Worldbuilding Wednesday 5/5/21: The Best of Twittersnips
xxxx(B-Movie Madness)

Add an “e” to the end of Arous and you get Arouse. Subliminal advertising?

I have to admit this old poster is pretty creepy, not because of the flying brain with its two beady eyes, but the Satanic face of the child with its filed, oddly spaced teeth. At least, I think it’s a child.

Old, schlocky, crowd-pleasing, over-the-top movies are a special interest of mine, which is why I randomgenned a lot of them. From 2017 – 2020.

 

Imaginary B-movies

Martial Arts
Warrior of the Left Foot Way
The Dirty Bodyguards
Million Scorpion Revolution
Monkey Kick Boy
Siege of the Swordmasters
Science Fiction
The Day Planet X Caught Fire
Rise of the Venusians
Horror
The Vault Raiser
The She-Devil vs. Lucifer
Frankenstein’s Cheerleaders
Eye of the Wendigo
The Zombie that Ate the 5th Dimension
Dr. Death vs. Satan
Killer Demons from the Pyramids
1960s Exploitation
Pussycat Ka-Pow!
Vampire Love-In from Beyond
Satan’s in the Streets
The Rider Who Ran to the Demonstration
It’s a UFO Orgy, Baby!
The Love Bug Game
Warhol
Turn Me On, Hustler
Noire
The Jealous Hour
Israeli Comedy
The Last Schnitzel in Golan Heights
Spaghetti Western
The Last Lemon Tree in Mexico

Megabibliophobia

.

What do you call the fear of large libraries?

 

Eclipse-Part-II-by-Jie-Ma

Eclipse Part II, by Jie Ma

 

massive-library

I don’t think this place is real, but I’m not sure….

 

Titanic-Library

The Library, by Laurent Menabe

 

Worldbuilding Wednesday 4/28/21: Supermarkets

 

Supermarket, early 1960s

Supermarket, 1990s

How merchandising has changed. The top view from the 1960s shows inefficient reach-in freezers that wasted energy and pink, pastel signage. Thirty years later, food display centered around kiosks, from which customers selected fresh-prepared offerings for dinner. (The pic is from the now-gone Seattle chain Larry’s Market.) With COVID-19, intimacies such as these are now in the past, and who knows if they are ever coming back?

This illustration from the 1950s is oddly prescient, save the consumers compile their orders from home.

Anyway, back on topic, grocery stores are probably mentioned by name more than any other type of business establishment.  “I’m going to Safeway. Need anything?”

These names tend to fall into three categories. First, those named after the founders: Ralph’s, Wegman’s, Albertsons, etc. If the founder is still alive, they will often represent themselves in advertising media.

Then there are the obscure ones, like A&P, an abbreviation of The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, which is a mouthful. Two Guys, Piggly Wiggly, Pathmark, Acme, and Publix follow this style. If you didn’t know they were grocery stores, you’d be hard-pressed to figure that out. Acme, through no fault of its own, found itself identified with the supplier of Wile E. Coyote’s malfunctioning roadrunner-catching gadgets.

Then, there are the names easily recognizable as food suppliers, with magic words like fresh, shop, market, and the like, such as Foodland, ShopRite, and QFC (Quality Food Center.) These are the kind I was after here, if you need an imaginary grocery store chain.

 

Supermarket Chains

Food Diamond

Star Fresh

Freshland

FarmersMark

City Farmer

Rebel Mart

Thrifty Fresh

Country Box

Shopping City

Prince Saver

Castle Fresh

Cart Topper

Sooper Wolverine

Country Turtle

Markdown City

Thrift Crazy

Sand Dollar

Spy Buy

Food Ferry

Fresh Creek

Food Trails

Fresh Berry

Queens Natural

Farm Friend

A Devilishly Good Pizza

Fresh from Satan’s oven.
(Cover art for
The Bad Samaritan by Robert Barnard)

Dissing on The Dispossessed

I’m not going to snark on the book itself here, only the covers. But in doing so you’ll learn a fair amount about the book!

First of all, this one, which to my mind is the classic one.

It’s grand, sweeping, colorful, exciting. It boils the tale down to its basics: two worlds, very different, close but not touching. One is blue and green, lush, parklike. The other is a cratered red moon, which, though it looks uninhabitable, has an oxynenated atmosphere with white clouds. Purple and blue swirl between the two like auroras. Alex Ebel, the artist, has literally incorporated all colors of the rainbow. The tilted typeface adds to the dynamism.

Though it looks real enough to be literal, it’s representational. The landmasses of Urras, the lower world, do not correspond to Ursula K. LeGuin’s map of the planet, and the surface of Anarres doesn’t either.  Like the novel itself, it’s meant as an allegory of the Cold War, the division between capitalism/West and communism/East. It’s an Atompunk novel through and through in how it examines ideologies and allegiances and what happens when a groundbreaking scientific discovery shakes things up.

As such, the technology of The Dispossessed lies firmly in the Atompunk age. Though there are spacecraft capable of interstellar travel, they are limited to the speed of light and take years to reach other systems. On-planet, there are no cell phones or widespread computer use. The lifestyle on Urras, the Earthlike world, is that of Western Europe in the 1970s. Travel is by train, there are still quaint chocolate shops and mountains like the Alps where sheep are still herded by villagers, as well as political riots and revolution in the “African” country of the opposite continent. This isn’t quite a failure of imagination on LeGuin’s part, as the whole novel is allegorical, in a sense.

The planet of Urras. The only map I could find was in Spanish.

There’s also an amusing depiction of a college faculty party the hero of the novel Shevek, the physicist inventor of the ansible (basically, a real-time interstellar radio) which skewers the various “types” one might see at such a party, and at which Shevek thoroughly embarrasses himself by vomiting into a tray of hors deuves after being led on by his patron’s hot-to-trot sister, Vea. Le Guin spend more than a little time in acadamia, remember, and the novel also works very well as a send-up of two different university systems.

Anarres, also in Spanish.

Anarres has more land than water, so  it is more arid. Despite this, the Russian feel to it is very strong. When a famine hits, it reads like a Gulag run by the prisoners. Anarres tries to be independent of its parent planet, Urras, but for things it can’t produce itself, it trades metals and minerals from its mines. No one owns property on Urras. No one even has the concept of owning property, as when the settlers left, they invented a whole new language which struck out the words for it. There’s no marriage and children are raised in a kibbutz system. (Hmm, come to think of it, it’s more the early days of Israel than the glory days of the USSR.)

Anarres also is limited to 70s era technology. As in the movie Colossus, there is a master computer system that helps run things, such as assigning work and allocating resources. The computer also gives children their names, simple, randomly-generated words of five or six letters each. It’s not explicitly stated by LeGuin, but the reader can assume that for an anarchist, non-governed society, an impartial AI is the way to go over humans with their powerlust and egos.

This later cover has the same design as the Alex Ebel one and captures some of its vitality, but the palette is blah and so are the planets. This Anarres doesn’t even have an atmosphere, and where are the seas? It looks like Earth’s cratered, gray moon. And what what’s that red shadow, a coming eclipse? That wasn’t in the book.

(Actually, Anarres and Urras were described as “The Cetians” — because their star was Tau Ceti —  with the implication they were a double planet system that revolved around a common center of gravity known as a barycenter.  Though one planet might have seemed like a moon to someone on it opposite. In the novel Anarres is repeatedly referred to as “the moon” which, while not incorrect, isn’t really technically correct either.)

This cover is one of those WTF ones that has nothing to do with the contents of the book. I suppose the artist was told it contained Machiavellian political machinations, so he or she depicted literal Machiavellis in a psychedelic Peter Max style. Whatever.

Needless to say the characters in the book didn’t dress like Medieval Italians in floppy velvet hats and embroidered tabards. Anarres has no fashion at all, that concept having been eliminated with the concept of property, and I can’t even recall LeGuin even wrote what people wore there.

Urras fashion, at least in the nation of A-Io where the action takes place, is described as being very different than Earth’s, both for contrast with Anarres and to add a touch of exoticism that lets the reader know this is an alien society. Both sexes shave their heads completely and women wear long, pleated skirts with bared breasts, which they cover up with a shawl when in public. Makeup, high-heeled shoes, and jewelry are also feminine attire — gemstones in navels and magnetic gems which stick to the skin. (In LeGuin’s later short story “The Day After the Revolution,” also set in A-Io, the attire of Mand, another kingdom of Urras, is stated as long kilts for men and wide trousers for women. ) Anyway, the only thing I see on this cover related to what’s in the book are a computer and a bald-headed person, but one has nothing to do with the other.

Now if you want fashion, here’s fashion.

This Romanian cover depicts Vea, the bored sister of one of Shevek’s Urrasti patrons who tries to seduce Shevek at a cocktail party. Alternately, she could be a representation of the whole “decadent” society of Urras. The artist correctly depicts her shaved head, bared breasts, and shawl, but livens them up with clunky jewelry to look more exotic. She’s posing before a… well, I don’t know what it is. Maybe an ansible, the device Shevek invents. There’s the prow of a Viking dragon-head ship in the background as well as a spacecraft. This certainly livens up the text.

This cover is equally wacky, coming across more like Dune, with a blimp. In fact dirigibles are mentioned as being used on Anarres, but only in a throwaway line in one paragraph. I suppose the man is supposed to be Shevek, the book’s physicist hero, but he looks more like Stillgar with his stillsuit and noseplug that’s flying loose.

A much better depiction of Shevek, plus the maps! Shevek looks a lot like tortured proto-punk singer Iggy Pop here, but with a monastic feel as he looks skyward in trepidation. Nice job.

There’s a whole bunch of covers like these which are plain dull, consisting of a planetscape, sun, and moon. There’s not much to be said about them except they are all typical of this one. I bet it took all of two minutes for the art director to create.

This cover tries to connect a piece of common street graffiti to the novel. But the anarchism in the book, and the anarchism espoused by street artists, are two very different concepts. It seems like a ploy to lure readers in, frankly.

This Spanish cover has the same urban feel but it’s miles more effective. It depicts the novel’s ending line, “… but his hands were empty, as they had always been.” The open hand, unclothed male torso, and blue chalky strokes create a melancholy but powerful image.

This Turkish cover also does a fine graphic job, depicting a variation on the twin planet theme by depicting an anthropomorphized sun face with a whimsical moon looking back. But it doesn’t quite fit the mood of the book.

This French cover is… uh… another Viking ship, this one with a naked lady prow, and she’s wearing a horned helmet? The spacecraft behind it sports some kind of solar sail, which is mentioned fleetingly in the book, but overall, this image is just inexplicable.

I’ll close with this piece of fanart by Melissa Elliott.

Click to see larger

 

 

 

 

Worldbuilding Wednesday 4/21/21: Fill Your Bookshelf

The Bodleian Library at Oxford University

Sometimes when you DM or write fantasy, you need to list books in a character’s library.  Books that sound obscure, magical, historical, singular. Tolkien has his imaginary Book of Redmarch, Lovecraft his Necronomicon and Pnakotic Manuscripts. Here’s a randomgenned list of some more.

 

Library Books, Fantasy Style

A Man’s Tome of Migford

Four Books of Uvasus

Violet Libram of the Albino

The Dracburn Grimoire

Tome of Command

Whistler’s Almanac of 1032

The Rhondash Encyclopedia

The Blue Book of Scarplum

The Book of Graylion

Whipping Bible

A Chanting Guide to Salgain

The Rejuvenating Omnibus of the Monks of Kessinweep

Book of the Becalmed

The Lovewood Guide to Canine Behaviors

The Brisingap Album

The Fifty Books of the Jinsingramin

Green Almanac of the Dwarf

Book of Bright Stars

Falgar’s Nine Folios of Evil and Corruption

The Unfinished Manuscript of Clanverloss

Myrlandra’s Book of Spycraft

The Clytebant Folio

The Scarlet Text of Ruddinester

Impal’s Almanac of Illusory Substances

The Well-Read Spellmaster’s Book of Advanced Fabrication

Lovedark’s Monograph

Treatise on Drunkeness and its Relation to Small Insects

The Caratheon Book of Legendary Heroes

The Nine-form Ledger

Eugata’s Treatise on Advanced Geometry

Tome of Greenglaze

The Dark Book of Nunsark

The Iplan & Fess Guide to Illusions

The gaming site DndSpeak has a list of more (admittedly on the parody side, such as Alice’s Adventures in the Underdark).

Buttscratcher

Even barbarian heroes get itches in the most private of places.

 

Worldbuilding Wednesday 4/14/21: The Best of Twittersnips
xxxx(Animals)

What would you call this little critter that looks to be part tiger, part squirrel, and part pussycat?

I’m sure there are similar undiscovered species lurking somewhere on this earth or another.

These names are culled from my Twitter feed, from the years 2017 – 2020.

 

Imaginary Animals

Mammalian predators
Gray-marbled Tigral
Bat-Eared Leopard
Lynxion
Zoyojhe
Birds
Mute Amethyst Parakeet
Emerald-Capped Tumcan
Double-Eyed Widgetoot
Black-Chinned Macaw
Poisonous snakes
Calico Desert Viper
Blue Island Krait
Copper Mulgaska
Scarlet Machete
Fish
Gumbalunga
Spitjenny
Bubbletooth Sculpin
Maiden Crab
Pink-lipped Flounder
Peahead Bream
Large herbivores
Rhinocitor
Aguacorn
Chelthant
Maszitar
Sprinzbeek

Skele-pops

These candy-colored lollipop skeletons would make any human drool.
(Artwork by Jason Limon)

 

Worldbuilding Wednesday 4/7/21: Atompunk Computers

Atompunk computers deserve their own nomenclature. Running on vacuum tubes and early transistors, and programmed with miles of magnetic tape and punch cards, in the media they were mostly objects of menace. Many classic SF stories of the age revolve around artificial intelligence taking charge of humans and becoming their overlord.

In the movie Colossus: The Forbin Project, pictured above, a computer programmed to safeguard the U.S.A.’s nuclear weapons develops sentience and manages to take over the world. Released in 1970, but set in the late twentieth century, the designers obviously took care with the machine’s design, basing it on the computers used at the time. Still, to today’s audience, it looks like nothing more than a bunch of colored buttons set in a wall, monitors based on microfiche readers, and a few teletype machines.

Interestingly the movie depicted several women and a POC man as scientists who run the machine (with the aid of those trimline phones in the background, I’m sure.)

A year after Colossus was released came a nifty made-for-TV movie called Paper Man, which starred perennial actor Dean Stockwell. A group of college kids use a computer called Q-7 to create a “paper man” — a fictitious human being with all the right stats that exists only the database. They use it to apply for credit cards and the like, but the computer winds up killing them. The promo commercials imply the murderer is an actual robot-like being made of paper that walks around.

As a child I watched the whole thing, winding up disappointed that it wasn’t a Frankenstein for the computer age. I vaguely recall the computer builds the paper man only at the very end, only for Dean Stockwell to knock its flimsy self down. Or maybe the computer spat out a series of punch cards at him. I’ve heard the whole movie is available on Amazon Prime, so I’ll have to watch it again to find out.

The computer Q-7 itself is correctly depicted as being in a campus basement, but still seems too photogenic for the time with all its flashing lights.

Here’s a pic of an early IBM model at Iowa State University for comparison.


If you need a villanous computer of your own, here’s a randomgenned list.

 

Computers of the Atompunk Age

Turboscholar

Cyclogenius

Intelli III

Mentat 9

The Iron Scholar

Alphawizard

Dr. Astro

Telethinker 5000

Sim-Wiz 87

Simscholar

Mechano-Wiz

Delta Sage Mark II

Encyclo-WIZZ

Mentastic

SMART-O-VAC

Intellithink

Transintellivac V

RAMiac 6

Sola-Brain X

Ceregram