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.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Idea Emporium #8: A Norse Mythos [1/3]

This month and the next two we’re going to making some changes to Lovecraft’s Mythos, taking inspiration from Norse mythology. We’re going to play fast and loose here, just warning you. Going back and forth between Lovecraft and the Norse until eventually we take a flying leap away from both.

As always, this is free for the taking. Use it in a book or a short story. Grab half of it, twist it around like it did to Lovecraft, and then smoosh it in with another pack of ideas. It’s all fine.

Fallen Giants and Oceans of Blood

Many billions of years ago the Earth was with form, but as yet was lifeless, for there was “naught but a yawning gap, and grass nowhere.” Then came the Elder Ones, which call themselves the Ymacyo. They were explorers, not colonists. They subsisted on the produce of the authumla tanks, which recycled their waste, and there abided for many years.

And then it came to pass that one of them, whose name was Yima, was betrayed and slain by its friend, Ve. Its corpse was disposed of, never to be found, and the rest of the Elder Ones departed soon thereafter, fearful that they had come into some kind of curse.

Their descendants would not visit again for a long time.

All this is according to what is written in the libraries of Innan, whose recorders and curators are from before the world was, and from after it will was. And thus it was, according to the will of one that was nameless, who was in the body of Ve.

The Cord-men of Innan

Inann is not, but was and will be. For it does not abide

They have been called the Great Race of Yith and, thus, Yithians, but that is the name of their homeworld. Their people do not call themselves Yith, any more than humans call themselves Earth or Earthers, but Innan. It means something like “blessed” or “exalted,” but with a tense that implies an ongoing and yet-to-be-completed process, rather than something that has occurred in the past.

There is no difference in their tongue between the bodies of the people and their culture. For a species that propagates by transferring some of its minds to a set of entirely alien bodies, they are unconcerned with molecules. Innan are Innan because they have the culture and learning of Innan. And if we are to refer to them at a specific point in time, or their political territory, we would do well to call it Innan-guard.

 It was one of Innan, whose mind had been projected years in the past into Ve’s body, that slew Yima. Innan did not originate from Earth, but they abode there for a time, both before and after humankind, and they arranged the death of Yima so that its corpse would provide the raw materials from which life might spring forth in the oceans of that world. And this was so, that Innan might have bodies in which to abide for a time.


“Magic” is a word that refers to many things. Magicians work with principles, according to their knowledge, and this is all that magic is, the production of the miraculous through mundane means that are nevertheless unknown to most.

To some it is the pipe-playing which calls heralds of Nyarlathotep. To others it is the use of old technology from before the rise of humankind. Some are binders, who must know the desires of the bound to have success. But to most, it is a writing.

There is no human alive that can translate the words of Innan. Some glyphs were handed down to us by Innan, or by older races that had been given them, and others were stolen away, remembered by those who had been taken to Innan-guard itself and had seen its libraries. But it is known what may happen when a certain glyph is marked down.

When you write a message to a time traveler, it doesn’t need to get the message right away. Probably, your message will be received, and though it be in thousands or millions of years, Innan will be able to act on it all the same. While we do not know exactly what a glyph means, we may have a rough idea of what is being requested. And sometimes, if it fits with the unknown agenda of Innan, the glyph will be answered.

Some write the glyphs in ink or carve them into stone. More valuable, though, is the knowledge of the glyphs as thread. Before Innan departed from Yith, they were blind, and their records were made in the form of threads, not unlike quipu. Although Innan are wholly incapable of using the system when they are in certain bodies, they treasure it throughout all times and are more willing to answer the calls of those that also know it.

This is the name of the glyph by which magicians identify themselves: Kunna. It means “to know by heart” and “to have insight in the knowledge that has passed away.”


This is the end of the Earth and all that inhabit it. It is when the sun grows cold, and the surface of the Earth becomes tolerable once more for the Cold Ones that have inhabit the frozen places in the depths of the sea and deeper still.

Azathoth will be loosed, and his herald will go out before him. Cthulhu will be loosed from his chains. Yig will uncoil himself and breach the surface of the waves. Hastur and Shub-Niggurath will ascend from the buried halls of Kelyo, which is before Irem.

The outposts of Innan which abide at that time will be driven out, and the records kept there destroyed, to be remade at other points in time and space. The remnant of the Elder Ones will be destroyed and all their children with them, by their cousins and their thralls, and the world which was life-filled by Yima’s spilt blood will be made clean and barren once more.

And it will come to pass that in the waste will dance the myriad children of the Cold Ones, until these too pass away, and go out to other worlds. And in the emptiness of the waste there will be left only one being, who is neither Azathoth nor Nyarlathotep, and neither their children or their chosen. And its name is not given to be known even unto Innan, and for this cause it is known simply as The One, who is alone, and reigns alone, and will be alone from eternity to eternity.

This is the end and the way of the world. Foretelling is merely recalling according to the memories of those who have gone further down the river of time, and then returned. Thus, let it be remembered, for it is written even as it happened, as observed by Innan which was present and beheld it all.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Things That I Like: Cosmogonical Fiction

Things That I Like: Cosmogonical Fiction

What’s that, you may ask? Let’s start out with a few examples. Spoilers will be everywhere, so be warned.

Unknown Armies is a game that divides itself into three levels: street, global, and cosmic. In cosmic-level games, the players are trying to live their lives so as to imitate particular Archetypes strongly enough to ascend to a higher state of existence and become one of the 333 members of the Invisible Clergy. When their ranks are filled this universe will come to an end and a new one will be born under their direction.

Nexus War and its replacement Nexus Clash are a pair of browser-based MMORPGs that are about a conflict taking place after the end of the universe. The player characters are people taken from various worlds and points in the history of the last universe, and placed in a battlefield made partly of eternal planes and partly of post-apocalyptic flotsam. Their actions strengthen and weaken the various gods (and fixing things can be as useful as killing your god’s enemies, if he’s the craftsgod). The strongest god out of the nine will be the one who will exert the greatest amount of influence in creating the next universe. This will affect everything from how many spatial and temporal dimensions exist to how death works (or doesn’t) to how integral violence is to the very fabric of reality in that universe.

Homestuck is a really, really long webcomic (658,000 words and counting) that is, basically, about these kids who play a game called Sburb that sends them into another world. In the process this destroys Earth, and their actions in this other world will contribute to the creation of a whole new universe.

A Dry, Quiet War is a bit off from the others in that there is a war at the end of time— it’s literally called “the Big War at the End of Time”— but it isn’t being fought to determine the nature of the next universe. Rather, in crazy stable time loop shenanigans, the war is being fought in order to determine the nature of this universe. As Colonel Bone explains, “In the future, we won. I won, my command won it. Really, really big. That’s why we’re here. That’s why we’re all here.”

What do these have in common?

There is a conflict being fought by persons or groups. They may be fighting each other, as in Unknown Armies and Nexus War, or against the environment or another group which has no chance of influencing the universe, as in Homestuck, where the Dersites can only prevent the creation of the new universe, not twist it to their own aims.

The conflict generally involves an amount of violence, but violence typically isn’t the only factor. 

  • In Unknown Armies you have to act in a way that befits your Archetype, and acting against this can actually reduce your power.
  • In Homestuck, catching frogs is one of most important tasks out there, and building houses is also a pretty big thing.
  • As mentioned before, in the Nexus games something as simple as repairing or building a door can help out your side.

The participants generally ascend to greater power in the course of events, whether or not they are directly responsible for creating the new universe or merely facilitating it:

  • Characters in Unknown Armies gain godlike powers.
  • In Homestuck, Sburb’s players have the potential to ascend to the “god tiers” and get other abilities along the way,
  • The champions of the Elder Powers in the Nexus games can become angels, demons, vampires, and more.
  • Those who fought in the Big War at the End of Time are almost like eldritch horrors by the end. Some of this is merely technological, such as how Colonel Bones’ nerves have been replaced by wires, but then there’s stuff like how he kills somebody so that that the other guy is plain wiped from existence.

Finally, those involved may have to destroy this universe or a part of it in the process of creating the new one. Indeed, destruction is necessary in three of the above four, and in two of those the forces of creation are apparently convinced that they are an IKEA and all universes must go.

These stories are to be distinguished from games like Mage or Esoterrorists, or stories like Fritz Leiber’s Change War series because the nature of this reality is set in stone. Even if you’re fighting for this universe’s nature, as in A Dry, Quiet War, there’s really no hope of changing the outcome. You’re just fighting because you fought, and it’s impossible to change time no matter what, or there will be other reasons for you to fight, or breaking the time loop does bad things to you but to everybody else in the timeline-as-it-should-have-happened it’s as if nothing different went down (as in Homestuck but also as in The Men Who Murdered Mohammed).

What’s the point of writing all this out?

I think that these examples represent a legitimate pattern of story. Hence why I bothered to give them a name. But, and here’s a point, I had to give them a name. It’s a real pattern, but not one that’s been recognized yet. Probably because it is, I’ll freely admit, pretty minor.

But these can’t be the only stories of their kind. Are there any other examples that come to mind? Or common elements that I’ve missed?

(And does anyone think that it’s an interesting enough pattern to use for a story, or am I the only one?)

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Things That I Like: A Few More Magic Systems for the Taking

 We return this week with, well, a few more magic systems. And to round them out, here’s a link to an old story of mine, which is as much overview of a magic system as it is creation myth: A Legend of Creation.
  1. The Multitudinous Way
The financial astrologers are not the only power in their world. In some opposition to them (not so much morally but ideologically, for their respective magics depend on wildly variant world-views) are those that consider themselves Icewalkers, or Driven, or Joktanists, or the followers of Ishmael’s Way, or nomad-princes.