Worldbuilding Wednesday 3/22/23: States of Confusion
xxxx(The Wild West)

cowboy with a small horse

One of the major problems with generating AI pictures of cowboys is that, no matter which artist you use for reference, both horse and rider are usually out of proportion with each other. This cowboy’s mount is more of a pony than a horse. (The artist was Frederic Remington who A) is dead, so I’m not ripping anybody off and B) knew his cowboys.)

On to the second part of the Western states! As promised, I am puncturing some cowboy myths.

  • Cowboys didn’t always ride horses.
  • They likely weren’t white. It was a career that attracted the outcasts of society, so many were black, Hispanic, mestizo, Native American, or of mixed race.
  • It was not considered a fun or respectable job, being associated with dirt, drunkeness, and coarseness.
  • Cowboys and steam-powered inventions crossed paths in American media way before there was any kind of punk-related aesthetics around.

I’m talking, here, about the inimitable Frank Reade Jr. dime novels.

Frank Reade, and then his son, Frank Reade Jr., were all-American dime novel adventurers who specialized in inventing steam, and later electricity, powered vehicles. Frank Reade set the template in the late 19th century with his exploits involving a robot, but for some reason, he was supplanted as a character by his son, Frank Reade Jr., who proved more popular. The boy genius inspired dozens, hundreds, of technologically marvelous tales, most of them based on Jules Vernes novels like Master of the World and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas, along with a hefty dose of Edgar Rice Burroughs and H. Rider Haggard for the adventure part.

These novels were serialized and published in the years 1884 – 1904 . They were intended for teenage boy readership. Many, but not all, were set in the American West which back then was still as exotic as the depths of the Amazon or the Mongolian plateau. Promises of high adventure tempted readers for their cash (all of five cents) along with the engravings of exotic vehicles: robot horses, a trackless locomotive, the schooner-railcar hybrid above, armored tanks based on Conestoga stagecoaches, and many exotic breeds of dirigibles and airships, which were actually on the drawing boards at the time.

As with most of the dime novels, the writing was considered atrocious. They were also very non-PC, with Frank and his crew beset by “savage hordes” of rampaging Indians, desert Bedouins, or Mexican banditos, in which the Whites, with their superior technology, inevitably triumphed. Occasionally, those of color shared in the glory.

I suppose it’s a credit to the author that this Negro character handles his streetcar/tank vehicle skillfully,  even though he’s called a slur.

If these novels were reviled — and they certainly were — it was for being bad literature and not for their awful stereotypes. In the context of their time, they were science fiction pioneers. The combination of futuristic vehicles with high adventure was visited again in the 1960s, with the TV shows of Gerry Anderson and Eiji Tsuburaya, and on into the 2000s with the Transformers series of movies produced by Michael Bay.

Setting them in the context of their time, the novels were science fiction pioneers, reviled for being bad literature and not for their awful stereotypes. If you want to read them, they’re available here, at the University of South Florida archival collections.

In some other timeline, Frank Reade Jr. might have patrolled the US states and territories with names like these.


Alternate Names for Wild West States




























Ties That Bind
[Reading Challenge 2023]

Ties that Bind
Stories of Love & Gratitude from the First Ten Years of Story Corps

by Dave Isay
Penguin Books, 2013

[ #27 — Bits and pieces: An anthology (poetry, short stories, whatever). ]

Ties That Bind, edited by David Isay is a collection of personal anecdotes from people who participated in the Storycorps Project. This project was a series of oral histories from everyday people in the form of a dialogue between two of them, with one being “the most important person” in the other’s life. Isay founded the project in 2003 and it has been ongoing ever since. Copies of the participants’ interviews are preserved at the Library of Congress and certain of them, with the interviewee’s permission, have been broadcast on NPR and even turned into animations.

This book is a collection of those interviews and highlights human spirit and resiliency: stories are told of the relationships between parents and children, bosses and employees, teachers and students, even between the mother of a murdered man and his murderer. Really diverse and eye-opening stuff. One of my former tenants and her mom even participated in this project (but they aren’t in this book.)

Recommended, and so are the podcasts.


Elric: Fit, Frail or Fey?


Artwork by Robert Gould

It is the colour of a bleached skull, his flesh; and the long hair which flows below his shoulders is milk-white. From the tapering, beautiful head stare two slanting eyes, crimson and moody, and from the loose sleeves of his yellow gown emerge two slender hands, also the colour of bone, resting on each arm of a seat which has been carved from a single, massive ruby.

So goes Michael Moorcock’s “official” description of his albino antihero Elric of Melniboné, in this paragraph  from Elric of Melniboné, written in 1972. (The yellow robe may be a nod to The King in Yellow by Robert Chambers.) Fantasy artist Robert Gould, who did the cover art for the Grafton/Ace-published Elric books in the 1980s, followed this passage for the depiction above. Gould’s style was very different from other SFF cover artists of the time, who were mired in colorful, action-packed realism. He was less painterly, more illustrative, relying on a pale, subdued palette worked in chalk and colored pencils. Very linear, like Ingres. His Elric is a grandiose icon, inert as a Kabuki actor in a pose, with hooded eyes and a glazed stare that has a disturbingly kinky undertone, as does his long, feminine fingernails. He holds a potion in his left hand like a chalice, for he needs regular ingestions of herbal tinctures to maintain his strength.

Artwork by Robert Gould

Elric appears again on the right with a female companion who looks none too thrilled at being in such close proximity to him and his overly shaggy eyebrows. Indeed, he looks like he might bight her tiny extended hand. In the stories, too, he is hardly a babe-magnet, aside from his one big love, his cousin Cymoril. Powerful, melancholy, philosophically constricted, he’s the perfect hero for a teenage boy.

Gould’s Elric is larger than life, but there are many other interpretations. The stories written prior to 1971, the year that can be considered Elric’s rebirth and renaissance, did not go into the details of his appearance, only that he was an albino and on the sickly side, relying on Stormbringer to give him strength. The first picture of him is below, on the cover of a pulp magazine from 1961 in which he made his debut.

Quite a difference, isn’t it? More manly and more generic, save for that outrageously patterned tunic and green cape, not to mention purple boots. Well, Melnibonéans always were great lovers of rainbow colors! You can see more retro Elric art here.

In the decades since depictions of the character have wandered all over the place. Take the Elric below, by Michael Whelan. Though his face looks harsh and inhuman (as appropriate)  his arm muscles have achieved steroid size and so has his chest. IMO it’s wrong for the character.  For one thing, he’s supposed to be sickly. Do all those muscles disappear after his tonic wears off or he misplaces Stormbringer?

Artwork by Michael Whelan

This cover was one of six by Whelan for a series of Elric novels published in the US by DAW books in 1977. Only two were actual novels. The others were compiled of previously published Elric stories with some rewrites and newly written connecting material, turning them into a continuous saga. If you began to read SFF in the 1970s these will be very familiar to you. (The confusing timeline and publication of the Elric tales is recapped in this helpful Reddit post.)

Another subset of Elric art emphasizes his faeness. They range from merely handsome to full-on bishonen territory, like the delicate Japanese watercolor below where he appears crucified, eyes modestly downcast towards his dragon-skull codpiece. Female but for breasts, there’s never a hint in the stories that he’s not 100% masculine.

Artwork by Yoshitaka Amano

The sexually ambiguity, to some minds, may highlight his alieness; yet, his cousin Yyrkoon, of the same race, is as nastily, incestuously het as they come.

Artwork by A6A7

Two more fey depictions, the second with delicate gold fingernails.

Yet, Elric is just as often resoundedly masculine, as in this bullish depiction which implies a barrel chest and tons of sleek fat and gladiator’s muscle under that armor. He looks like he might grunt instead of speaking eloquently like he does in the books. In spite of this, he looks wounded and lost. His skin has the pink cast of a true human albino’s, and this, too, makes him look vulnerable.

Artwork by Chris Migrath

Artwork by John Anthony DiGiovanni

A more confidant Elric in charge of the sea, again very manly. I bet those skulls on his knees  aren’t too comfortable if he has to kneel for some reason. Unlike the previous pic his skin is not pinkish but chalk-white… very goth.

Artwork by Michael W. Kaluta

The square-jawed face of this Elric reminds me of Henry Cavill in his role of Geralt of Rivia, aka The Witcher. Which, to me, is not Elric. There needs to be an oddness in his depiction, a hint of depravity. This guy is too big and strapping and wholesome.

Artwork by Chris Achilleos

This youthful Elric, by SFF artist Chris Achilleos, isn’t bulging with muscles, but he isn’t too skinny either, looking like an average built man who occasionally goes to the gym. His pose is diffident, hesitant. He holds back from life.

Artwork by Kamyu

This Elric is slim yet wirily muscled. He looks demonic and out of control, another popular way of depicting the character. Stormbringer is what eggs on his bad side, making him kill when he’d rather not.

Artwork by Francesco Biagini

Anger control, thy name should be Elric!

Another pissed-off, wiry Elric who seems to be literally grasping at power. The artist has emphasized the alieness of his face, with high cheekbones, a tiny mouth, and slit-pupiled eyes that AFAIK aren’t mentioned in the stories. The tassels add a foppish touch. Note also his high boots that reveal splayed, powerful thighs, a feature so common in his costume it’s practically artistic canon. Also canon: a long, narrow nose with slightly flared nostrils.

Artwork by Piotr Jablonski

Occasionally, Elric can be vulnerable. His frailness is not depicted physically, for that might alienate his fans, but as spiritual. Here, slim and shapely as a male fashion model, he sinks helplessly into the sea as giant hands emerge to grab him.

Artwork by Esad Ribic

In this atmospheric watercolor he seems to be begging for mercy, a prisoner of Stormbringer which is busy sucking up someone’s mortal soul. Though it gives him enormous strength and power, he’s also in its thrall.

Artwork by Maena Paillet

This is one of the rare Elrics I found that was painted by a woman. Immediately I see a difference. He’s not in action, or brooding, or overly muscled; he’s posing as if for a portrait. His hair is white and his skin a pinker shade of white that looks faintly sickly. There’s more inner character to him. He is vulnerable, but no pushover.

Want more of Elric?

Worldbuilding Wednesday 8/21/19: Let’s Talk About Elric

Worldbuilding Wednesday 9/25/19: Melniboné

Worldbuilding Wednesday 2/22/23: Return to Melniboné


Worldbuilding Wednesday 3/15/23: Cults

Cults can be amusing, or terrifying. The quintet of fellows above date from the early 1970s, members of a West Coast cult called The Source that even had its own rock group, of which they might be the members (or perhaps Doug Henning wannabees?) Note their similarity in costume to pictures of Aleister Crowley done up in his high-priest-of-Osiris garb.

Crowley, of course, was the Platonic ideal of a religious cult leader, being a notable member of the The Order of the Golden Dawn.

Image searching through a similarity of costume then led me to these guys, members of a 1970s rock band called Angel.

Known as the Anti-Kiss, Angel always wore white on stage and sported the longest, most luxurious hair of any 1970s metal band and also the prettiest, poutingest looks. But having no hits, they faded into obscurity. They do look like members of some fringe religion, though!

Want to create your own cult? Here’s some names.


Cult Names

The Thoughtful Lotus

Hegemony of Apotheosis

Conclave of Mute Lamentation

Covenant of Love

Lucid Travelers

The Winged Oracle

The Ivory Chrysanthemum

Sanctum of the Golden Apple

Youth of Free Spirit

Commune of Fortune

Order of Primal Pleasure

The Silent Gauntlet

Elders of the White Scarab

Peace of the Lamp

Circle of Healing

Institute of Heaven

Numinous Brethren

Earthbound Contemplators


I was trying to generate a picture of a Sea God here, but I think the figure created makes a very nice Loki (the God of Chaos and Mischief in Norse mythology.)

Worldbuilding Wednesday 3/1/23: The Best of Twittersnips

A dragonfruit mutant (AI art)

A selection of plant-related Twittersnips from the years 2017 – 2020.



Blessed Weaselwand
Thimble of Thorns
Herbal Infusions
Weeping skullcap
Extraction of crushed foxpot
Essence of sweethimble and pussy-pine
Frogboot stamen solution that reduces a fever
Brew of hairy queenspike bark and greatblossom seeds
Nurestink Pollen Oil
Pink Fiddlerus
Velvet Leaf Mazelbush
Strixon: A popular fruit-bearing tree that is widely used in drinks. It is found in the Riverwood region and is popular with beastfolk.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 2/22/23: Return to Melniboné

I went to generate a pic of Elric on a Melnibonéan dragon by using the prompt “Albino warrior, black armor, rainbow dragon” and look what I got! But it’s so cool looking I’m going to keep it.

A more conventional Elric was generated later and you can see him to the side.

I did an earlier discussion of the Elric of Melniboné series here, and writing recently about House of the Dragon made me want to return. Martin lifted the whole dragon-riding, magic-using people trope from there, and also, perhaps, from The Dragonriders of Pern series as Martin’s dragons, like Anne McCaffrey’s, are named.  Another similarity are the character names of Melniboné which, like those of the Valyrians, are unpleasantly alien, not alien like, say, the heroes of the latest Hugo winner, but alien characters from the comics of Buck Rogers and Flash Gorgon. Moorcock gave his a slight Latin touch, but on the whole, the names are alphabet soup, ranging from head-scratchers like Yyrkoon and Xionbarg to the more conventional Elric and Shaarilla. Below is a list I cobbled up from letter combinations used most frequently.


Melnibonéan Character Names






































Cities a’ Walkin

AI Art

Mexican philosopher Manuel DeLanda called cities the “mineralization of humanity.” Invertebrates like snails, clams, and nautiluses generate outer coverings of calcium to act as their homes. Now humans have begun to do the same,  “mineralizing again when they developed an urban exoskeleton.” What might happen if those shells developed personalities of their own and began to move?

Worldbuilding Wednesday 2/15/23: House of the Dragon

“I’m a horny toad? Really?”

The dragons of House of the Dragon are equivalent to B-52 bombers and almost as large, with unprecedented, literal firepower. They are what the Valyrians used to dominate the continent of Essos in ages past, building up an empire that was Roman-like in its scope. But unlike the jets, Valyrian dragons are sentient, and bonded to their owners who have the power to communicate with and control them. In that, they may be thought of as kaiju who serve certain families instead of all mankind, as in the 1970s version of the Godzilla where he went up against Hedorah, Megalon and Gigan who were mankind’s enemies.

The dragon design follows Hollywood standard for the new century, which means giant reptiles heavily influenced by the dinos of Jurassic Park, forever roaring with open mouths and armored like Texas horny toads. Which doesn’t break new ground, but serves the story well enough. The Valyrian dragons are more snaky, however, particularly when they fly — they seem to slither through the air. Like Smaug in the Hobbit trilogy, they are technically wyverns — meaning they have four limbs. The front pair are winged while the rear are for walking, which makes sense biologically as reptiles are quadrupeds not hexapeds. But unlikethe  wyverns Valyrian dragons also use their wings for locomotion on the ground, shuffling along on the knuckles of their “hands” where their fingers crook and become supports for their wings. In that, they are like Azhdarchid pterosaurs, also a very cool creature.

Valyrian dragons are venerated when they die, their skulls being preserved for prosperity.

Dragons’ names mean something in Old Valyrian. This is most evident in Vermithrax, which is literal Latin meaning “like a worm” — worm being a synonym for dragon way back when in Old Medieval texts. This name was included as homage to the forgotten 1981 Disney movie Dragonslayer, which also — surprise! — included a character named Valerian. Other dragon names in House of the Dragon are hippyish, like Seasmoke and Sunfyre, which has the added flourish of a special snowflake spelling. This type, I’ve chosen to ignore. There’s also a tradition of naming dragons after people, like how Danaerys named two of her dragons after her dead husband and brother.

These names here I’ve randomgenned out of common elements of the names and don’t mean anything.


Valyrian Dragon Names
































Since there’s a Valyrian translator available now, I thought it would be fun to name some dragons on the results. (I’m assuming that Old Valyrian keeps the -ax and -axes suffixes from Latin.)


Valyrian Dragon Names derived from Old Valyrian




Mere Atsio











Big Mouth


Red Eyes



The Hungry One

The Loyal One


Moon Snake

Yellow Queen





AI Art Adventures: Rockabilly Couple

Since I started to experiment with AI generated art back in August 2022 a lot has gone down. Chief among the developments, a lawsuit filed by a group of artists who claim the Midjourney creation site, the StableDiffusion AI engine, and DeviantArt, has plagiarized their work. Meaning, the AI engine was trained on images pulled from the DeviantArt site, which is a showcase for fannish, SFF, and out-there art, without the artists’ permission, and used by Midjourney to create original art for its users. Which has opened up a whole can of worms considering that some of those users are now profiting off those works. Many copyright lawyers will be very busy in the future over this. History is being made.

And all this means, too, that AI art has since exploded into the public consciousness. I feel a little hipsterish right now, that something I’ve discovered and thought of as cool now has been taken up by everyone else, and the ethicality of it troubles me also even as I want to experiment more and see for myself what it can do and can’t do.

One of the things I’ve found is how Midjourney differs from all the other generators, even those using StableDiffusion themselves, and it’s not its access to the whole of the DeviantArt site. The images are too good, too polished, and leads me to believe something else is going behind the scenes. But I can’t put my finger on it. That it’s run off a Discord server is still fishy to me.

So I came up with a prompt inspired by a photo of two people that I know. I ran that photo through a Hugging Face site that generates a prompt from a visual input, and got something that said, basically, “Rockabilly couple, orange jumpsuit, glasses, suit, leopard skin.” Which amused me greatly as the couple in question were not Rockabilly and not wearing any orange jumpsuits; they were Native American. But there you have it.

I added gouache as the medium.

These are my favorites of the four pictures generated. They are very polished, very professional, but also kind of soulless. They remind me of illustrations on the cover of a sewing pattern to create a Rockabilly look. Very illustrative. Though the styles the differ slightly, the “look” is the same, and even the couple themselves. Any quirky weirdness has been absorbed into the illustration so it’s barely noticeable. Notice the glasses of the girl in the first pic. They have two different lenses, and it seems parts of the frame have become a ribbon tying up her hair. There is also no overt leopard print. In the first pic, we get cow-like splotches, in the second, something that looks like giraffe. And both pics are orange… very, very orange. It’s a little spooky. It’s also spooky how the engine has concealed the couple’s hands, avoiding the “hand problem” of AI art.

This picture was generated on another engine, and though it’s not as polished, I like it better as art. The couple looks real; they have personalities of a sort.  It looks like a quick sketch. The girl even has her hair tied up with a scarf in Rockabilly style.

This pic shows even more personality; I added “Native American” to the mix. Again, it looks like a quick work done by a real artist, but it’s full of personality. I had to fix a few things in a paint program, like the man’s eyebrows, but overall, I like it.

I wouldn’t profit off any of these, or claim them as my own. As far as I’m concerned they are just random gifts from the internet.

I’ll be experimenting more later in these posts, and keeping up with the legal issues.