Worldbuilding Wednesday 11/28/20: Scooby-Doo

Scooby-Doo meets ASFR

If you were an American child of the 1960s, I can’t emphasize how awesome Scooby Doo, Where Are You? was when it debuted on Saturday Morning TV in 1969. It was radically different from anything that went before. The animation was top-notch and the storylines more complicated than animals chasing each other around with hammers. The colors were super-groovy and saturated greens, purples, pinks, and reds, with darker, more threatening tones for the supernatural backgrounds. The characters were more realistic, with their own catchlines and quirks, and reflected the hippy age that was occurring all around them with miniskirts, munchies, rock music interludes, and a psychedelic van.

Like a lot of kids I went cuckoo for Scooby-Doo. When the American moon launches became a yearly thing, I imagined myself in the NASA control center, parked in a chair before one of those little TVs on the console, watching, you guessed it, Scooby-Doo. Paradise.

The genesis of the cartoon, and later media franchise, is a fascinating one. A young watcher of the show might have thought it completely original, but it actually has older roots dating back to 1940s radio serials and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis – the character of Shaggy based on Bob Denver’s depiction of Maynard G. Krebs in particular. That most people today know of Scooby and not Dobie Gillis is a tribute to the creators of the show, Joe Ruby and Ken Spears.

The Scooby gang have been through many changes and incarnations through the years, but the basic idea remains the same: Freddy, Daphne, Velma, and Shaggy hear of some creature or haunting and try to find out what’s going on. Wacky hijinks ensure. They set a trap to catch the supernatural being (which is inevitably botched up somehow) and unmask them as a regular person… a disgruntled neighbor, a smuggler trying to drive people away, a magician having his last hurrah. The villain is arrested and the kids celebrate. End of story.

Later shows mixed it up with new characters, including the much-derided Scrappy-Doo, and at some point the gang stopped uncovering fake monsters and began mixing it up with real ones. The latest movie out of the franchise, Scoob! Uses computer animation to tell the story of how the characters found each other and teamed up, saving the world from Cerberus, the giant three-headed dog.

Since the shows, at least the first seasons, stuck to the same formula, new plots are surprisingly easy to generate. Here’s a few.

 

Scooby-Doo Plotlines

During a Chinese New Year celebration Scooby is frightened by firecrackers and runs away to a deserted restaurant haunted by a Chinese shaman who later kidnaps Shaggy’s childhood friend.

While camping, the gang finds an abandoned nursery school haunted by a glowing atomic monster who is blackmailing the local reporters.

A mummy haunting an underground nuclear laboratory terrorizes Daphne’s scientist uncle and dams the local creek, leading to a near-meltdown.

A closed mental hospital in the Rocky Mountains is haunted by the ghost of an insane cowgirl who has blocked the roads during ski season. It turns out she is really a neighbor searching for lost treasure.

Daphne helps a reporter doing a story on a natural history museum haunted by a ghoul who is really an old homeless magician.

An evil Egyptian God has been stalking a freight train depot so the kids investigate.

The kids determine to find out the truth about whispering shadows at Scooby’s veterinarian’s office.

The local police chief asks for the gang’s help regarding a Civil War battleground haunted by the corpse of a Confederate general pickled in nitrate.

While on vacation in Mexico, a creepy automaton of a Mexican wrestler hypnotizes Freddy’s cousin Verne. The controller turns out to be a foreign spy using the wrestling ring as a base.

After hearing screams, the gang enter a ruined mine haunted by a humanoid bat.

The gang’s car breaks down near a spooky flaming pirate ship, where Freddy finds an old map to a buried treasure chest. But they are followed by a floating skull who warns them to go away.

Shaggy tries to re-visit his favorite childhood restaurant but instead finds a ruined waterpark haunted by the glowing spirit of a silent movie star.

A wealthy skeptic offers a prize to anyone debunking strange lights at a renovated art museum. The lights are torches carried by werewolves, one of which disguises himself as the owner of the kid’s favorite malt shoppe. When Velma loses her glasses there, she can smell the difference without being distracted by her eyesight, and the gang comes up with plan to capture the villains.

At a spooky circus the gang encounter a flaming opera singer and later, at a local TV studio, a faceless flamenco dancer. Daphne helps a reporter get the scoop but her best friend disappears in a burst of maniacal laughter.

A greedy businessman tries to buy an abandoned amusement park deep in the woods. The kids investigate and find the skeleton of a friendly medieval knight and a creepy automaton of a clown who warns them to go back.

A town offers a reward to anyone who can stay the night at a spooky hospital. The kids need money for a school trip so they take the dare, but they are terrorized by life-sized Kachina dolls with disembodied voices. The creatures are later revealed to be their school’s clique of gossips.

An Aztec mummy kidnaps Shaggy’s childhood friend and flees to an abandoned 747 in a desert boneyard. After hearing voices, Shaggy disguises himself as an archaeologist to investigate while the gang sets a trap for the kidnapper.

The ghost of a vengeful astronaut terrorizes a paper mill, and the wealthy owner offers a prize to anyone debunking the haunting. The kids determine to find out the truth in the strange mist near the once-bustling airport. After hearing screams, the gang enter an excavation tunnel and confront the villain who turns out to be the new landlord.

A new subway line is haunted by a pack of devil dogs and their evil master. Since the haunting is disrupting the filming of a Hollywood movie, the local police chief asks the kids for help.

A rundown supermarket is haunted by poltergeists who warn the customers they are trespassing on sacred ground. Meanwhile Scooby finds the half-finished song of a missing rock star near the dog food aisle by the Scooby Snacks. What is going on?

A blind cyclops looking for his missing eye abducts Shaggy.  Meanwhile a giant floating eye terrorizes customers at a department store. The gang investigates, but Freddy’s skeptical cousins interfere after reading an article in a local paper.

Velma finds an antique doll that looks like her, but it is possessed by the spirit of a ghoulish mime.

A creepy fortune-teller steals a safe full of money and kidnaps the manager of a drydocked battleship that has been turned into a Naval museum. The kids investigate, and the thief turns out to be Daphne’s old photography teacher.

 

… so different, so appealing?

I was going to post this as “The Worst Science Fiction Paperbook Book Cover Ever” and let it stand, but then I noticed its resemblance to this seminal Pop Art collage by British artist Richard Hamilton.

Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?
Richard Hamilton,1956

The palette is the same, the sense of clutteredness, the busyness of the composition. Both have a white, male bodybuilder in the same approximate pose (ridiculously overmuscled in the SF version) and a woman with bare boobs who is looking upward. There’s a bright red object in the lower left of the composition — a crab-thing for the SF version, a chair for the collage.  The SF bodybuilder is casually holding a space zapper while his  Pop Art counterpart holds a lollipop. Both look ridiculous. Could (gasp) this unknown cover artist have been playing homage to the earlier work?

At any rate, this edition of Derai has a truly terrible cover, and though the artist learned from his or her mistakes in the sequel, Toyman, that codpiece on the hero still looks mighty uncomfortable. At least he isn’t wearing the peep-toe boots any more and his left arm is normally sized.

A bit of information about the Dumarest Saga, which these books are number 2 and 3 of. It’s one of the longest running SF series at 33 published books and sword and planet cheese at its finest, according to its readers. Not high art, but plenty enjoyable and similar to a cut-rate Jack Vance.

The writer, Edwin Charles Tubb, was especially prolific, authoring over 140 novels. SF and fantasy author Michael Moorcock counts among his admirers.

 

 

 

Worldbuilding Wednesday 11/18/20: Rock Bands

 

municipal waste metal band

This looks like an imaginary rock band, but it’s 100% real.

It’s not an easy task to worldbuild a fictional rock band. You need to have polished writing skills, a finger on the pulse of contemporary culture (or history of pop culture, if set in the past) and an in-depth knowledge of the music world. That’s a rare order.

Nevertheless, some writers in recent years have attempted. Published in 2019, Daisy Jones and The Six, by Taylor Jenkins Reid, tells, through a series of interviews, the rise and fall of a Fleetwood Mac-like rock band in the 1970s, while the earlier (published in 2013) The Love Song of Johnny Valentine by Teddy Wayne explored the life of an 11-year-old bubblegum pop singer barely into puberty. I haven’t read the Reid book yet – it’s on my list – but Johnny Valentine was very well done, though it wobbled a bit in the suspension of disbelief department. Would the grocery checkstand gossip rags really assume readers want to hear about the romantic travails of an 11-year-old child? Would a group of up-and-coming alt rockers called The Latchkeys really take a kid that young out for a night of clubbing? But that may be because the novel was more satirical than realistic. It’s also, seven years in 2020, already history, an anthem to a vanished world.

In science fiction and fantasy there are a surprising number of fictional rock bands, perhaps because in the genre there’s an alt-history aspect to them. One band’s rise means another band kept from the spotlight, or a different nudge to the wider cultural spectrum.

Poppy Z Brite’s short novel Plastic Jesus, for example, posits that an imagined rock group called The Kydzz took the place of the Beatles in the 1960s, with the John Lennon and Paul McCartney analogs eventually falling in love and coming out in the wake of the Stonewall riots.

Gael Baudino’s Gossamer Axe, written at the height of Heavy Metal in the late 1980s, is about an ageless minstrel woman whose lesbian lover was abducted by the King of the Fairies, so she forms a heavy metal band to create the loudest, most demonic music possible to cast the magic to set her free. Published in 1990, it would be classed as urban fantasy now. It’s a neat concept and a good read, but again, because music and popular culture have changed so much in three decades, a little cringey to re-read and take seriously, through no fault of the author.

Another cringey book is one of George R. R. Martin’s more obscure novels, The Armageddon Rag. This alt history-thriller-supernatural hybrid is about a writer hired to write a series of articles for a Rolling Stone-like music mag called Hedgehog (whose mascot is a hedgehog wearing the American flag as diaper while picking its teeth with a toothpick) about a series of murders clustering around the members and hangers-on of an old 1960s acid rock group called the Nazgul, who come across like the love child of Led Zeppelin and MC5. As the protagonist interviews former band members across the country he also looks up old college friends from the 1960s, who, in the early 1980s when the book is set, have gone their separate ways, abandoning their youthful spirit and ideals. As we go back-and-forth we discover more about the band, including the fact that someone is trying to bring them back together for a nefarious purpose.

The book is really more of a loving homage to the cultural power of the 1960s experienced by aging baby boomers, in the spirit of the movie The Big Chill which came out around the same time (1983). It’s convoluted, ferocious, and sincere, but at the same time, very dated and easy to make fun of. It’s a period piece of a period piece.

But I have to hand it to Martin, he went all-out in his careful yet trashy design of the The Nazgul. They are named, of course, for Tolkien’s nasties, and their logo is an American flag in black and white with the Eye of Mordor where the stars would be. They hail from Philadelphia, where the lead singer, the albino Patrick Henry Hobbins, known as The Hobbit for his hairy feet, grew up in the tough Irish Catholic part of town. In the band, there is the consummate, talented musician who brings to mind a pre-breakdown Brian Jones, the piggish lead guitarist with the drug tendencies of Keith Richards and the sexual ones of Steve Priest, and the big, bearded, fiercely glowering drummer who stands in for John Bonham. They all sound plausible, but at the same time, ridiculous, for being too plausible. I don’t think Tolkien estate would have let a rock band with that name and imagery fly, for example. In another nod to rock history the band’s lead singer dies in a shooting by an unknown assailant in 1971, mid-concert, an act surpassing even the darkness of Altamont, the author tells us.

In the second half of the book the plot takes a turn to the supernatural: a spooky promoter and his henchwoman-at-arms Ananda Temple (yes, you heard that right) attempt to start WWIII or something by resurrecting the band with a new lead singer and tour, the apocalypse set to begin when the new frontman meets his own shooting death and a human sacrifice occurs live on stage. It’s all a bit too much, but compelling reading. The cover of the hardback first edition even featured a pic of Mr. Martin himself!

Anyway, if you need a name for a rock band, here’s a randomgenned and AI-created list.

 

Names for Fictional Rock Groups

Little Brother from Mars

Deathmother Soldiers

Daredevil Blush

The Oyster Heist Crew

The Anti-Villains

Fan Pimps

Generation Killers

Shadow Men

Finnish Nude Bear Club

Erotic Kittens of Australia

Possible Blue Elephant

Protean Hulk

Mytherium

Banehollow

Mesrine Unification

Burnished Soot

Frugal Beast

Subzero Relicate

 

Meditate

Q:  Why did the yogi put himself into a trance before going to the dentist?
A:  Because he wanted to transcend dental medication.

(Artwork by Larry Carlsen)

Worldbuilding Wednesday 11/11/20: The Best of
xxxxTwittersnips (Crime Novels)

 

I like how casually this woman is aiming the gun. The illustrator caught her right at the moment before she pulls the trigger. How cold-blooded and hard looking she is! This is one tough cookie.  Usually crime pulp cover women are plumper-cheeked and younger: Dames. This woman is firmly in Broad territory.

Incidentally, I’ve noticed how many female bulldogs are given names that sound like they belong to gangster’s molls, like Zelda or Sophie, while male bulldogs have short, macho-sounding names like Chunk, Tank, or Diesel.

Anyway, nothing makes one want to pick up a crime novel more than the title. The author, blurb, and cover are secondary … even, sadly, the cover above. If the main story was “The Broad Aimed for Death” and not “House of Scarlet Sin” I’d be more likely to read it.

Here’s a selection of randomly generated crime novels that appeared in my Twitter feed 2017 – 2020.

 

Crime and Detective Novels

The Dame in the Coney Island Ticket Booth

Farewell and Bang Bang

Murder at the National Aquarium

Ballad of the Badge

Recipe for Deceit

Small Detective in the Big City

Murder of a Texas Temptress

Murder in a Silk Shirt

The Tai Chi Murders

The Pizza Gambit

 

Future Tokyo

In 2011 we should have been wearing jumpsuits and whizzing up and down spiral ramps to airports  in the sky. Jeez, what went wrong?

Worldbuilding Wednesday
11/4/20: Military Division
xxxxNicknames

 

The American military has a long tradition of giving colorful nicknames to its various companies, divisions, and specialty groups. To go along with these nicknames are specially commissioned patches to be worn proudly on uniforms or jackets. Take a look at the assortment above. The graphics reached their height of bizarreness during the Vietnam war years, when they marked the wearer as belonging to an elite boy’s club of skulls with their eyes popping out, hissing vipers, drooling wolves, and angry woodpeckers … childlike, yet offputting.

The nicknames may stick with a division for a while, or change from conflict to conflict. To make a nickname “official” requires a special document from the Center of Military History.

In some future conflict, perhaps there will be monikers like these.

 

Military Division Nicknames

Hell’s Diving Birds

The Shoeless Cougars

Brownheads

Doctor Oppers

The Carpet Spillers

Earth Rhinos

The Rolling Wolfpack

The Flying Dobermans

Turret Goons

Bridge Shakers

Nose Squad

The Grunting Muppets

Road Ruffians

Gobi Zombies

Smoky Birds

The Jammin’ 43rd

Ultra Beamers

The Onboard 88th

Hoppin’ Copperheads

Soil Mappers

Gray Hairs

Dirty Zoo Diablos

43rd Globe Anglers

Musket Avengers

Groundsquids

Tanker Breakers

79th Snow Squad

Golden Guns

Haulin’ Dogs

Black Eyes

Fighting Apes

Silver Buttons

26th Hill Division

Horse Eyes

Rivermen

Aqua Falcons

Whiskey Legs

Harbor Bulls

Cannon Cobras

Mountain Shakers

 

The Skeleton

Existential angst that is in store for all of us one day, if we’re still sentient that is.

Private Island

” After 2 weeks of multiple health screens and asking everyone to quarantine   [ * titters girlishly * ]  I surprised my closest inner circle with a trip to a private island where we could pretend things were normal just for a brief moment in time. ”

Yup.
May history bless the Kardashians with what they deserve.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 10/28/20: Solomon’s Demons

Despite the name, these demons have nothing to do with King Solomon of the Bible. They are supernatural beings listed in a spellbook known as The Lesser Key of Solomon, or Salomonis Regis, which contains descriptions of them along with summoning instructions. This meaty tome is divided into five parts, compiled by an anonymous author from a series of earlier, more ancient works, some of which date all the way back to Biblical times.

I first encountered these creatures in a book of demonology my older brother gave me on my 10th birthday. That’s right, my older brother gave me an encyclopedia of demons when I turned ten. (My mother said not a peep about it.) It was the first time I saw the bizarre illustrations of them by Louis Breton, who created the sun-lion creature above with the multiple goat legs. Known as Buer, he remains the most distinctive of this artist’s creations.

He also did this one of Caacrinolas, who looks like a demented, grinning Lhasa Apso dog.

For all my research, it’s still unclear who the actual artist was: Breton, who specialized in maritime paintings, or the mysterious M. Jarrault, who may have been an engraver. Publications back then relied heavily on engravers for their illustrations, as the photoprinting process had yet to be invented. An engraver could put his own spin on the artist he copied, and vice versa. There’s certainly a playful, satirical feel to these depictions that reminds me of John Tenniel’s illustrations for Alice in Wonderland. Tenniel intended some of them as caricatures of political figures of the time, and this pic of Baal, for example, certainly seems like an actual person.

The illustrations were made for a 1863 edition of Dictionnaire Infernal by Collin de Plancy, not The Lesser Key of Solomon itself. But because they were the first depictions of the demons, they became the ones most associated with them. There have been other depictions over the years, and perhaps I’ll do a later post on them.

My second exposure to the demons was through my uncle. He was fond of dumpster-diving, and a particular spot at a nearby mall proved fruitful. A stationary store there would tear the front covers off its unsold books, as was standard at the time, to send them back to the distributor, and toss the interiors. I was exposed to many different books that way I wouldn’t have ordinarily read. One of them was Luba Sevarg’s The Do-It-Yourself Witchcraft Guide, without the sensational cover of course.

Much of Sevarg’s book was cribbed from the Salomonis Regis and that included the list of demons. I remember one demon in particular called Pual, described as appearing as an ash tree, who could grant the caster beautiful teeth.

The various sigils of Solomon’s Demons (click to see larger)

The would-be summoner was to draw the demon’s sigil on the floor along with offerings which included colored candles. The lack of colored candles — most in the stores were white or ivory —  meant I could not try the spells myself. This didn’t stop me from scribbling the runes on my school notebooks though.  Although I never summoned any demons this early exposure would influence the magic systems I created later in my own writing.

The demons themselves have origins that are Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Sumerian, and Assyrian. Like beings in a trading card game they are assigned rankings (Prince, Duke, Marquise, etc.), cardinal directions, allies they can draw upon, and spheres of influence. Hey! They may have been the first Pokemon.

The names vary from work to work, changing in translation, but all have a Latin or Greek feel. Using this, I came up with a list of my own.

 

New Solomon’s Demons

Satyros

Enpan

Jozeo

Furfara

Marans

Elefantes

Vorlona

Telos

Urdil

Urtokar

Galdoth

Malkuth

Beniziel

Ultros

Flauros

Valkurm

Flaurus

Rakorkan

Ororo

Zorahor

Zephor

Echudemon

Meltur

Balic

Ensarans

Iolus

Forzub

Asmensyr

Vagsa

Gragos

Cimal

Valus

Feldus

Astrusion

Visphon

Marchusan

Uvaic

Dallugos

Delrabia

Phoedus

Agara

Albea

Canu

Iphemer

Perlion

Zimal

Becas

Izala

Grisaym

Focana

Malaam