midnight oil…

Growing up I was not introduced to worship and faith in what I would describe as a helpful manner. That having been said, several members of my extended family were quite religious. The manner of their practice focused on the prohibitions and consequences rather than anything that could be described as love or virtue. I did get the lesson that we – human beings – were to oppose evil but there wasn’t any clear indication of an effective methodology.

Early on my experience with God distilled to an unrelenting and judgmental view of humans, in which they were essentially worthless, while giving them the loftiest of assignments. It isn’t remotely logical even to someone in grade school.

By the time I was twelve years old I divorced myself from attending church although, at that age, that wasn’t the phrase I used. I just stopped going. Theology became a cerebral, philosophical matter for me. For a time I dismissed faith as belonging to the same category as superstitious belief in fairies or magic. I did not embark on a life of deplorable behavior or debauchery. That path seemed dangerous; avoiding it was not based on the avoidance of sin. The concept of sin was also grouped with legends and fables.

As a subject theology (in a number of ways in which humanity has approached it) has stayed with me as an object of fascination. The notion of “evil” remains an idea that I’ll spend time pondering. A worthy handbook on the subject would, I think, provide 1. a concise but through definition of evil, 2. training on how to recognize it, and 3. procedures for to do when it found. Scripture and religious texts are actually fairly vague on these points – apart from praying to and praising the divine.

I have from time to time asked people how they address the first point. The most frequent answer is that evil is defined as “anything that causes harm”. On face value that makes sense but razor blade can cause harm. I wouldn’t call them evil. Given the assignment to resolutely stand against evil, usually no matter the cost – to attack it continuously until it is banished – it seems to me that evil has to be something so universally heinous that most people would agree, “Yeah. That has to go.”

From an intellectual stance and for more than a decade I used a formula in place of “evil”. What almost everyone else used that term to describe I would evaluate as a combination of stupid, crazy, and/or cruel. That does cover a wide range of objectionable behavior and wretched results. Were I to include a fourth element it would probably capture the willfully contrary and/or ignorant.

Stupidity does not require endless war; it can be “cured” with ongoing education. Insanity can be mitigated including by the hospitalization of those beyond treatment. The correction of cruelty falls in part within our education system and, failing that, our justice system. History has many example of how to correct those who deliberately oppose truth: shame, guilt, and other forms of peer pressure – resulting in exile as a last resort.

Evil would therefore be something outside those categories. I’m afraid I cannot provide Article I of a Moral Constitution. The above, I think, accounts for some of the things that evil is not. Recent research does, however, remind me that there are a few hundred named demons in past. There are fewer than 20 named demons in the Bible. Renaissance fascination with the occult provides most of the rest of the roster.

I once read that “public belial” used to be a crime. Unfortunately, I cannot find any proof of that now. Rather than working on the three-point handbook I may gradually add to a list of which demon represents what societal sin.

Belial – assholes generally; Mammon – unrestrained capitalism and obsessive greed; Baphomet – obstinate know-it-alls (à la “My mind is made up. Don’t confuse me with the facts.”); Dagon – anything that teaches, glorifies, or encourages poor behavior; Moloch – those who oppose and obstruct another’s effort to do an agreed upon good; Abaddon – fearmongers and those who foster enmity instead of amity; Pythius – peddlers of alternative fact and those who obscure truth.

sin-sign

In these times it is interesting to note that in 1818 Jacques Collin de Plancy gave Rimmon as the name of the demon ambassador of/to Russia. There’s another point of trivia from esoterica that I can no longer connect to a source. The above image of a symbol for sin. It is identical to one of the alchemical symbols for sulphur apart from the “rocker” at the top. Use it in good health.


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strangely familiar…

Since the release of Pokémon GO, I had been attempting to understand just why it had become a social media phenomenon. “I just like it.” That’s the most common answer given by pokénthusiasts – who are not just existing fans of the 20-year franchise enjoying a new expression of it – when asked why they play. At face value that is a perfectly reasonable explanation. Attempting to probe deeper may prompt defensive responses and/or accusations of being a hater of one type or another.

I have lately been borrowing a friend’s Pokédex to emulate their experience with the game – hatching, catching, and watching evolutions. There have not yet been any training nor any battles fought. The animation and use of color are certainly part of the appeal. The use of Google Maps in navigating the augmented reality fascinates me. First of all, it’s a very clever shortcut in coding I’m sure. It also appeals to my long-standing (and previously documented) love of maps.

Many – not all – of the creatures are cute and I cannot really claim to be immune or opposed to cute given my Pandora’s Pets creations. Like the Pets, Pokémon has a deep lore from which to draw. Admittedly, the mythology I’ve been developing for my little monsters isn’t as fast as that of Pokémon – yet. And just like the Pets, which are designed to help people with specific emotions, each of the pokémon might prompt a new thought.

One of the newest pokémon – released in Sun & Moon this past November – is Lunala, an emissary of the Moon. While preparing this post I discovered her and found myself saying, “Okay. When she’s in Pokémon GO I’ll play.” And then I found myself asking why I’d had that reaction. That is apart from her seeming particularly badass.

lunala.gif

She reminds me of Starhawk from Marvel’s original Guardians of the Galaxy comics (yet to appear in MCU films) and the Elven Man-o-war ships from the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Spelljammer campaign setting.

starhawk trim.jpg

With a sci fi novel in progress and the intent to retrieving the ancient Greek myth story from the back burner, I’m not going to let myself get distracted. A few new ideas have popped up while examining this bit of zeitgeist and they’ve been filed away. But spending a little time at the PokéStop has reminded me of a few other strange things.

Johann “Trithemius” Heidenberg was an abbot known for compiling dictionaries and writing about cryptology. History also holds him to be an occultist, chiefly due to misinterpretation of his book Steganographia (written c. 1499). The term used as the title means, in essence, the art of hiding a secret message within a presumably mundane text. Trithemius chose to present this manual as a means to summon spirits that might then be forced to transmit messages over great distances. Depending on one’s perspective, the result would be clairsentience or a worldwide mystic web.

tritemius-wheel-v-pokeball

Trithemius’ decoder wheel and a poké ball.

Most of the abbot’s contemporaries seem to have missed the point – a lesson in code – and focused on the magic. The abbot was an opponent of the historical Dr. Johann Georg Faust and Steganographia inadvertently inspired a 16th century craze: catching demons. An advisor and astrologer to both Queens Mary and Elizabeth, Dr. John Dee, was all in – even designing a mystic sigil to represent himself and certain hopes. He was the first to use the phrase “British Empire” – and then as an aspiration.

John Dee would certainly have known about a number of spirit-catcher manuals including Steganographia, Ars Goetia, and Pseudomonarchia Daemonum by Johann Weyer. The latter two grimoires provide names and descriptions for a number of demons (72 and 69, respectively) along with the advantages of summoning and binding each one. King Solomon is said to have done this to speed construction of his famous Temple. Why not by Elizabeth I to expand the reach of Britannia?

medieval-pokemon-trainer

12th century Pokémon trainer waiting on that egg to hatch.

The origin of these spirits may have been the result of a misconception but they seem to be as difficult to “put back” as the woes and evils that sprang from Pandora’s box. Goetic names turned up through the French Revolution and now are mentioned in comic books and manga, TV shows and roleplaying games. At least half a dozen names that John Dee might have mentioned to his sovereign have been used in Pokémon’s cousin – Yu-Gi-Oh!

I’ve been aware of these opposite numbers to the Shem ha-Mephorash (המפורש שם, the Qabalistic hidden name(s) of God) since 1982 but from nothing more arcane that the DragonQuest rpg by Simulations Publications, Inc. (SPI). The spirits that Dee hoped to harness appear in the works of Wayne Barlowe since 1998.

In a conversation with my business partner, Leanna Renee Hieber, about all of these notions she made the connection that the Elizabethan obsession and pokémania had a lot in common.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

staryu-and-decarabia-copy

Decarabia as seen in Shakugan no Shana and Staryu from Pokémon.

Peculiar creatures and imaginary lore seem to have always been poking around the marginalia of our minds and zeitgeist. This was true when – in the mythology of the founding of ThebesCadmus fought a dragon and later became (evolved into?) one. The borders of Medieval manuscripts, including apparent wars with rabbits and snails, demonstrate that weird beasts would not disappear even given 3000 years. Pokémon may be the latest expression and if so folkfauna may evolve forever.

And we may never know why they keeping turning up, precisely why we like them, or what they mean. All this to say, I’m not completely sure that I shouldn’t at least nod a little toward all of this in Astral in some way. Hmm. I’m not completely sure I’ve a choice in the matter.

run it up the flagpole…

With apologies to Oskar Pernefeldt and anyone who has imagined a flag for planet Earth, in Astral the banner for M.other E.arth is based on vexillology, the study of flags. Symbolism in a wide range of forms has fascinated me at least since the mid-70s. Relevant to this post, I recall an illustrated dictionary that devoted to pages to “Flags of the World”.

Rules and preferences for flag design share a heritage with heraldry. To a degree, the process for describing of a coat of arms (i.e., blazonry) can apply to flags. The proper display of a flag is based on the orientation of shields.

Given present international law, national flags will only appear offworld under certain conditions. The Outer Space Treaty† provides that “outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.” The treaty does not limit businesses and private citizens but a flag with a logo on it is not a flag – it’s an ad.

uespa

Fictional flags do not have to follow such laws either so we’re free to imagine what we’d like. Star Trek imagines a Unified Earth and Gene Roddenberry modeled his United Federation of Planets on the United Nations. The flags of United Earth (and its Space Probe Agency) reflect this inspiration. It’s often easy to see the sources of other Earth banners.

fict-flag

In Astral, while imagination permits anything, I’ve attempted to stay close to good flag design and a little heraldic knowledge.

flags

The flag of the Hamarchy of Keid, which includes the principal world on which Astral is set – Dalim, is sky blue and black with a silver crane and at least eight stars in the center. In heraldic terms the colors suggest a society that values wisdom, aspiration, and peace. The crane refers to an early Roman view that cranes enjoyed a cooperative society and took turns at watch at night. I like this because, although T. H. White came long after Pliny the Elder, this theme is echoed in White’s Arthuriana.

The Ophiuchid Cantons are almost two separate governments and will likely grow further apart. During the story, however, they share a flag. It is blue and silver with an ermine canton, or field, in the upper left corner. The fictional designer of this flag meant to demonstrate independence from M.E. along with a love for truth and innocence. There is subtle defiance in this.

Initially a part of the Cantons, Federalist Arcadia’s political emblem stands for a sincere and dignified demeanor while its citizens have little connection or allegiance to M.E. The linked angles toward the right show additional values of efficiency and pragmatism. In some heraldic traditions and in the opinion of M.E. the red-violet blush on the flag stands for treason.

me

The final term for the “Solar Empire” or the territories of M.E. hasn’t come to me as yet. Commonwealth is the leading contender but we’ll see. The coat of arms for the original human homeworld and her extended family of colonies is a golden sun in a green field meaning life and fertility with a black chevron representing prospect in and ever widening reach into outer space. The symbolism here being a mind elevated in hope – with protection and generosity for all new settlements.

How all societies present themselves in their best light will show up in well-designed flags. These four in Astral (and one other without an official flag) will try to live up to the values and virtues outlined above. How close they come to their own ideals is part of the story.


The 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies.

Pt. Being…

radial-30One of my habits – bad or not – is a tendency toward complexity. In the late 80s my coworkers and I were asked to fill out the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator. It was not made a requirement, though some on the team viewed it as such. I was intrigued by the concept of sorting personality types into sixteen broad categories based on what seemed to be a relatively short questionnaire.

Of the categories, my personality type turned out to be ENTP* which means, according to the “test”, that I could be expected to be primarily interested in understanding the world. The MBTI also suggests that I enjoy debate and playing devil’s advocate.

tangled

Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers did not go on to say that I’d be attracted to intricate charts of relationships such as social media webs** and find visual thesaurus entries fascinating. If they had guessed that I would have these affinities they’d have been spot on.

Etymology and other fields of origin study are a large part of what occupies my musing when not seeking to craft entertaining worlds or unusual sculpture. My great grandmother once told me that to begin gaining a skill or cultivating a talent was to “first admire it”. I cannot remember not admiring eloquence.

But – as it turns out – having a silver tongue does not depend on strict adherence to every rule of grammar or an ever-expanding vocabulary. Effective communication can only be measured in terms of audience comprehension. I’ve always regarded “dumb it down” as a chore for myself and an insult to others. “Make it more accessible” seems more like a mission and a courtesy.

This is not to say that I won’t pause from time to time to hunt down a very precise and/or obscure word. There is a PDF of C. S. Bird’s Gradiloquent Dictionary on my hard drive. Somewhere in my collection of books is a physical copy of The Superior Person’s Book of Words by Peter Bowler. (I was once accused that I felt I was a superior person based on owning a copy of the latter.)

I will probably always find phylogenetic circular cladograms nearly equivalent to sacred geometry. I do, however, have to remain vigilant in keeping the famous advice of Clarence L. Johnson in mind. He, better known as Kelly, was the engineer who headed the Lockheed Skunk Works from during WWII until 1975. It is believed that he originated the principle of “Keep it simple, stupid.”

all

The MBTI structure indicates the types are based on preferences. Although my extrovert score is very high, it isn’t a constant. INTP is the introvert mode and that state is described as having the motto of “eschew obfuscation”. Sometimes that can feel like what I’m doing – all while trying to make an actual point. This means a lot of reminders to myself after enjoying the exploration of what may be to return to mission and work of what can be. That is enjoyable too.

venn


* ENTP people draw energy from interactions with people and tend toward the abstract while relying on logic and objectivity. We also like to keep our options open. That sounds more like me than Sagittarius.

** I haven’t found an app or add-on that can build the “hairball” illustration of 1,672 interconnected Facebook friends.

The Keirsey Temperament Sorter is a reasonable approximation of the MBTI, if you’re curious.


 

and back again…

Visualization can get sometimes get in the way of manifestation. I had started to develop a map of a hypothetical planet in orbit around the larger star in the Alpha Fornacis binary system, a location in Astral. What does the story need from such a map?

While I was in high school Ralph Bakshi’s animated version of The Lord of the Rings was released. Some educators including my English teacher seized the opportunity to introduce a classic of modern literature. There is, of course, the famous map of Middle-Earth of which there are now countless variations. Pauline Baynes, trained as a cartographer during World War II while a volunteer with the Ministry of Defence, did the original work.

J. R. R. Tolkien was very impressed by Miss Baynes’ talent though some of his friends suggested that her work reduced his “to a commentary on the drawings”. He viewed her mapmaking as presenting a “collateral theme” and introduced her to C. S. Lewis. Some of how we view Narnia is still influenced by her imagination.

Maps tell stories just as novels do. If used in conjunction they must help tell the same story. Does it help show how long and/or arduous a physical journey is? Are there warnings about potential dangers along the way? Is the map equivalent to a trail of breadcrumbs away from Rosina Leckermaul or a length of thread leading back to Ariadne? Proper use of a map helps shape the narrative and defines the characters.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m very pro-map. One of the things I’ll catch myself wondering when I pick up a science fiction or fantasy novel, “I hope there’s a map.” As a fan of fiction I think I rather expect a nice, fancy map. But why map α For Aa?

Building an illustration of the network of Earth’s five dozen future colony worlds helped establish the sociopolitical environment of Astral. The concerns and attitudes of the major characters grew out of my understanding of how humans had spread into interstellar space. Part of the motive of the murderer stems from the star map.

In a setting where terraforming is somewhat commonplace – and the character of any given planet can therefore be changed to suit settlers – there’s less need to map the planet’s surface. Moving from future city’s public transit station to another seems far less important to map out when some of the characters have already traveled more than 20 light-years before the story begins.

I’ve done animations of rotating fictional worlds before but I’d forgotten how time-consuming that can be. From time to time now I will have to ask myself, “What does this contribute to the story?”, which is a polite way of asking, “Are you wasting your time on this detail?”

Dalim-planet-anim

This afternoon I remembered something I’d made eight years ago. In Astral, the locations that matter are those along the way in pursuit of the murderer and where justice may be meted out. Less spinning globe and more floor plan, then. And I won’t need to sketch out any rooms; real buildings are everywhere as a menu of locations.

Hotel scene

From preschool on, we’re told that imagination is a virtue. It is, in fact, the first tool of any artist whether with images or words – unless you happen to be one of those lucky people for whom a blank page or canvas is a Muse in itself. In order to invite and guide a reader to explore any new world, the author must be a diligent scout first. A writer of any sort owes those who may follow his or her lead not to be distracted along the first trail blazed.

From the end of May 1985 to the day before Halloween of 1992 (first on HBO and then shown by USA Network), each episode of The Ray Bradbury Theatre began with the author’s description of himself as a pack rat of things that helped him dream stories into being. The introduction concluded with Mr. Bradbury saying, “And the trip? Exactly one half exhilaration, exactly one half terror.”

If a map helps along the way it is a valuable tool. If not it’s another item of clutter.


straight on ’til morning…

Respect and trust are commonly referred to as being earned. Other aspects of human interaction are sometimes included but only these two are held in quite this regard. We speak of both, in a sense, as social commodities.

When doing so, it is often part of a critique of someone’s behavior being insufficient to warrant such credits. We also take this stance as a reminder to those who demand admiration or belief.

Imagine if society had a literal system of accounting for behavior and personal qualities. If human interaction were directly comparable to an economy, what currency buys respect and trust? What can they in turn be used to purchase? Imagine this Confidence Exchange.

Desire would drive this market just as it does real financial systems. Reputation plays a role in these hypothetical stocks in the same way real investments are effected. Given that forms of monetary transactions predate recorded history, the idea that we’ve been participating in the Confidence Exchange (and without knowing it as such) all along may not be far-fetched.

Although coin and paper currency would come later, money existed before most early legal codes. Both Hammurabi and Ur-Nammu dealt with the role of money in civil society (among other matters, of course).

The scales of the market were borrowed to serve as the near-universal representation of justice. There is then, still, an implied pessimism in the symbol – from back in the traders’ stalls where proof of a good deal was required by real measurement.

Spoken language predates barter but for the entire course of recorded history our thinking has been driven by market-based factors we don’t spend much time considering. Case in point, how we spend our time, not to mention the idea that time is money, may have grown up with the economy more than any other aspect of civilization.

There is no symbol for the intrinsic value of a person or society. There are no signs for loyalty or honor. The Anglo-Saxon and Scandic systems of weregild may have provided small, financial comfort in the aftermath of loss but the cost in coin could not reflect the nature of the person(s) lost.

Religious symbols represent institutions, tenets, and adherents but rarely (if at all) any specific virtue. Where are these signs?

It won’t catch on but I have an idea for a symbol for Hope and Optimism.

On April 12, 1981, Space Shuttle Columbia stood on Launch Pad 39A. I was in my last year of high school and four generations of my family sat in relative silence listening to journalists and scientists trade jargon and speculation. They too fell silent when the shuttle began to rumble. With seven seconds to go, the hydrogen burn-off igniters made it look like they sparked the launch into being.

For several minutes we sat without a word. My siblings and I hadn’t seen the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs; everyone else in the room had. To them this launch seemed different. Human desires that had survived on little more than hope for 15,000 years were arcing into the sky.

Finally, the eldest person in the room, my great grandmother, spoke. “When I was a little girl they brought milk to my house in a horse-drawn cart.”

I was then and remain truly awestruck by that observation. It’s probably the only aspect of my point of view that has a timestamp. If the space shuttle is a horse-drawn cart how astonishing will the future be?

So, I offer the space shuttle as a symbol of the value and virtue of hope.

Shuttle-for-blog


 

let’s make it a good one…

Astral is my first effort at a sci fi novel since high school. I don’t have any of the scripts or books I wrote then with one exception and while the retained short story is not The Eye of Argon it isn’t The Time Machine by any stretch.

As noted previously, my science fiction preference requires space travel. But what about the rest of the world(s) in which the story takes place? We’re quite unlikely to invent any propulsion system that could make reaching exoplanets feasible without seeing advances in other scientific and technological fields. By the time any visit to α Centauri is made, it seems probable that we might also have taken a significantly more active role in our own evolution.

Astral won’t be a big bucket into which I’ll pour all the science that appeals to me. However, the characters in the novel will consider many  machines yet to be dreamt of to be common, everyday things. Part of the world-building has to include a fairly thorough understanding of the societal repercussions of fictional innovations. What will it mean if we can travel faster than light and have mastered manipulation of the genome?

Opinion of human civilization 500 years ago can range widely. Should our emphasis be on the artistic achievements of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo or on the rise and impact of Imperialism? Is it more important to note the wars and plagues or the contributions of Martin Luther and Galileo Galilei? In 500 more years what will be the state of art and thought? Human nature may never change, despite our technological sophistication.

By the time audiences first took seats in the Globe Theatre in London and other people were excavating Pompeii near modern Naples, what humanity was and probably would always be was already on full display – fully developed. The fact that Shakespeare and Vesuvius still interest us may prove this point.

There will be more than a few exceptionally dark, perhaps ugly moments in Astral. Tonight I’ve been pondering which aspects of the characters who inhabit one human colony find beautiful and how they find it in their lives.

Any moment in time is both great and horrible if viewed from a wide enough point of view. What sort of future we create and whatever tales we tell about it depend – as it always has – on what perspective we adopt.

Imagine


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