deviations from the plane of the ordinary…

In the summer of 1835, The Sun (of New York) published a series of articles that purported to describe scientific discoveries of a civilization of bat-winged humanoids on the Moon. Belief in what turned out to be a hoax was widespread. Richard Adams Locke, an editor for the newspaper, revealed himself as the author five years later. He also served as editor for Edgar Allan Poe, who claimed the story was essentially plagiarized from his own “The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall”.

A little more than a century later, two men sat discussing fiction of their own on a bench near The Edgar Allan Poe Cottage (2640 Grand Concourse, Bronx, NY). The deservedly famous and still sometimes unfortunately maligned author had made his home in that modest setting during the last years of his life. The two men inspired there were Bob Kane (born Robert Kahn) and Milton “Bill” Finger – the creators of Batman.

They may not have known about the man-bats on the Moon but they were undoubtedly aware of Poe’s creation – C. Auguste Dupin, who has been on my mind while developing Astral. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is quoted as having given credit to Poe for inventing the detective genre. Doctor Watson compares Sherlock Holmes with Dupin in their very first adventure (“A Study in Scarlet”, 1887).

Of the pair, only Mr. Kane went on to fame within the comic book industry. His co-creator had been responsible for writing the first story (Detective Comics № 27, May 1939). Finger provided the origin for Batman six months later. The names “Bruce Wayne”, “Gotham City”, and the epithet “The Dark Knight” are now all attributed to Bill Finger. It wasn’t until 1989, fifteen years after the man he then called ‘friend’, did Bob Kane begin to admit how essential Finger had been. The reputation and influence of Mr. Finger is still being rebuilt.

Both Finger and Poe might have recognized in each other kindred spirits. The former died in poverty and relative obscurity. The author who inspired him was abused and disparaged by jealous peers. Batman’s computer system is, from time to time, nicknamed “Dupin” and Poe sometimes appears as a fellow investigator in the Batman universe (“The Mystery That Edgar Allan Poe Solved” – Gang Busters № 49, Dec 1955/Jan 1956. reprinted Detective Comics № 417, Nov 1971. Batman: Nevermore, 2003.)

Batman’s costume is the first I remember wearing for Halloween (at some point before 1970). I’ve been a fan of the mythos for more than four decades. So it struck me as odd to learn almost in passing at a convention I recently attended of this detail of the bench in front of Poe’s last home.


The image included here combines the minimalist Bat-emblem from Batman: Zero Year in DC Comic’s universe-relaunch The New 52 with a production photograph of Stefanie Rocknak’s magnificent bronze statue of Poe, which now stands on the corner of Boylston Street and Charles Street two blocks north of Poe’s first home.

As yet, there’s no statue to Bill Finger but Marc Tyler Nobleman has been attempting to have a memorial bench placed in his honor near the Poe Cottage.

warped speed…

Batman has been criticized for not doing enough and/or not doing the right things to truly help Gotham City. As the real world economy has grown since the character’s inception (May 1939) the character’s wealth has had to expand to maintain a sense of plausibility if not verisimilitude.

Forbes estimates the Wayne family fortune at $6.9 billion. And, while that’s not Bill Gates-rich, it would make Bruce Wayne roughly the 231st wealthiest person in the (real) world – just after David Geffen. A cost analysis indicates it would cost $200 million to start a career as the Dark Knight, just a little more than it takes to produce a film about him.

Batman’s enemies have from time to time suggested that he’s just as crazy as they are. Some of his detractors in the real world have voiced the opinion that Mr. Wayne is deliberately keeping Gotham poor. In his ScrewAttack! video, “Does Batman Need a New Origin??”, Bob Chipman (a.k.a. MovieBob) makes the case that the Wayne Foundation could do quite a bit more to alleviate poverty and other cause of crime than nightly patrols and subsequent kicking of ass seems to.


But that’s not the point —

The overarching Gotham mythos has become largely based on the concept that the human psyche is fragile enough that one bad day is all it might take to cause it to snap. While the comic went nearly three years before giving Batman much backstory. when it came the story hinged on trauma. In reaction to the death of his parents Master Wayne vowed to “avenge their deaths by spending the rest of my life warring on all criminals.” № 33 (Nov. 1939).

The Joker – undisputed king of the One Bad Day origin – did not appear until the following year and went on to make the trope the overt premise of “The Killing Joke” (1988). Anyone, the Clown Prince postulated, will go mad given enough provocation and that can be accomplished in a remarkably short period of time. In a sense, Bruce having been traumatized as a formative event gradually set a tone that nearly all of his opponents now follow.

Dragon Con. Sept. 3, 2016. 7:03ᴘᴍ —

I was wandering and exploring the event when I happened by a panel already in progress: Representing Disability and Trauma (in Comics). Daniel Amrhein (Journey into Awesome) was the moderator. Courtney Bliss (Bowling Green State University) and Kari Storla (USC Annenberg) were his guests.

There are a number of reasons that I chose to sit quietly in the back of the room. I was late, for one. Comics – not just Batman – have been an interest since at least the mid-70s. As an epileptic, it is sometimes easy for me to forget that I have a disability so I’ll take the opportunities of reminders in writing about them more properly when they appear. There have been a few events in my life that might technically count as trauma but I don’t often view them as such. I’ve had bad days. Who hasn’t? They didn’t make me snap.

There may be a manner in which the topics presented in the panel may be discussed without trigger warnings. We haven’t reached that stage of discourse as a society. One person did leave during the talk. A fairly wide range of life events were discussed as was the stigma that victims of traumatic experience face and, similarly, those who have disabilities. Life can be difficult enough but one of the very strong points made was that trauma or condition notwithstanding each human psyche moves on.

Toward the end of the panel, Ms. Storla made the point that mental illness, when presented in fiction, is far more often than not an oversimplified ‘sane + trauma = condition’ sort of formula. An insane character is defined by their condition without any other aspect of a personality being presented well – if at all. What the audience needs to know, authors presume, is the character in question is just crazy. Only crazy.

I’ve known at least one person who could be called “crazy”. That’s part of the personal trauma about which I’m being vague. No, I don’t mean myself. During lucid moments such people can be very aware that something is wrong – that their own behaviors are not preferable. They themselves may find certain of their words and deeds beyond both their control and comprehension. These are facets of their existence as human beings not the whole.

Mr. Amrhein observed that, “being hit on the head doesn’t make people leave riddles for Batman. Being shocked or dumped in chemicals doesn’t make someone ‘crazy’. Being burned with acid doesn’t result in dissociative identity disorder.”

I then asked the panelists that, if they were writing for ‘insane’ comic book characters, how would their approach be different. The moderator replied that rather than the reliance on outdated tropes he would like to introduce modern research and the views of experts. In his opinion – and he’s not wrong – many creators of comic books draw from preexisting canon and recycle it. This perpetuates the outmoded concepts and contributes toward perpetuating misunderstanding. Ms. Storla said she would want to bring in feminist trauma theory (which I’ll be reading up on).

Until this panel (and MovieBob’s video), I had viewed Batman’s adversaries as each presenting a facet of human obsession but that all of them represent an unfair and outdated model of a disordered psyche. Each is an exaggeration of the strengths and virtues of the Dark Knight – twisted in antisocial ways. All of this was – in the moment and lasting since – rich food for thought and a valued reminder to remain mindful with regard to characters who are out of their minds. We are stronger. We adapt. It’s part of human nature. It should be part of the characters we create.

Anywhere you go…

In preparation for a bit of professional writing I made a map showing a rendezvous in Asia of two airships – the Copertino and the Wakefield. Once I’d finished getting the time markers along navigationally accurate great circle paths, I realized the work was wasted if I didn’t incorporate more of the data represented in the graphic within the text of the story.

This completely changed the beginning of the tale and, I think, will involve the reader faster. A much more in medias res start. I recently had an unrelated experience that, although it went remarkably well, I would have preferred it went “even better”. Once writers and editors finish with a piece it amounts to the same sort of wishing.

I’m very glad I caught this opportunity and that my habit of maps with stories served me very well in this instance.


sic itur ad astra…

Note: There’s been a longer than normal interval between posts as there was more than usual work involved with this one.

Science fiction is very probably my first genre love. As readers of this blog already know, this affinity began with Star Trek. Given that, it won’t be surprising that my taste in scifi is generally best served when the setting is against the backdrop of a human interstellar presence. My story set in ancient Greece has been replaced as a priority with a novel-in-progress that takes place almost 50 light-years from Earth and roughly 550 years in the future.

Part of my outline process usually involves a map of some sort. This scifi effort (working title, Astral) is no different. By making a chart of most of the stars within 50 ly of our solar system, details about the future politics of humanity came into sharper focus. This is as much a part of the world building for the tale as FTL travel, terraforming, and human genetic engineering.


The volume around Earth at the given radius includes at least 583 star systems. There are red and white dwarf stars not shown in the first chart. Similarly, the stars shown do not double up with regard to arity (binary, trinary, and so on). If habitable worlds may be assumed to orbit stars like the Sun, about 10% ±x of these systems could support life. It should be noted, since extrasolar discoveries are being made “all the time”, no real effort was made to match exoplanet reality.


A presumption was made that faster-than-light travel would have limitations based on mass and material composition of any ships involved. Relatively instantaneous hops of 20 light-years or fewer are the standard.

This decision puts ten systems with potential for colonization within direct reach of Earth. Each colony would then become a waypoint for the next tier of expansion. The result would be a web of worlds, each having a neighborhood of 10 other colonized systems on average including 2 colonies of their own.

The first question after making these determinations was, “How far from Mother Earth would humanity spread before thinking of their new home world as more important than the origin point of the species?” The answer lay as much with history, sociology, and psychology as with astrophysics. The critical star turned out to be Xi Boötis (ξ Boo, “zai boh-oh-tis”). Two hops from Earth, with 70 Ophiuchus in between as the staging point, Xi could have almost as many imperial opportunities as the initial starting point of the human race.

The expanding network of worlds colonized from Xi (and the colonies growing from those, etc.) would reach to between 20 and 30 more systems by the time humanity began to push outside the 50-ly radius sphere. If such a significant branch of colonial propagation were to stage a revolution, Earth society could be thrown into a panic. What’s more, other factions might seize the event as an opportunity for their own independence – to one degree or another.

All of this is the backdrop of Astral, with Xi and its extended family as the new hub of human destiny in space (for the time being) and two other, though smaller, federations as political entities separate from Mother Earth. Apart from ME, the factions are Federalist Arcadia* (sharing in etymology with Arcturus, one of two “named” stars among those claimed from Xi), the Hamarchy of Keid*, and the Ophiuchid Cantons*.

So, what’s the story? To that I’ll cryptically reply, “Imagine Plato meets Poe.”

* © 2016 Thom Truelove

on your marks…

The ouroboros can represent the cyclical or even the infinite. I wonder though – does the snake ever think to itself, “It seemed like a good idea when I got started.”

There is a mythical account of punishment imposed upon the immortal soul of Sisyphus, king of Ephyra. His torment in Hades was to perpetually move a large stone to a hilltop only to have it roll back down after each attempt. When I was first taught this story I remember asking, “Why doesn’t he just stop?” I was told that such things were part of the nature of Hell. I thought, “Well, that’s stupid.”

The tale may serves as a lesson on the dangers of obstinacy or in how to discern a no-win situation before too many resources have been lost. The moral of this particular story is also warning about hubris and other character flaws.

During the research for and early writing of A Song Heard in the Future there have been three problems for which I’ve been seeking solutions: 1) In ancient Greece, the practice of slavery was not only ubiquitous – none of the city-states could imagine a world without slaves. They were considered a necessary part of society, 2) the more loathsome custom of infanticide of the unwanted also seems to have been prevalent, and 3) the treatment of women had them treated as all but indistinguishable from cattle.

In Song, I have been attempting to make the characters more real and accessible. One mechanism has been the removal of monsters where possible. For example, it seems very likely that the fabled Chimera was not a beast with three heads but a pirate ship. Another part of the process has been to build a synthesis of the often contradictory plot threads in the shared universe (or common agora) of the mythological canon. Could a certain graceful spinner have been married Chiron before being present when Teiresias gained the gift of prophecy?

Any true hero would make the three significant injustices his or her cause to end and right. Heroes have to be more than marginally better than the society that produced them. In a purely fantasy setting (such as Clash of the Titans or Hercules) writers may ignore these issues.

As an author, I cannot in good conscience write a story in a setting that has these and other problems without said story being about proper address. With due respect to the tail-devouring snake, I won’t be giving up on Teiresias; there’s too much potential, too strong a message in the telling. I’m determined. The collective journey of heroes is, as it turns out, a staggered start. As my definition of a hero is somewhat strict, and perhaps superhuman, the song will have to be heard in the future.

Luck and inspiration has saved months of research and the purchase of several reference books from being in vain. I recalled a conversation I’d had with a friend about sociology and human nature. We’d concluded that very few notions (construed as race cars) ever leave the track. What resulted was an epiphany about a how I might craft an unexpected new tack on a cult sci-fi setting that’s long been a favorite of mine. Even more pleasing – the value of my work on Song can be included without much revision at all.

Many novelists and editors alike will tell you that crafting a story is about the choices made. Prioritization of one novel over another is not giving up. Simmering one while another’s on the boil is part of the process. An illustrator I am privileged to know once gave me good advice: the best outline for a story leaves the audience with no plot-holes to point to and no questions unresolved.


I’m very confident that the new idea will be enjoyable to write and to read. I’m equally certain I will solve the problems mentioned above and be able to return to the novel set in ancient Greece. One has and will inspire the other.



Oh, the places he’d been…

Today is the birthday of a man known as Dr. Theophrastus Seuss. I’ve more of an affinity for his work than I think I’ve reason to do so. It isn’t just Horton Hears a Who! or the one about all those fish that I remember fondly; the particular favorite is On Beyond Zebra!

Criminal Element has published a new essay of mine, in which I cover some of the less well-known details of Mr. Geisel’s life and career. In preparing for the article I discovered some details I’d either forgotten or never knew at all.

Now I want to see a biographical film. In the meantime, please consider reading the post with CE.




Graecum est; non legitur

Letters are fascinating. Why shouldn’t we find them so? Their shapes afford us a sense of order if not actual orthodoxy and by them – along with the sounds they represent – we attempt to make ourselves known. Letters are even how we identify ourselves.

As writing systems are essential to our having a recorded history, letters are as old as time. In his last fable, Hyginus states, “The Parcae – Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos invented seven Greek letters.”


The novel I’ve set in mythological Greece won’t be written in Ancient or Modern Greek but I have been making an effort to get the character names and certain terms correct. Effort at being thorough and accurate has often taken me to the area where fascinating letters become tricky things — in combination they invite pronunciation, spelling, and meaning.

During my formal education the pronunciation key in any dictionary made use of diacritical marks. Later the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) became the key of choice. Though there is an online English-to-IPA translator, I’ve yet to find one that works in reverse. I still have to compare IPA vowels to a diacritical chart.

dia v ipa

In addition to the story of Teiresias, another novel in development takes place chiefly in WWII-era Great Britain. This setting brings up an entirely new set of permutations of expression and a few slightly different vowels.

While on his third visit to England and attempting, among other things, to have Pennsylvania made a Royal Colony rather than a proprietary province, Benjamin Franklin devised A Scheme for a new Alphabet and a Reformed Mode of Spelling.

The premise of any phonetic structure – beyond illustrating pronunciation – is that knowing how a word sounds is the same as knowing how to spell it. Dr. Franklin removed c, j, q, w, x, and y. Six new letters were introduced. The rules are not included here but many websites provide them.

Franklin letters

It seems unlikely that Franklin’s scheme could have replaced the alphabet; it would have meant having to relearn to read and write for those who already knew. Dr. Franklin did give permission to another to try.

“As an independent nation, our honor requires us to have a system of our own, in language as well as government. Great Britain, whose children we are, and whose language we speak, should no longer be our standard…” — Noah Webster

Both men became more involved with The American War of Independence. Spelling and use of certain words were deliberately – and apparently irrevocably – changed. The British-import alphabet thankfully remained.

When not writing or involved with other arts and history, I sometimes explore the world of conlanging – a documentary about which was directed by a friend of mine – Britton Watkins. Conlanging is the pursuit of developing new languages and/or alphabets, usually for the sake of fiction.

Examples include languages of Tolkien’s elves and of Roddenberry’s aliens (developers include Dorothy Jones Heydt, Mark R. Gardner, and Marc Okrand). Mr. Watkins has also produced a very thorough and beautiful font for writing in Vulcan. The best-known real world conlang may be Esperanto, created by L. L. Zamenhof and offered with high hopes as “an easy-to-learn, politically neutral language”.

I hesitate to say that most conlangers use the IPA while developing their new languages but many do. This is particularly true of most of the dozen or so who’ve attempted a Circular Gallifreyan font. Exceptions include the systems by Loren Sherman and Rachel Sutherland, respectively. Their alphabets are the most commonly used by fandom.


All this to say — we may not have been looking at the symbols of the Time Lords from quite the right vantage point. Every letter – real or imaginary – is two-dimensional. Given time and relative dimensions in space, Gallifreyan letters may not be flat shapes; I don’t think it’s Circular at all. For the sake of art and of curiosity, I am developing a new system and will likely produce a font and/or Photoshop Brush Set. The guide will include IPA and diacritical alike.