosophical convictions — and casting it out into the world and saying, “Make it so.” You’re programming the System. Everybody says that “You can’t beat the system.” But that’s exactly what you’re doing when you vote. You’re “beating” the System into shape — a new shape, one defined by your ideas and values, and the ideas and values of the person you’re voting for. You’re programming the System to produce a certain result. And if the person you’re voting for has no moral convictions, no compunction about lying, cheating, or stealing — like Donald Trump does — then what you’re going to get is a System that lies to you, that cheats you, and that steals from you. Which is exactly what the Republicans have been building since they got elected to a majority way back in 2010: A System that lies to, cheats, and steals from the People who elected them, and everyone else. And President Trump is their chief enabler. The reason the Republicans will never impeach Trump — or speak out or act against him — is because he is their Useful Idiot. He will rubber-stamp anything they put on his desk, no matter how Draconian or cruel-intentioned or mean-spirited it is. No matter if it steals from the poor to give to the rich, no matter if it cuts the social safety net to ribbons, or cuts taxes on the rich at the expense of students and seniors, or whether or not it weakens protections for women and minorities, or whether or not it takes away healthcare from millions. They don’t care about the People who elected them, they don’t care about anyone else. They don’t care about anyone but themselves. And Trump doesn’t care about anyone but himself. He is a classic narcissist. Hell, his attorney doesn’t want him to testify to Mueller because he’s afraid the idiot will perjure himself; he has no faith that Trump can sit there and tell the truth, even in a mock interview. Think about that; Trump can’t even practice telling the truth. That’s how pathological he is. And this man is our President. He got elected because a lot of stupid people voted for him, out of racial animus and fear. Hopefully, the Democrats will take the House and Senate back in the midterms and soon, we will be rid of him. We can only hope. But that can’t happen unless you — yes YOU — vote. Vote like your life depends on it. (Because with the current administration’s views on healthcare, it just might.) Vote your moral convictions. Vote to put a philosophy into action. Vote to put ideas and beliefs into action. Ideas and beliefs that reflect fairness, honesty, justice, integrity, and compassion. Vote not just for what is easy, or what is “practical”; vote for what is right. Vote to change the world.
Hey everybody! I gots something’ new ta shows ya! Check it out! A new render of Gadget and Dizzy and “the Fangirl,” this time with “volumetric lighting!”
Hey all! Well, I had an epiphany the other day. You’ll never guess what I discovered: The title of the book is too long. Yeah, yeah, I know many of you are slapping your foreheads right now and saying to yourselves, “Well duh, we could’ve told you that.” But I digress. Yeah, it’s too damn long. The Technowizard Guardians Of The Infinite Worlds Of Fandom had a cool sound to it, I admit, but the problem was it was just too long to fit on the damn cover of the book and still have some decent cover art showing! So, I changed it. Are you ready for this? The new title of he book is . . .
“The Technowizards Of FantazmagoriCon”
Neat, huh? I just decided that since 80% of the action of the book takes place at FantazmagoriCon anyway, and since the lead characters are sort of the characters who fight to protect the Earth while at FantazmagoriCon, it makes sense to call them the “Technowizards” of FantazmagoriCon; they’re from there. They come from FantazmagoriCon. They’re a part of FantazmagoriCon. Get it? That’s their point of origin. Because so much of the book is centered on fandom and fan culture, I wanted to make a statement that this is the place the heroes are coming from; this is the cultural origin they originate from and spring from. This is their true home. The castle they seek refuge in. And, the place where the final showdown between good and evil is ultimately fought.
So, there ya go. New title for the book!
Hi hi! Kermit the frog here! Just kidding, it's just me. Whew. It's been a while. Sorry I've been away. Have you missed me, world? No? Well that's good. I haven't missed you, either. You're all a bunch of pains in my asses. Just kidding, I love you all. No, for real, I've been in a massive amount of physical pain these past two months from an apparent spinal cord problem . . . I had to have corticosteroids injected into my spine in order to fix the problem . . . but now the problem is fixed, and I can actually sit at my computer again for long periods of time without any excruciating pain setting in! Whoo hoo! Which also means I can write again. Thank the gods! I can work on ye olde novel again, which I've been neglecting these past few weeks or so. I wish i hadn't had to take so much time off from writing, from you, but alas, it was necessary. Anyway. Here is my latest attempt at 3D rendering, using PBR shaders, PBR stands for "Physically-Based Rendering," and you can really see the difference, can't you? The metals look like freaking metal, don't they? I'll be writing a more lengthly blog post on self-care and writing and the need to take time to care for oneself during the creative process in a little while. But for now, feast your eyes on Dizzy's new exosuit below! Iit took me FOREVER to model this in Autodesk Maya, folks. Really it did.)
Hey folks! Thought I would share my latest adventure in 3D rendering with you. Here it is, in all it's glory! It's a render of Dizzy in her Exosuit, standing next to The Fangirl, her trusty, tricked-out car that she drives around. Notice that the engine is bigger than the windshield. Not to worry; the driver sees by using a holographic heads-up display. And yes, the things on the back are warp nacelles, and the thing mounted in the trunk is an Engine. The thing on the top of the cab is an oscillation overthruster, just in case she needs to drive through solid matter!
Well, I was kicking around new concepts for the cover design, and I came up with this: Behold!
Well, I've decided to pursue writing a second draft of the book. Why? Didn't I just oh-so-proudly unveil the major, finally-finished draft of the book just a few months ago? Wasn't that the version that was finally "going to the editor after the beta-readers finished it?" Well, ye-e-es, and no. See, I let my beta-reader Ana read through the first three chapters of it. And I let my friend Greg read through it, too. He had less problems with it than she did, let's just say that. Well, no, let's say a little more, shall we? Yes, let's. The problems Ana uncovered weren't just prose-related, or structural. They were conceptual. There were problems with the characters. Problems with the way I'd written them. Problems with the way I had set up and executed the plot. Problems with the way I had handled the conflict, and problems with the way I had handled the fight scenes . . . and yes, on top of all that, there were problems with the prose, and the structure, and the way I had gone about certain other stylistic choices. So all in all, the book was full of problems. And I didn't just take Ana's word for it, either. I read through it with her, and we had many conversations where she would walk me through the text, and she'd show me specific examples of things, and we'd talk about why they worked or didn't work, and why or why not. And then she'd show the meta-examples, and the meta-data. And how this affected that, structurally, etc. Together, we went through those first three chapters and I made a list of everything that was wrong, everything that needed to be corrected. it was a long list.
And man, at first, I was so bummed. So completely torn up over it. I had failed. Worse, the book had failed. It was an utter crapfest, the whole thing. It needed to be rewritten. Again. What a waste of . . . well, now hold, I told myself. Not a "waste of effort." It was a good effort, i told myself. And besides, like Stephen King had said: The first draft was you telling yourself the story; the first draft was you getting it all down on paper for yourself, downloading it from out of your head and down onto the paper . . . saving it from the RAM memory of your skull and onto the "hard drive" of the written word. Exactly. So now what I needed to do . . . was write the second draft. Which, I told myself, would be much different. Things would have to change. A lot of things. Characters would need to have their backstories rewritten; some characters would have to be eliminated altogether; new characters would need to be created; the entire story arc of the book would need to be altered somewhat; the plot would need to change a bit; the climactic scenes could mostly be the same, if I maneuvered my puzzle-pieces into the right places beforehand, if I was careful enough . . . so yeah. Second draft, here I came. I was actually psyched for it. I could do this. I knew I could. I just needed to get revved up, "fired up, ready to go," like Obama used to say. I had this. Hell, I have this. I just needed the right kick in the butt to get me going.
And then I saw the next trailer for Ready Player One. And that finally clicked everything into place, for some reason. I realized just how hot geek culture is right now. And then I got the last little bit of inspiration I needed. I logged onto io9, to read some geeky news for a moment, and there, I saw a discussion thread absolutely trashing the new fan-art posters for RPO. Why were they trashing RPO? Because they are geeks, and geeks love to have wars over things sucking and not sucking, and RPO is just about the most polarizing book/movie in the world right now. But, as a fan of RPO, I was incensed. I was furious. And that spark of anger ignited the creative fires. I had the last little bit of inspiration I needed.
And with that, I set to work.
I don't know when the second draft will be ready. It could take anywhere from six months to nine months, to a year. Probably closer to eight or nine months. Somewhere in that area. But I do know that so far, it . . . is . . . awesome. And you guys are gonna love it.
I’ll say it again: We are living under the most wildly criminal, corrupt, and attempt-at-fascist Presidential administration ever in this country’s history. We have a President who wants to be “President for life,” who wasn’t able to successfully pay off a porn star and who “isn’t a big reader,” but yet somehow thinks he should be allowed to control the Internet, free speech, and womens’ uteruses; spout racist dogwhistle rhetoric; fail to condemn white supremacists; negotiate with a nuclear-armed madman across the ocean; piss off our allies left and right; doom our economy with unnecessary trade wars; do nothing about gun reform; and use the office of the Presidency for his own personal profit. He is an admitted sexual predator, a verified liar, has a history of being a con man and a fraud, a failed businessman, and a charlatan. He has a history of marital infidelity, something Republicans practically tried to crucify Bill Clinton over. And, we now have enough evidence to conclude that he did, in fact, collude with the Russians to “hack” at least the public's consciousness during the 2016 election process and to tilt the scales of public opinion in his favor with their added help. We also have a cabinet full of corruption and vice; cabinet members who elbaorately decorate their offices at the expense of taxpayers and break ethics rules left and right. And lastly, we have a Congress who stands idly by and does nothing about any of this, and in fact vocally supports the President and his cabinet, and meanwhile passes a tax law that only has the support of 29% of the public, and that strips healthcare away from millions, and that adds 1.5 trillion dollars to the national debt (not the deficit; the actual national debt; our sons and daughters will have to pay for that) in order to transfer that same money to the rich elites and powerbrokers who run their party. This all must — and, hopefully, will — stop this November when the Democrats take back control of both houses of the Congress. But it cannot stop if we don’t remember to get out there and VOTE this November. So to all of you young people whom I know lean Liberal and Indepdendent: Think about the choices you really do have; think about the future you can start building right here, right now, with one simply action: Voting. And to all of you of my generation: Do the right thing. Vote these immoral ass-clowns out of office this November, and let’s give The Donald the righteous kicking to the curb he deserves.
It's not that I don't value other opinions — I actually do; their critical in honing one's work and craft — it's just that I've received, in the past, such extremely, wildly, sometimes insanely-vitriolic negative reviews of my work that it's driven me to the conclusion that what it really comes down to, sometimes, in the end, is matters of personal taste that somehow touch a very deep nerve in people. As in, it not only "doesn't appeal" to them . . . but it so strongly offends their intellectual taste buds that they immediately projectile-vomit it out and across the room so hard that it sticks to the wall. Other people read my work and they love it; they love it so much that they squee about it and it makes them smile, and they fall in love with the world and with certain characters I've created. Still others are level-headed about it; they read it, identify its flaws, see its potential, see what works really well — and congratulate me on it — but they also point out the weak spots and tell me what needs work and what could use improving.
These last ones are the opinions I value the most, because they're honest and forthright without being condescending; they're useful, and above all, they're practical. They don't say, "cut half of it and it will be better" and leave me floundering. No, they specifically tell me, "Cut this, and this, and that (and here is why), but whatever you do, don't cut this, or this, or that over there." They are good readers, and even better feedback-givers. They are the people I turn to when inspiration is lacking, because they are always at the ready with ideas for what to do next, or what to work on doing better. I don't turn to the people who say, "This is too much," and who leave it at that, because that's not really useful, is it? No, I turn to the people who say, "You can cut this part; this just paraphrases what was said earlier." I turn to the people who say, "Describe his blood with a more robust adjective other than 'crimson.'" I turn to the people who say, "Try to punch up the dialogue here by using a tag other than 'said.'" And I turn to the people who say, "I love this part right here; Dizzy always makes me laugh when she does this to someone." Or, "Why do you always do X with your characters' expressions? You need to give us more variety in your characterizations, Hainline. I suggest having her smile devilishly here."
You see what I mean? Useful stuff that actually helps or encourages or points to a solution to a problem. This is what I — and other writers of all stripes — need in their critiques and feedback. Not condescending, half-witted slogans or half-hearted, one-sentence quips about cutting half of it, or that tired, old, oft-repeated schlock about "killing your darlings." No. They, and I, need practical, useful, work-specific and targeted advice on what to do to make the work better. Do you get this? Does this make sense to you? It does to me.
I post this in the hopes that some of you, as in, other writers, will read it and have an "Ah ha," moment where it penetrates your skulls and sinks it, and you get it, and it makes an impression. That you understand that the others of your "tribe" — that is, the rest of us — are out here, and we, like you, are struggling with our craft on the daily, and that we work just as hard as you do to "do the heavy braining to make the words go," as the famous Twitter meme goes. You're not alone, and we'd like to feel like we're not alone, too.
So the next time someone posts a story snippet, or their cover art, or their blurb, or their sample chapter, and asks for opinions or critique or feedback, try to follow this idea; try to give them work-specific, practical, editorial advice on exactly what to fix, how to fix it, and if possible, and time permits, tell them why it needs fixing. Offer to leave comments in a Word document if they have one or can send you one. Go the extra mile. Don't just sit on your haunches and say, "Oh, someone's work, that's nice." No. If it looks interesting, if it shows any promise, and if the person is nice, and especially if it's someone whom you know — and of course, if you have the time and you're not swamped with your own work and family crises and job stress — then go ahead . . . take the shot and help that person out. They will be appreciative, and they will thank you. And it will be worth it. Hell, I tel you this: It's worth a lot more than some crappy-ass Facebook comment that reads, "Cut half of it and it will be better." Because it actually helps someone grow as a writer. It helps them hone their craft, just as you once honed yours. It makes the world a better place. Just a little. And the gods all know we need that now more than ever, in this Age of Trump and Robot Apocalypses.
My adventures in 3D rendering continue! Here you can see me playing with the "Iray Worlds" package from DAZ3D, which is a package of HDRI sky presets for the Environment system inside the IRay rendering engine. Tech talk aside: It makes pretty skies for your renders that you can adjust the color and tone of if you wish. Here I've rendered the main cast of my novel, The Technowizard Guardians Of The Infinite Worlds Of Fandom, in all their glory, with a guest spot photobomb by Cthulu himself! If you look very closely, you can see where I've had to do a bit of Photoshop work on Gygax's pant-leg; for some reason, it doesn't want to render right. I think this is because of a glitch in the clothing-fitting system inside of DAZ Studio that I'll have to compensate for by pushing up the Collisions and Smoothing factors on his "pants" object. But oh well. It's a small, niggling thing that most people won't notice unless they look really hard at it. I think it works — for now — or at least until I can delve into the clothing-fitting system inside Studio and see what's amiss there. Anyways — feast your eyes, and enjoy!
You know that meme, the one with Winston Churchill, where he's asked about cutting funding for the arts, and he responds with, "Well then, what are we fighting for?" Yeah, that never actually happened. Check Snopes, you'll see. It's an apocryphal quote. What Churchill actually said was this:
“The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them . . . Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which are their due.”
Which, i think, is a much better quote. Because it's so damned true. Also, as a fun historical anecdote, check this out, from ProfessorBuzkill.com:
In 1940, the Battle of Britain was looking bleak. London suffered daily bombings from the Luftwaffe, and German invasion of the island seemed imminent. Kenneth Clark, the Director of the National Gallery in London, wrote to Churchill and suggested that their paintings and artworks be sent to Canada to keep them safe from damage or capture.
“No,” Churchill replied, “bury them in caves and cellars. None must go. We are going to beat them.”
And that’s what they did.
So Churchill was actually more of an Arts-saving badass than that meme gives him credit for. And we need reminding of words and deeds like this in times like these. For now, we are living in the age of Donald Drumpf, the Orange Man, the man who in his version of the federal budget (which I'm hoping gets axed to pieces by Congress and put back together again like some Frankenstein monster, with at least some of the cruelty and stupidity removed from it), which cuts — no, cuts is too light a word; it slashes, it guts — funding for the Arts and Humanities. It completely eliminates the National Endowment for the Arts. Yes, it just gets rid of it. Defunds it entirely. It's gone in Trump's budget. Poof, goodbye. In Trump's world, all that matters is military spending, not writers, artists, poets, actors, musicians, or dancers. Nah, fuck those people. We don't need them. What do they contribute? According to Statista:
The global film industry shows healthy projections for the coming years, as the global box office revenue is forecast to increase from about 38 billion U.S. dollars in 2016 to nearly 50 billion U.S. dollar in 2020. The U.S. is the third largest film market in the world in terms of tickets sold per year, only behind China and India. More than 1.2 billion movie tickets were sold in the U.S. in 2015. There are about 5,800 cinema sites in the U.S. as of 2015. About 14 percent of Americans go to the movies about once a month, seven percent go see movies in the movie theater twice or three times a month, whereas 37 percent go a few times a year. This is a considerable share taking into account 53 percent of American adults prefer watching movies at home.
The revenue from the global book publishing market is forecast to slightly increase in the coming years, growing from around 113 billion U.S. dollars in 2015 to about 123 billion U.S. dollars by 2020. British company Pearson is the largest publishing house in the world as of 2015. Besides Pearson, Thomson Reuters, RELX Group, Wolters Kluwer and Penguin Random House are also leading book publishers in the world. The U.S. has by far the largest publishing industry, followed by China and Germany.
"Yeah," I can hear you saying. "But andy, that's Hollywood. And that's the Publishing industry. That's not government funded!" But oh yes it is. Where do you think big-time Hollywood actors, writers, directors, and technicians get their start? How do you think artists live and stay alive and learn their craft while they're still trying to hit it big, while they're still small-time players, while they're young and dumb and just trying to scrape by? Many do so with the aid of government funding. Many start out in small venues, in local theater, and in publicly-funded venues as well. Many of them get their feet wet in school, in college, or apply for grants to study their craft. A lot of them need the Endowment. Without it, we're going to come up short on talent in this country . . . really quickly. Without the Endowment, in just a few short years, Hollywood and the book publishing industry — as well as the news industry, journalism, and other industries that rely on talent pools from the Arts and Humanities — are going to be coming up short, too, and we as a nation are going to pay the price for it. We will fall behind. This will cost us economically. And it will also cost us a piece of our soul, as well.
Because above all, that's what the Arts give us. Our souls. Neil Gaiman has a famous quote that says that Fairy Tales aren't there to teach us that dragons exist; they're there to teach us that dragons can be beaten. (And right now, we have a dragon in the White House, believe you me.) Art inspires us. It speaks to our spirit. It enriches us inside. It is the one thing that bridges the gaps that stand between out intellects, our memories, our imaginations, and our hearts. It is the language of the soul, spoken universally between all peoples of all nations. Art is philosophy made concrete. It is our values and our metaphysics, and our epistemology, our ethics, turned inside-out and made into physical thIngs that we can see, and touch, and hear. It is our politics, made real and intimate so that we can interact with them in real-time and really see them for what they are, what they represent. Art is a way of closing the distance between disparate peoples. It is what we do when we take our thoughts out of our heads and place them in the context of each other, of society, when we have the courage to take a sample of who we are share it with others for them to learn from, critique, appreciate, and explore. Art is a reflection and a prism of our essential humanity. Without it, we are just jazzed-up apes stumbling around in fancy hovels, tweeting on iPhones about the latest craze in banana fashion. We need our Arts. And if Trump can't see that, then he is the ape.
Like I said — I have hope that at least some of Trump's Republican colleagues are at least not half as backward and regressive as he is. I have hope that at least some of them have half a brain and will see that the Arts are as necessary to this country as oxygen is to the lungs, as blood is to the heart and the body, as food is to the stomach. I have hope that our elected Representatives have not so totally abdicated their humanity that they have forgotten that those movies they like to watch and those books they like to read (if they do still read, that is; some of them make me wonder at times) came from somewhere — from a living mind, a beating heart, a thriving soul, one that was, most likely, nurtured and bore fruit because of the Endowment, because they got a leg up in the beginning. And I have hope that my hopes are not in vain. Because if they are, then a dark day is dawning. One in which we return to savagery, and where the only Art we know is strewn upon the walls of our caves and hovels, and the only thing we know is drudgery and pain, the pain of a People who have forgotten that Art is the gateway to — and the nectar of — the soul.
So, I recently started playing around with DAZ Studio 4.10's new advanced rendering engine, the Iray Renderer. For those who don't know what the hell that is or what I'm talking about, let me explain: In the 3D world, there's a process called rendering. That's when you take the 3D scene you've carefully laid out in the software's design interface — when you've placed and textured your 3D models, and have placed your cameras and lights in the scene where you want them — and you turn your 3D scene into a "reality," by rendering it. What that means is that the computer takes your 3D scene and it calculates the way your virtual "lights" behave in the scene as though they were real, actual lights, and as though the objects in your scene were real, actual objects . . . in other words, it looks at the 3D scene you've created as though it were a "real thing" that existed in the actual world, and takes a virtual "photograph" of that "virtual reality" as though it actually existed, and then shows you that photograph that it took. That's what rendering is. The "Iray" renderer is different than the "3Delight" renderer that DAZ3D previously shipped with DAZ Studio because it's physically based. That means it obeys that actual laws of physics in terms of the way that actual light particles (real photons) actually behave in the real world, and so your renders of your scenes turn out much more "photorealistic" — i.e., they look much more like photographs of real things — than did renders made with 3Delight. Of course, you can still use 3Delight if you want to (it certainly has its place for rendering certain types of scenes, no doubt about that), but Iray is much more realistic in terms of its output.
Anyway, all of this is prologue to the actual content of this post, which is that today, I rendered my very first scene with the Iray rendering engine, and I'd like to share it with all of you! Here it is! It's Dizzy (of course, because all my best and most interesting renders always feature Dizzy), standing in front of my tried and true prop that I created, the Wormhole Gateway. Enjoy!
I recently procured the soundtrack to a musical I didn't know existed, but was incredibly awed once I found out that it did: Jim Steinman's "Bat Out Of Hell: The Musical." This. Is. The. Coolest. Thing. On. Earth. Well, okay, maybe not the coolest thing — there's still Orange Julius and Mongolian Grill, and Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, and the macOS operating system — but you get the idea, right? It would appear that good ol' rock composer Jim Steinman finally achieved his lifelong dream of creating a Peter-Pan-like, dystopian, sci-fi romance for the stage — and a musical, at that — featuring a number of his epic, Wagnerian rock-operatic songs, almost all of which have been taken from his past oeuvre of work with Meat Loaf. When I found out this was really a thing, I was ecstatic. (See elsewhere on this website for my fanboyish obsession with Steinman and his work.) I was like, "Holy shit! He actually did it!" So, without further ado, a quick review of the two-disc soundtrack album, recorded by the original cast:
The album is very slickly produced. The sound is very open and clear, with every instrument very clearly hearable within the mix; the guitars are lightly used, but when they do show up in the arrangements, they are really effective. They add a great rock 'n roll edge to the arrangements, and are really loud in some of the songs (such as the version of "Bat Out Of Hell" that appears here). So, that's good. The "solo" guitars are a little thin, though; they could've used some beefing up, I think. But then again, this is for a theatre audience, not a rock concert audience, so I can sort of understand the guitars not being balls-out loud and distorted. The orchestra sounds great and very full, with the brass and string ensembles both getting a good workout here and there, especially the strings in some songs. The choir that accompanies some of the arrangements is in full voice as the backup singers for many of the songs, and they sound gorgeous. The mix is exceptionally good; like I said, every instrument and part seems clear and separate, and very "visible" in the mix. Nothing is muddy and there is no clipping or overbearing loudness, and you don't have to turn the speakers up to hear any instruments, as everything is evenly spaced in the mix. That's some good engineering, right there. Finally, the vocals sound sensational, and that's good, especially because there's a large cast involved, and sometimes they sing together, and one on top of the other, or several all on top of one another . . . but again, nothing ever gets muddy or muddled in the mix; the voices remain distinct and listenable at all times, and high notes and long, sustained legato notes don't feel like they're firing your speakers up. And the bass . . . good god, there's a lot of great bass in the soundtrack, and it plays and resounds smoothly, even on crappy speakers. I feel like this thing was produced by freaking Alan Parsons, but it wasn't; it was produced by a tag-team of Steven Rinkoff, Michael Reed, and Jim Steinman himself. Say what you will about his songwriting, but Steinman knows how to twiddle knobs and adjust faders. He's a dynamite producer.
The young cast's performances are likewise stellar. And "young" is good. I emphasize the word "young" because really, Meat Loaf is 70, and Steinman himself is 69. We don't need to see them on stage performing these songs anymore. It's time to pass the Bat Out Of Hell and Bad For Good torches, guys. Really, it is. And this amazing young cast are the perfect new vehicles for Steinman's grandiose, Wagnerian rock stylings and his beautifully deranged, bombastic romanticism. I say let them run with it! The kid who plays "Strat" — the main protagonist of the musical, Steinman's Peter Pan stand-in — has an incredible voice, and he's very much what I think a younger Jim Steinman might've sounded like had he been gifted with a stronger set of pipes to carry the day back in the epoch of Bad For Good, Steinman's solo album released back in 1981. And the girl who plays "Raven" — the leading lady, and Strat's love-interest — has a great set of lungs and vocal cords on her as well; she can really pack a punch when she belts out Steinman's soulful operatic tunes, and I'd love to see her launch a solo career singing his works. Of course, we probably won't see too many more new, original works from Steinman in the coming years; his career seems to be in a winding-down phase just now, and at this point, he shows more interest in revisiting his past — take the recent Meat Loaf album, Braver Than We Are, as evidence of this — than he does in inventing anything new for us. But if Bat Out Of Hell: The Musical is a revisitation of the past, then it's revisitation that's damn well worth the trip down memory lane. It's a colossal, epic orgy of "Steinmania," as Steinman's die-hard fans refer to it, and it's terrific, over-the-top, gothic, and fantastic in every way that there is. You get the feeling that this is how Steinman always wanted these songs to be performed: In an actual theatre, on a stage, with impressive set-pieces, by an entire cast of performers dressed in wild costumes, with an orchestra and a rock band together in the pit, complete with savage dance routines and epic monologues, and with whiz-bang special effects, lighting effects, and giant video screens to boot. The show is light on plot and story — the story mostly serves as a skeleton upon which to hang the muscle of Steinman's songs — but that's okay; if you're going to see Bat Out Of Hell: The Musical for it's story, you're in the wrong theatre, folks. The book is by Steinman, and his dialogue skills aren't the greatest, as evidenced by the snippets of dialogue you get to hear between some of the songs . . . because oh yeah — unlike some of Lloyd Webber's soundtracks, this one doesn't include any dialogue from the show (or at least, not much of it). It's just the songs. How daffy is that?
All in all, I'd say this is a great two-disc album to own. Especially if you're a Steinman and/or Meat Loaf fan. The songs are fantastic, the performances are great, and the quality of the mix and the recording itself are terrific. The arrangements are a little wimpy in places, so if you're looking for all of the songs to stay true to their hard rock roots, well, sorry. The songs here are also — and peculiarly for a Steinman project — mostly pretty short; whereas the album versions of some of these songs can stretch on for seven or eight, or even ten, minutes sometimes, some of these versions are barely four or five minutes long. But that's for the best, I think; it adds to the immediacy of the soundtrack and helps the whole thing flow better. Your mileage may vary with this concept though. Me, I kinda liked it, kinda didn't. I miss the gargantuan excess of the longer, more elaborate versions of the songs from the original albums, but at the same time, these smaller, more scaled-down versions can be a breath of fresh air, especially since they also tend to have sparser, less full-bodied arrangements. Most of the time, they work. Sometimes, though, they leave you pining for their longer, album-cut cousins, as is the case with the version of "Rock And Roll Dreams Come Through" that appears here. It's way too short, in my opinion, and deserved a place of greater prominence in the show.
Bottom line: If you're a Steinman and Meat Loaf fan, this is an album you can't afford to miss out on. Go buy it today, right now. You can thank me later, if you can get the songs unstuck from out of your head.
I remember the month and year I became “politically aware.” December of 2005. It was an ordinary day, like any other. But it did not end like one. At 5:35 (I think), I stepped into Great Escape cinemas one person, and at 7:50 (or so) I exited a different one.
Let me set the stage: I was a “good citizen.” I was vaguely liberal on a few social issues, and vaguely conservative on others. I supported the President. Sort of. Even though I quietly made fun of his mannerisms here and there. I also “vaguely” supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Or the troops. Or something. I was mostly politically unaware of what was going on around me. I had a muddy “both sides do it’ attitude toward Democrats and Republicans, though I really wasn’t sure what “it” was or why I should care. I didn’t know what a “libertarian” really was or what that meant. I didn’t know or really care who was on the Supreme Court. I got my news and commentary from Fox and CNN. I didn’t watch the Daily Show. I stayed away from topics like race and gender and feminsim — because those tended to start fights — and I did not know what “ableism” and “ageism” were. Plus, I didn’t really know enough about any of those topics to have really formed an opinion on them yet. I was ignorant in the extreme, and my ignorance formed a kind of blissful little cocoon that protected me from reality. I knew I was vaguely angry about the way that gay people were treated — because I knew people who were gay — and I knew that I didn’t like organized religion at all . . . but those views had not yet crystallized into actual political positions for me, because I didn’t yet understand how they were connected to the overall political landscape in Washington, nor how they played out across the country in everyday political settings, nor how they factored into the global political playing field . . . and how they were connected to other political issues and voices that mattered. In other words, I was a sheeple, quietly grazing in the fields of plenty provided for me by the mass media and the dominant paradigm.
Then I heard about a new movie coming out from the Wachowski Brothers. I had liked The Matrix, and so I was intrigued. I had never read Alan Moore’s seminal graphic novel V for Vendetta, though I had loved Watchmen to death (though again, even in Watchmen’s case, the political messages had blown right over my head; I was very young when I read it). But hey, it was allegedly a futuristic, dystopian superhero film, and that sounded good to me. But I couldn’t get my friend Greg nor my friend Tonya interested in it. So, one evening, I went and saw it alone.
Hoh. Lee. Shit.
It may seem silly to say (and yes, I know the “problem” with using Guy Fawkes as a historical rallying point), but the tone and narrative of V for Vendetta shook me, and woke me up but good. All at once. And in a hurry. It was blinding, like having a pair of sunglasses torn off your face in the blinding afternoon heat. In the space of two hours and some change, thanks to the Wachowski Brothers and their film, my consciousness was ripped open and scrambled like the bowels of a tourist in Mexico who has made the mistake of ordering the spiciest thing on the menu, and then drinking a gallon of the native water . . . and then taking some laxatives. It was an astonishing and awakening moment for me, one in which so many things all clicked in my head at once. Like the tumblers all fell into place at the same time, like the clockwork gears of a combination lock all ticked into position at the same exact moment, and suddenly, I could see.
I left that theatre a changed person. Rattled to the bone, and suddenly very afraid for the world. I knew what was up. I suddenly understood my friends who were more political than I was; what drove them, why they did what they did; what their values were and why they had them . . . and why I now could no longer be friends with some of the more conservative of them. I had a sudden feeling of desperation — of the need to do something about it — all of it — though I had no idea what exactly I could do. I felt powerless and trapped, insignificant in the greater clockwork of the body politic and the greater political machine. I had been galvanized into suddenly giving a shit, about so many things it wasn’t funny, and the more my head whirled and spun with thought, the more things I found I suddenly gave a shit about, suddenly had an opinion on, suddenly had to do some research on in order to find out more, to know more, to realize more. And the more research I did at home that night and the nights beyond it, the more troubled I became; the more the galvanic charge built up in me, and the more of a progressive I slowly, gradually graduated into. The more I was pushed leftward, in other words; the more I studied the issues, the greater sense of wrongness I felt at the then-current situation, and the more I felt in my gut that things had to change, somehow, or else the world would perish from an orgy of corruption and indulgent, ignorant buffoonery on the part of conservative politicians everywhere.
Now, in the age of Donald Trump, I feel that the message of V for Vendetta — both the movie and the book, for they are very different creatures, owing to the fact that the movie is very much “inspired by” the book and not strictly “based on” it — is more timely and prescient than ever. It speaks to the days we live in now. Even though the film takes place in a dystopian England of the near future, it might as well take place in the America of today. Neo-Nazis run riot in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, killing an innocent woman, and the President issues a lukewarm response; the Russians might have been directly responsible for his election to the Presidency, and yet we have an electorate where 35% of the voters literally do not care that this is the case . . . and in fact still cheer his so-called “victories” when he champions police brutality and the denigration of our Muslim and Hispanic citizens. Yes, V’s immortal words — “these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition!” — though whimsical, are a fitting description of Trump and cronies like Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions. Never did I think I would fear my own government as I fear this one; never did I think I would have to. I had my beefs with President Obama — contrary to popular belief, he was not every progressive’s “dream come true”; he had a lot of warts that we progressives were not happy about — but never under his watch did I go to bed wondering if World War III was going to break out because of his Twitter feed, nor did I fear that due to his encouragement — or his lack of discouragement — Neo-Nazis might decide it was a good idea to set up camp in my home town and throw a big ol’ book burning party. We know, after all, that Trump doesn’t like to read.
So perhaps it’s time to dust off those books, movies, and TV shows that first “woke” you. Revisit them. Pay homage to them. Revel in them once more. Look upon them with fresh eyes in this age when being woke matters more than ever, and also, try to see them, once again, through the eyes you once saw them through . . . the eyes of a Sleeper. Let them wake you all over again, perhaps in new ways. And then — share them with someone who needs waking up. You probably can’t wake that person up on your own. And the movie, book, TV show, or comic book you share with them probably won’t do the job all by itself, either. But who knows? It might open the door a tiny crack. It might nudge them toward awakening just a little bit. It might push them closer to the edge of awareness just a tiny, small fraction more than the were the day before. And before you know it, you might just have a woke person on your hands. You never know. You can at least try.
Good luck. And remember, it’s like V said: “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.”