Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Hope Spot #16 "Deconstructing the Cold Equations"

Last month we began to take a look at two developing genres called “rational fiction” and “rationalist fiction” in order to see what they might be able to lend to horror. This month we will continue by taking apart a story that has been both lauded and maligned, in order to teach by example. 

The core element of both rational and rationalist fiction is that “the rules of the fictional world are sane and consistent.” Some stories fail on both of these counts. Others manage to be consistent, but are far from sane. The following story is science fiction, not horror, but the lesson can be applied to any genre. 

The Cold Equations was written in 1954 by the author Tom Godwin. In brief, the story is about an emergency vessel that is being sent to deliver badly-needed medicine to a colony planet. The pilot discovers that there is a stowaway, which is an issue because the amount of fuel on the ship is carefully-calibrated and any additional weight will mean that the ship will not be able to land safely. Alas, the stowaway is a teenage girl who did not know this and merely wanted to visit her brother. Still, the laws of physics are the laws of physics, and since either the pilot or the girl must go, and the pilot is the only one who can land the ship, the girl must be thrown out lickety-split. “It has to be that way,” the protagonist says,” and no human in the universe can change it.” 

The story could make a good example of “paleo” rationalist fiction if it weren’t for a few problems—or rather the same problem, repeated over and over. As Gary Westfahl summed up: “Very poor Engineering.” On TV Tropes, the Headscratchers article for The Cold Equations is more than half the length of the ten thousand-word story itself. 

There is a puzzle, of sorts, in this story: How does one make sure that the medicine gets to the colony, so that nobody dies from kala fever? The solution, Tom Godwin asserts, is that the girl has to go. But there is a chair. There is a supply cabinet with, one might reasonably suppose, supplies. There are clothes, “identification disks”, a gun, paper, pencils, and other miscellany. The girl weighs about a hundred pounds; is there really no way to get rid of that relatively small amount of weight? An “answer story” called The Cold Solution sees the pilot going so far as to lop off some limbs. 

Let us assume, however, that there is not enough miscellany to toss out, that the chair cannot be removed, that lost limbs will put the pilot in shock so that he cannot do his job as a pilot, and so on. A puzzle that sought to portray a good person who was honestly trying every possible alternative—as the story clearly meant to do—should at least have its protagonist consider these possibilities, even if they became unfeasible. By skipping over these possibilities the story betrays that things are happening “solely because ‘the plot requires it’”, which rational fiction is rather opposed to. 

Even so, the story still fails on the aforementioned count of the fictional world being “sane and consistent.” They are consistent, certainly, but are they sane? Absolutely not. 

If stowaways pose such a danger, then the girl should not be able to say, “I just sort of walked in when no one was looking my way… I slipped into the closet there after the ship was ready to go just before you came in.” Something as simple as a locked door would have nipped this plot before it even started. Or a sensor that alerted the pilot to weight and “some kind of a body that radiated heat” before liftoff, instead of an hour later. 

Most radical of all, perhaps the society that designed these ships could rediscover a concept called “safety margins” and actually adhere to them. This is a principle that is basic to all engineering. Yes, the story breaks down completely and you have no plot at all, if there was a little more fuel on the ship. But while the rules of the story may be consistent, they apparently correspond to a greater world that is utterly insane. As Cory Doctorow says, the ideas in this story “present a kind of blueprint for disaster, a willful and destructive blindness…”  

As the story’s existence goes to show you, it is possible to write a tale whose logic goes out the window as soon as you start asking what sort of world it exists in. Indeed, since the editor sent it back three times because he disliked Tom Godwin’s “ingenious ways to save the girl” you can even learn that there are some people who will not accept a story that demands to exist in a reasonable world. Nevertheless, as can be demonstrated just as easily by the story’s reception (especially in present times), you still can’t make a story like that and have it be good

There is a glut of horror fiction featuring characters whose actions do not make sense, and who do not inhabit a world that makes internal sense. This is different from saying that a story about time-traveling robots doesn’t make sense on the basis of our world, which has a conspicuous lack of time-traveling robots. If there are problems with the internal logic of The Terminator then it is because, for example, we are never told why Skynet sent a robot to assassinate a woman in the past before her son became a threat, when an equally-viable strategy for a time-traveling AI would have been to simply start the war decades earlier.

Don’t take this to mean that the film isn’t good. Since we all have different tastes in fiction, and there is even a market for drugstore romance novels with nearly-indistinguishable plots, I can’t even say that The Terminator would have been an objectively-better film for somehow resolving this issue. All that I can say is that neither The Terminator nor The Cold Equations can be considered rational fiction, let alone rationalist.

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Hope Spot #14 Lovecraft and Existentialism

I cannot leave Yog-Sothothery alone. It calls to me. It demands a response. But my response is not an affirmation of its statement. It can’t be. Cthulhu is slumbering in R’lyeh, waiting to arise from sleep and death. Nyarlathotep dances to the tune of a million flutes. Indeed, it may be claimed with certainty that in the epilogue it shall be said of our world that darkness, decay, and the red death held dominion over all, and of the coleopteran race to follow ours that this, too, shall pass.
But I am crippled from properly appreciating this, I think. I am an existentialist, and in my existentialism I look out my window and behold the passing away of all that I love and the imminent reign of the Great Old Ones, and yet… and yet still I ask myself whether I shall have my eggs fried or scrambled this morning. In my existentialism, I cannot escape the matter of life, even if it will one day come crashing down to nothing.
The Mythos demands a response, and so I say this: that the presence of these things, standing at either end of our lives like terrible wraiths, does not invalidate the moments between. If men could survive the concentration camps and speak, as did Viktor Frankl, of “the last of the human freedoms,” the ability to choose how oneself will react within the limits of one’s effective agency—then the war is over and was only ever a lie to begin with. It is no matter if Nyarlathotep stands outside, doorknob turning in his grip. The question still remains: How will you act in this very minute, no matter how few or many lie before or after it?
In other words, Azathoth is. This is not to be disputed. But no matter the fact of his existence, as terrible as it is, there still remains the matter of life: what you are going to do with whatever amount of days and minutes you have left to you. After the world ends it may be that as much will have come of helping your neighbor as would have come from sitting on the floor for the lights to cut out, but it nevertheless feels as though they are not equal in the moment that they happen. Rejecting any choice at all, simply because one day it will amount to nothing, is a special kind of cowardice.
“Existence precedes essence,” said Sartre. Cthulhu is waiting in R’lyeh, hungering for your soul, but that does not prevent you from choosing how you react. You may die in the fetal position or with your head held high, and if that is the only choice that can be made then it is all the more important for you to choose well.
With a philosophy of life that is founded upon existentialism, I cannot view Yog-Sothothery as anything but an elaborate and terribly entrancing form of the Absurd. It is for this reason that I find myself drawn again and again to Lovecraft’s Mythos in both my reading and my writing. All of my work in Lovecraft’s playground is based upon approaching it, not nihilistically, but existentially.

Any human who comes in contact with the Mythos must decide zir stance on suicide, and any human who decides that ze is against it must answer the question posed by Viktor Frankl: “Why have you not committed suicide?” If one has not killed oneself then there is a reason for this, whether great or pathetic, and it is in the space of these two moments that my stories play out.

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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Things That I Like: Intensive Worldbuilding

You need to be intense with your worldbuilding, and here’s why: There are more or less two kinds of people who read speculative fiction.
There are the people who don’t care about the world and just want to practice escapism, and maybe a generic world is actually a good thing because they like the formulaic stuff. It’s predictable—this is why dime store romances all hit the same notes and you never hear any complaints from the genre’s fans.
Then there are the people who, like myself, find the biggest draw in speculative fiction to be the new world, because if all they cared about was interesting stories and character development and so on, they could find that in To Kill a Mockingbird and The Lord of the Flies.
In essence, you have people who don’t care about generic worlds and people who want something really interesting, well-thought out, well-developed. A preliminary and totally non-scientific survey is in the process of bearing this out.
You can’t count on selling to the first group. This is important to keep in mind. You can make the most formulaic dribble possible but let me tell you, there are another ten thousand stories out there that are just as formulaic as that one. You can’t stand out with that sort of strategy. If you become a spec fic success with a crappy world then ultimately it was just because you got lucky (or you had name branding, but that doesn’t come out of nowhere) and then the popularity fed on itself from there.
This means that the only kind of success that you can count on is what comes out of an extraordinarily well-developed world. And it is the problem with, say, Wheel of Time or Game of Thrones.
First, Wheel of Time. I have talked with fans who have raved about the series, and every last one of them has admitted that the world itself is nothing new. If you have read fifty other fantasy novels, then you already know the notes for this world. They recommend it on the basis of well-written characters, &c &c. But I can get that in Mockingbird. If I were a Type 1 reader, who was reading for escapism, then maybe this would be enough for me anyhow, but again, you can’t count on that. Wheel of Time got popular but it could have just as plausibly gone another way.
You can’t count on an underdeveloped world getting runaway success.
Game of Thrones has a similar problem. The way that the seasons work is kind of neat. The Others, and the fact that dragons both exist and were extinct for a good portion of time (this usually doesn’t happen in fantasy, remember) are also respectably interesting. The problem here is that it does not take me very long to read over all of the interesting worldbuilding in Game of Thrones and then… I’m done. My biggest thing about speculative fiction is the world, and I will suffer through a bad plot or two-dimensional characters for an interesting world (Hello, Lovecraft). If I can get the full experience of the world in a wiki binge, though, then I am not going to pay out my time to read twelve books.* If I want cray backstabbing and gritty crap going on in my story then I’ll just check out the historical novels section of my local Amazon webpage and get them for a penny plus shipping and handling.
Contrast this, however, with Discworld. The series has a higher word count than Game of Thrones and Wheel of Time put together, but I am still going to read every single book. Why? It is not just well-written. It does not just have a bunch of great characters. It also has a world that is so deep that to make a fully accurate map of that territory would be to walk the territory itself. This cannot be done with a wiki binge.
This is why I started reading Homestuck. I tried to do the wiki binge, and then I realize that I wasn’t going to be able to get it like I wanted to, not unless I was willing to sacrifice my time to a work that was longer than frikkin War and Peace.
So you need to build the hell out of your world. Metaphorically, anyway. If your world really does need a hell then for goodness’ sake don’t build that out of your world. Keep it in.
But the only way that you can be reasonable confident of success is if you can show the people something they have never seen before. As I said to someone else, do not settle for making your frost giants raiders, and your cloud giants peaceful and mysterious. And do not just make them fantasy Mongols and fantasy Buddhists, either. Take inspiration from those things sure, but do it like the world has never seen it done before. 

This is why, by the way, the world becomes ever more important as the series gets longer. I might be more willing to read Game of Thrones if there were just one book, and not a thousand of them, and each one big enough able to kill a cat.

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Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Hope Spot #13 Crunching Numbers and Building Ecologies, Part Two: Drawing Our Conclusions

Last month we started to talk about building the kind of supernatural monster ecology that would make sense, one that had numbers behind it and had some sort of internal consistency to it. If it took place in the real world, for example, then you couldn’t have more people mysteriously vanishing off the face of the Earth than actually do disappear.
We went into the subject in more depth but there are a few points that we should bring back so that you don’t have to go to another issue in order to refer to them:
  • ·         500 ml of blood is the most that you can lose without symptoms becoming severe and noticeable. 250 ml causes barely any change at all.
  • ·         We divided our example monsters into four categories: standard living types, who need 2,400 calories per day; standard dead types, who need 200 calories per day; active dead types, who need 500 calories per day; and wolf types, who need 4,080 calories per day.
  • ·         James Cole’s research tells us that a 143lb male contains 81,500 calories. Yum.

For the purpose of example we’re using vampires, but the ideas can be applied to trolls, goblins, or whatever you’ve come up with yourself (there are some interesting numbers to work with for Lovecraft-style ghouls, but that’s another topic for another time).

How Often Would Vampires Feed?

A vampire who drains 250 ml of blood from each person will consume 230 calories. A standard living type would need to feed on nine or ten people a night. A standard dead type would get away with feeding just once every night, and could potentially skip a meal every now and then. An active dead type would need to feed on two or three people a night. A wolf type would have to feed up to seventeen times every night.
For vampires who drain 500 ml from each person, simply halve these numbers. This will result in noticeable symptoms, however, so vampires who resort to this strategy will hopefully be draining volunteers who won’t wonder at their symptoms or else have some sort of way to mask those symptoms (they might produce a saline solution as a kind of waste product and inject this as part of the feeding process, for example).
It is also plausible that, with such tight demands, female standard living types may have a slight but noteworthy advantage over males if they have different caloric needs— at 2,000-2,200 calories a night, a female vampire would need eight or nine 250 ml servings to a male’s ten or eleven servings. The difference is even greater in wolf types, with females needing 3,740 calories a night (fifteen servings) and males needing 4,760 calories (nineteen servings a night).
What about a vampire who completely drains a person of blood, consuming (on average) 4,700 calories per person? A standard living type would have to feed every other night, killing 182 people a year. A standard dead type could survive for 23.5 nights on a single person, killing fifteen or sixteen people a night. An active dead type would only need to feed every 9.4 nights, killing about thirty-eight people per year. A wolf type would finally get away with eating no more than once a night, and could skip about every eleventh meal, killing 317 people per year.
Finally, let’s consider a spider vampire who was able to get 81,500 calories from a person (we are ignoring that some of this comes from the skin, but also ignoring that most adult males in the United States weigh more than 143 pounds). A standard living type would have to feed once about every 34 days, killing 11 people each year on average. A standard dead type could “live” on a single person for 407.5 days, killing less than one person per year. An active dead type would need to feed every 163 days, killing two or three times a year. A wolf type would need to feed about once every twenty days, killing around eighteen people every year.

So How Many Vampires Could the United States Support?

It all depends on which choices we’ve made in the past two sections, and a few other factors. If vampires can rewrite memories, then you could have thousands of standard dead type vampires taking 250 ml doses from people one night at a time without anybody suspecting, although they would have to be smart about it. In fact, three thousand would only need 168,000 people, meaning that they’re feeding on only 0.05% of the population.
Basically, with this kind of strategy your upper bound is limited only by how many vampires you think can move around without being detected, a matter which would probably be a couple of articles in itself.
What about vampires which practice total exsanguination? If we assume, say, two thousand vampire-related deaths per year in the United States, then this could support a population of perhaps 125 standard dead type vampires. Now we’re getting somewhere with all this number crunching, aren’t we? The same mortality rate could sustain ten or eleven standard living types, fifty-two active dead types, or six wolf types. According to the Law of Conservation of Ninjutsu, those wolf types are going be very dangerous.
Finally, how many spider vampires could the United States support? Assuming the same number of deaths as last time then even the hungry wolf types can get enough to eat with a population of 111 vampires. Alternatively, 181 standard living types, around 870 active dead types, or a whopping 2,234 standard dead types. In any of these cases, however, you probably don’t see vampires getting together and forming “covens” or “coteries” or whatever the cool kids call them these days.
These figures ignore don’t take into account that humans are not evenly distributed across the country, by the way. This is important.

What Kind of Adaptations Are Possible?

To segue directly from the last paragraph, we should talk about the differences between nomadic and settled types. Assuming that they kill in the process of feeding, vampires who move around will be able to hold a larger population than those that don’t. A single small town doesn’t experience enough unsolved murders or disappearances in order to consistently support even a standard dead type, unless there were some sort of conspiracy in place to prevent word from getting out. On the other hand, small towns as a whole do make up some of the total murders and disappearances which would be necessary to support these vampires, so they can’t simply set up shop in the big cities alone if they’re going to have the maximum allowable population.
Combining these strategies would not make use of available resources as pure nomadism, but it would still be pretty good. Under these conditions one might see big cities holding a small number of vampires (who probably have either staked out territories against each other or work cooperatively as a pack) while others, who are not strong enough to push out an established vampire, wander from small town to small town. They may establish broader territories in this context and take pains to keep other nomads out of the region.
Vampires who spread the burden of their support around the population, feeding a little here and a little there, would be depending on a sizable proportion of a small town’s population. For example, Male donors and female donors would have to wait six and eight weeks respectively to replenish their lost blood if drained of 250 ml, or twice that for 500 ml. This means that a standard dead type vampire who drains 250 ml a night could get by with a herd of 42-56 people, while a wolf type who did the same would need a herd of 714-952 people in order to avoid an overdraw on any of its accounts.
At any level this could be a difficult proposition. Even the standard dead type vampire who drank only a little every night would have to maintain relationships with several dozen people. If its nature as a vampire is known then any one of these is a potential security risk. Vampires may create literal cults in order to account for this, set up in places where their victims are unlikely to be believed (i.e. asylums), or rely on innate abilities such as a natural anesthetic to mask their feeding (and preferably something to mask the wound) or some kind of psychic power to modify the memories of their victims. In modern times it is also possible for a vampire to outright claim to be just that, counting on people to consider it an eccentric or member of this or that subculture, and collect a group of willing donors.
Hibernating bears experience a 75% drop in metabolism. If vampires go into something like hibernation when they’re asleep, and they are only awake for eight hours every night, then wolf types might need only 2,040 calories a night, allowing them to sustain a higher population than standard living types who didn’t hibernate. We could conceivably have a spider wolf type that hibernated eleven months out of the year and whose waking periods were marked by a feeding frenzy, killing… less than two people a year on average (its yearly caloric demand would be 153,000).
Dang. Hibernation is pretty neat!
Finally, vampires who need to feed often may mimic the behavior of vampire bats. These animals, who need to consume up to half of their body weight in blood every night and will die if they miss two nights in a row, will regurgitate some of their meal for fellow bats who have been unsuccessful in the night’s hunts. At lower levels of feeding (250 or 500 ml per person) this behavior would probably be most common among standard living types and wolf types, as the two dead types have low enough energy demands that it is unlikely that they would need help to begin with.
Regurgitation becomes more probable among vampires who practice total exsanguination. Standard living types need to feed every other night, exactly as vampire bats do, while wolf types would need to feed every night but, every two weeks or so, could afford skipping a meal entirely. Vampires who eat everything, however, would feed so infrequently (even among wolf types) that the sharing of meals would not hold such dire importance except for when a general famine was in effect.

No matter the level of feeding and demand for energy, this behavior presupposes that vampire are not solitary predators. Whole cities may support just a small handful of them, all working together, or nomadic packs may stake out larger territories than their solitary brethren would have need to do.

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Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Idea Emporium #10 A Norse Mythos [3/3]

Of the Elder Ones, who died that men might live, we have spoken.

Of Innan, which watches all and moves through all, we have spoken.

Of the devourers, which are bound and will be unbound, we have spoken.

And yet there are others, of we have not spoken.

Those Which Steal the Dead

In death we become food twice-over. The maggots of the corpse, the dwarfs, grow out of our spiritual corpses and feed further. These are the mi-go.

Or so it is said.

It is not that they feed upon the dead, but that they steal away the dead for their purposes. The dead are refitted, born anew as meat-machines to do the will of their re-animators. Through the dead, their puppets, the mi-go act.

The mi-go do not hail from this space. They do not come from this world, nor from any other star which could be reached in this universe. The light of this space is poison to them, and its radiation sows disease in them. In the brightness of the moon they are blinded and made lethargic. Beneath the glory of the sun they fall and cannot move, and die in hours. And even the starlight gnaws at them by inches.

Their artificial skins are clumsy things, not fit for the work which they desire to do in the bowels of the Earth. So they reside in shielded chambers in the hills and on other worlds, and from these places direct their puppet-dead to do their work. The dead are sustained by elixirs drawn out of the body of Yig who is bound beneath the sea, and this is why they have come to this world to do their work.

Here is truth: The mi-go do not waste their tools. The body is one thing, and the mind another. But of what they do to the minds of the dead there is nothing which should be spoken.

The mi-go make pilgrimages to the cities of Hastur and Shub-Niggurath, but these are not their cities. They dwell in labyrinthine complexes of mines and forges far beneath these places, close to the planet’s core. They hear the whisperings of Azathoth who is bound beneath the mountains, and the words of Nyarlathotep who is his master’s will, and they make parley with these powers. Their dealings with such beings have made them wise beyond comparison; the price which they have paid for this is not known.

Their Majesties of Colour

There are things which learned men call Colours. These things come from the place between the stars, and to them they always return, but in the time between they sit in the midst of life and suck it up. Not even Innan knows why it is that they do this, whether it is that their spawning is the purpose or only a byproduct of the process.

But as they sit and sup at the world, they pose the risk of leaving contamination behind them. There are times when this contamination weakens, decays, and is no more. Just as often, these fragments find a place in the life around them, trading predation for parasitism. But they often die, parasite and host together, and it is only very rarely that stability is attained.

In the books of Innan they are called the Ielb. To many sorcerers, they are called ylves, or elves, or aelfen. They are those in whom the Colours have adopted a totally new mode of existence, and even of reproduction. They are beings of sickness and madness, leaving the seeds of death with a touch and driven to madness by the pain and the rotting of their minds. Without the Colours, they would surely die.

They seek to spread. They do so through their children, calling for wives and husbands from among their followers, those who would call upon them for the sake of their powers. The pollution of the Colour continues in their line, weakened but still present. These ones are totally mad, for they have never known anything but the fragments of Colour which are in their bodies.

When one of the Ielb has grown very old, too old for its Colours to sustain it, the death of old age finally comes. When this happens its Colours are still unable to return to the stars, but sits and infests the corpse. The followers of the Ielb take the Colours and divide them, and eat, taking this sacrament into themselves so that their own lives may be extended.

The Wild Hunt

Some say that they are dwarfs as well, or black elves. It is said that they are servants of Innan, or worshipers of Cthulhu. Perhaps they are all these things.

They are feasters on the dead, vulture carrion kings. They scour the world as the mi-go do, but the thoughts which they steal away are destined to serve a less unspeakable purpose: the recovered minds of the dead are a mead of inspiration for the Wild Hunt. The thoughts of the dead are consumed to expand their knowledge and in some unknown manner preserve their bodies.

The chief of the Wild Hunt is one-eyed Onsdag, the child of Ve. Onsdag’s body was left to rot away beneath the ocean’s surface a million years ago. It is the creature’s mind which now survives, and because of the secret of this technique it is Onsdag alone of all the Wild Hunt whose body has no need for the minds of the dead. Onsdag leads them onward for—entertainment? to build an army? to simply do what is necessary to survive from day to day?


One day, the sun will grow cold. The keening of the mi-go will spill out across the face of all the world and Azathoth and his Children will be unbound. And the Wild Hunt will stand against the hosts of Azathoth, until Onsdag is devoured by Cthulhu, and rest have been felled by Yig who taught his secrets to Onsdag and was betrayed.

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Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Hope Spot #12 Crunching Numbers and Building Ecologies, Part One: Laying the Groundwork

A quick point before we go any further: throughout this article and the next, I’m going to be using the term “vampire.” However, what we’re going to talk about can be applied to werewolves, ghouls, or just about anything else that eats people or at least kills them on a regular basis for some reason.
In order to adapt these principles you might not have to do anything more than change the names I’m using so that instead of vampires I’m talking about “draegathi wurm-walkers” or whatever you have in your story. Or you might have to make a few more calculations on your own. If you want to figure out what’s going on with werewolves, for example, then you might need to figure out how many people are killed specifically during the full moon, or how many calories a werewolf needs to consume in order to offset the massive energy expenditure that comes from shapeshifting— perhaps a werewolf who doesn’t eat a few people every month, or the equivalent, will starve to death.
In order to start figuring out how many vampires, goblins, or wendigo wizards your world can support, you have to figure out (1) how many people are disappearing or being murdered to begin with and (2) the dietary needs of your monsters. The first one isn’t as necessary if the story isn’t set in our world but the figures are still good to look at. As one poster on /tg/ stated, “There’s a point where it goes from ‘business as usual’ to ‘Oh there’s a lot of crazy out there’ to ‘Holy shit, please not me tonight please not me tonight…’”

How Many People Go Missing Each Year?
  
There are a few ways that you can go about determining the population level of your vampires. If they kill in the process of feeding, then one thing that you might want to do is take a look at Missing Persons reports and work backward from there.
From Crime Library we learn that 2,300 missing person reports are filed every day. However, most of these are eventually resolved. Todd Matthews, from the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, described how there were 661,000 cases filed in 2012, but 659,000 were resolved one way or another (and “very quickly,” Matthews adds), leaving 2,079 cases unresolved. Half of the juvenile disappearances, going back to Crime Library, involve runaways and another quarter are abductions by family members. “Only about 100 missing-child reports each year fit the profile of a stereotypical abduction by a stranger or vague acquaintance,” to quote from Crime Library. This doesn’t tell us very much about the statistics for adults, who comprise 44.6-56.1% of all missing persons (depending on whether you include “juveniles between the ages of 18 and 20”).
Narrowing the numbers down any more from here is pretty difficult. Let me know if you can find statistics on the number of people who are found actually alive, rather than just dead, because I haven’t been able to. If we want to take the 2,079 as a rough estimate, however, assuming that some of those are actually conventional kidnappings but also that some discovered corpses are vampire-related, then the next step is deciding how often vampires have to feed. Feeding once a week will allow a population of about forty vampires, while feeding daily means that the United States can support about five vampires.
You can add unsolved murders to boost the population. According to an article from 8 News Now, up to 6,000 murders go unsolved each year, about 47% of all homicide cases. Keep in mind, however, that “cities with a large number of drug or gang-related murders tend to also have lower solve rates,” which means that you can’t pin all the deaths on vampires.
Because I don’t have the numbers on how many solved missing persons cases turn up a dead body, I can’t give a firm upper bound on the number of vampires that you could possibly have for any given rate of feeding. I hope, though, that this will give you some sort of idea.

How Nutritious Is Blood?

Coming up with a random number for how often a vampire has to feed can be unsatisfactory, however. You might have to do it if, say, your vampires feed off “death energies” or something like that, but if you’re willing to deal in calories then you can attach your numbers to something concrete.
Liang-Hai Sie, a former intensive care physician, calculated that there were 9 calories per ounce, basing this on a calculation of 6-8 grams of protein per deciliter. David Mark goes on to give a more complete accounting. You can check out his post “Calories in Human Blood” but what it comes down to is that a 500 ml donation of blood holds “roughly 450 calories,” although it actually comes down to 425 calories in female blood and 460 in male blood. Diabetics would have a slightly higher count, with more sugar in the blood, but the amount is so negligible that they are unlikely to be sought out preferentially. Males, on the other hand, clearly would be.
What happens if you lose this or that amount of blood? A Class I hemorrhage (up to 15% blood loss) doesn’t do much to you. According to “The body’s response to blood loss,” from the journal Vox Sanguinis, “Minimal physiological changes occur at this level. A patient may exhibit mild anxiety, but heart rate, blood pressure and peripheral circulation largely remain unchanged. Urine output is only slightly decreased. The body can compensate well for this degree of haemorrhage. This situation is mimicked by a blood donation.”
In a Class II (15-30% blood loss), visible symptoms include paleness in the skin, coolness in the extremities, an increase in heart rate, and a decrease in blood pressure. Simply replacing the lost blood with a saline solution will alleviate this. In a Class III (30-40% blood loss) a transfusion is necessary, and in a Class IV hemorrhage “the situation is immediately life-threatening and within 15 min a mortality rate of 50% is to be expected.”
It seems unlikely that a vampire would regularly feed enough to cause a Class III but go no further, since the end result would be the same. Most likely, vampires either limit themselves to inflicting no more than 30% blood loss or go all the way. An average male weighing 150 to 180 pounds holds 1.2 to 1.5 gallons of blood, which translates to 9.085-11.356 servings of 500 ml each. This means that a single adult male can provide between 4,179 and 5,223.76 calories from his blood. Draining 500 mil from the same individual, as mentioned before, would 460 calories, and draining 250 mil (in order to make symptoms almost unnoticeable) would provide 230 calories.
However: What if vampires did more than drink your blood? For the most extreme example, let’s take the idea I had awhile back of vampires who fed by liquefying their victims’ insides like spiders, leaving behind only the skin (and maybe bones, I’m not sure yet). According to the research of James Cole, who was interested in shedding light on prehistoric cannibalism, a body weighing 64.9 kg (143 pounds) contains 81,500 calories. In his breakdown Cole states that the skin provides 8,294 of these calories (which means that my spider vampires wouldn’t have access to that). Looking elsewhere on the web garners estimates of between 77,000 and 110,000 calories. These are laypersons drawing calculations from the armchair, though, and sometimes they start by taking the caloric value for other species, so we should be safe in taking Cole’s conclusions over any others. 
As we find in working from missing person reports, there are some vague areas. Cole could not get precise breakdowns on some areas of the body, the paper tells me nothing about how many calories my spider vampires would get if they dissolved the bones too, and the numbers are for a 143lb male, not one that is 170lb or 200lb or what-have-you.

How Many Calories Does a Vampire Burn?

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 report, a moderately active female aged 19-30 needs 2,000-2,200 calories per day. A male of the same age range and activity level needs 2,600-2,800 calories. If they are sedentary, these figures work out to 1,800-2,000 and 2,400-2,600 calories respectively. Assuming a moderately active vampire and averaging the numbers, we find that a vampire needs 2,400 calories per day. We will call this the standard living type when we come back to it.
What if vampires, as might befit the undead, don’t need to burn calories simply to stay alive but only expend energy in order to move? This seems plausible enough, if you want to do it that way. If it is true, then maybe we should subtract the numbers for the sedentary lifestyle from those for the moderately active lifestyle and keep the difference in order to get a rough idea of how many calories would be expended from moving around. In that case we go down to 200 calories per day. If we substitute the average for active lifestyles (2,700 calories, from 2,400 for females and 3,000 for males) then we get 500 calories. We’ll call these the standard dead type and active dead type respectively.
Before we move on, though: wolves burn up to 70% more calories than other predators of their size. Whether vampires are unusually active (for example, in stories where they are exceptionally fast) or have some other reason for burning additional calories, let’s use this as the basis for a kind of vampire that burns more energy that we would expect: the wolf type burns 4,080 calories.
Next month we’ll go into what these numbers mean for feeding behavior, maximum sustainable populations, and so on.

Links to some of the material mentioned above:
·         Tinyurl.com/bloodcalories: “Calories in Human Blood” by Mark David
·         Tinyurl.com/mablood: “The body’s response to blood loss” by M. A. Garrioch.

·         Tinyurl.com/cannibalessay: “Prehistoric Cannibalism: An Act of Nutritional Necessity or a Result of Socio-Cultural Conditions?” by James Cole.

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Idea Emporium #9 A Norse Mythos [2/3]

By the works of the Elder Ones, who were before and will be after, were the devourers created. From the ichor and the being of the Elder Ones were the devourers created, and so it is that they are cousins to the Elder Ones.

And it came to pass after their creation that the devourers grew in number, and came to war with the Elder Ones many times. And they were cast down, time and again, till one of their number, whose name was Azathoth, came and made parley and blood-truce with the Elder Ones.

But then Azathoth was cast down and imprisoned in the core of the Earth, where the heat was too great for him to bear and it sickened him like the most potent venom. And the children of Azathoth were bound likewise.

And none know the reason for their binding, whether they were taken in by treason or were betrayers themselves. But the Elder Ones claim their story, and the devourers their own, and if any know the truth then it is Innan— but Innan reveals nothing, and who can say but that the treacherous act was wrought by the very same?

Azathoth and Nyarlathotep, who together are the Father of Them All

Bound in the depths of the Earth is Azathoth, the uncrowned king who lays across a tablet of stone, runes inscribed upon it in the devourer’s blood, and runes cut in its flesh by the tablet’s shards.

It is well known to certain cults that the mind, though it be born of the flesh of the body, may divorce itself from the same and be projected into the world. Most may only project the sensation of themselves, sight and sound and, among the powerful, the feeling of their projection. And even so, many can only be perceived but dimly by the unlearned, and few there are who can work their own will without possessing a body of flesh and bones.

This is called the filgya, according to the speech of Innan, whose own powers rely on a technological refinement of this principle.

Azathoth is one that is counted among the most powerful of projectors. The body of Azathoth lays bound, and even so it projects itself in the manner of a witch. This filgya is no mere extension of awareness and being, but may take physical form, and the name of it is Nyarlathotep.

Nyarlathotep goes to and fro across the face of the world, doing the will of its master, who is itself. It is thought by many that Azathoth will not be unbound by Nyarlathotep’s machinations, but there is much power to be had under the heavens, and who is to say that Nyarlathotep may not devise a way to make the sun grow cold before its time?

It is thought that, according to the records of Innan, humans will survive for many millions of years, but on this matter Innan is not specific. All that is said is that humans will survive to the end of the days of the Earth, but as for the manner of the sun’s dying, whether its aging be hastened or not, this has not been given to us.

Cthulhu, who is the First Child

Cthulhu! who dwells bound in the depths of the sea.
Cthulhu! who is like a three-faced wolf, with as many limbs as he has teeth.
Cthulhu! who is male and female both, and mother and father to its twin children.

To hear the sorcerers, Cthulhu is the moon and Cthulhu is stone. Or perhaps it is only as still as stone, beneath the waves where its brother is likewise imprisoned.

This was the manner in which it was bound: The mi-go were sought to create a prison fit for the devourer, and chains with which to bind its body and bind its mind. And then it was lured therein, with a thousand Elder Ones, whose minds were fit prey and bait for the devourer. Cthulhu consumed them, or consumed their thinking-selves, leaving only thoughtless bodies, and when it turned to depart the trap had already been sprung and it was sealed away.

But the children of Cthulhu were not bound. They escaped, and bred, and their children bred among themselves likewise, and they also took wives and husbands from the children of men, so as to keep their gene-lines pure from the slow rot of inbreeding. And these and their servants look forward to the day when they shall free their distant parent, and with it dance and rejoice and devour.

If it should be that Nyarlathotep shall bring the sun near to its grave before its time, then surely it is the children of Cthulhu that shall aid it in so doing. And then Cthulhu will be unbound, and at the last it will take the sun between its jaws, and then night will come forever to the Earth.

Yig, who is the Second Child

Yig! who is called Father Sea-thread.
Yig! who is sustained by his dying!
Yig! who calls to the doctors of lives eternal, speaking in their sleep.

This is not the only name by which Yig is known, for he was also called Bastet and Sekhmet in ancient Egypt, and Apep and Setesh. And he was worshiped as N’chushtan by the prophet-judge Thutmasha, who murdered a man in Egypt, and as the North Tezcatlipoca by the Aztecs.

It is Yig alone of all his family who was slain by the Elder Ones, and yet in his death he yet persists. There are ways of existing beyond death, and these secrets were perceived by him. Though he lays unmoving in the depths, bound lest he take up his body yet again, the projection of his mind still flits like a haunting ghost through the cities of the world, and speaks to those that are susceptible to his voice.

His wounds are too great to for life to be sustained in his body were he to return to it, and the chains too strong for him to be free were he to live again. But the doctors of lives eternal, who act in his name and according to his counsel— these will surely work out his resurrection and his return.

And till this time he is succeeded by his nine daughters. The names of all of them have not been given unto us, but only three: The Pitching One, That One Through Which One Can See the Heavens, and Bloody-Hair. The names of the others, and even whether they still live, are not given to us.

Shub-Niggurath and Hastur, who are the Third Child

Shub-Niggurath! who is the Hidden King.
Hastur! who is the dweller-below.
Shub-Niggurath! Hastur! which are the two-in-one whose true name is not to be named.

Beneath the surface of the poles, between the heat of the Earth’s core and the heat of summer upon the surface, are the cities of the Cold Ones, which are called the Abode of Mists, and their names are Keylo and Relex.

These cities were before Irem, the first city of men, but now there is only lifelessness, where the Cold Ones and their children sit in deathly hibernation. Their servants descend only occasionally, in the deepest winters, in order to hear the will of their dying-undying masters, to pass into the way of the cult and carry out the will of them that wait below. The walls of the two cities are in grievous disrepair and whole passages are blocked off now, their supports crumbled and collapsed.

There is darkness and mist here, and the whispers of the Hidden King. There are rivers here, or waters that flow through the decaying pipes, and in the waters are the many sicknesses which the Cold Ones bred in their war against the Elder Ones, and which might serve them again.


Surely they are all bound, Azathoth-Nyarlathotep and their children. Surely they will be unbound.

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