Worldbuilding Wednesday
4/8/20:The Best of Twittersnips
xxxx(Potions)

the love potion, by evelyn de morgan

The Love Potion by Evelyn de Morgan

Potions are essential for RPG fantasy gaming. They’re like a Get Out of Jail Free card, useful for a player in dire circumstances to cheat fate by teleporting themselves away from a foe or healing fatal damage. But they can also do other things.

From my twitter feed, some favorites I created. “Potion” refers to anything liquid or semi-liquid that can be carried on one’s person.

 

Magic Potions

Captain Astrit’s Dark Rum: Often found in pirate dens, this drink causes an alignment change to pure evil as long as the imbiber remains intoxicated.

Dawncream: When rubbed on the user’s face, it makes them feel as if they have just woken from a good night’s sleep.

Distillation of the Dragon: This very rare potion can substitute for any dragon body part (scales, fangs, etc.) that is an ingredient in magic. It has no effects when drunk.

Infusion of Wholesome Sweating: Potion that lets the drinker experience the benefits of sitting in a steambath for an hour.

Potion of Endless Dallying: When ingested, this cursed potion makes the drinker needlessly delay whatever action they next take.

Potion of Marvelous Fangs: The drinker’s canine teeth become two four-inch fangs for the duration of the spell. Can also be used to reduce the length of longer fangs.

Potion of Slow Teleportation: Teleports the caster from one place to another, but with a time delay. Cheaper to make than regular teleportation potions and useful for non-urgent situations.

Thanamierto’s Water of Dwarf Stamina: Gives the drinker the constitution of a dwarf for 12 hours.

Thorska’s Elixer of Healthy Elimination: Useful when one is constipated.

Tincture of Lightning: Magical potion containing the essence of a lightning flash. When uncorked, the flash re-occurs in the immediate area.

 

Don’t Mess with Cindy Brady

She’s got the power of the atom, Communist China, and tornadoes on her side.

 

Worldbuilding Wednesday 4/1/20: Unlikely Animals
xxxx(April Fools!)

Top to bottom: Platybelodon, a prehistoric elephant; Opabinia, an extinct arthropod relation; and the modern Saiga antelope.

Talktotransformer is proving to be a potent tool for me. I usually have to run things through a few times, and tune and collate the results, but am mostly assured of a fecund list. By which I mean a list that makes the mind wander, cooking up possibilities (and story ideas) for people, places, and things.

Running a list of animals both real-world and me-generated created the creatures listed here, Some sound reasonable (Mississippi batfish) others slightly off (Honeyeater puffbird) and others, no way in hell could this exist (Dangerous Walking Tarantula). But, considering the animal kingdom of today and its forebears, there was more than a little WTFuckery going on in real life. Consider the Platybelodon elephant above with its abnormally long jaws, the five-eyed Opabinia, and Asia’s Saiga, an otherwise-normal looking antelope with an inflated nasal cavity. Makes you think, doesn’t it.

 

Unlikely Animals

Honeyeater Puffbird

Soggy Cur

Black Gleaming Li-Ang

Red Chested Perkin Pionus

Black-Inbred Tiger

Cervid Ostriche

Blue-cheeked Racoon

Dangerous Walking Tarantula

Gloomtooth Beetle

Red Tuttabot

Grimclaw

Primitive Poachie

Haervo

Berrybush Cheeky Lobel

Super Fine Tuned Fondue (Tuna)

Little Brown Bat-Orca

Longear Whale

Blackest Graybear

Sunkissed Kestrel

Rat Tail Sharpy

Subpanda

Cast Iron Nautilus

White-legged Krait

Wyrmscale Hydra

Ealdarmere

Habib’s Gizzard Shrimp

Mississippi Batfish

Gray Aurora Behemoth

Muscoth

Makeshift Roundworm

 

Hand of Glory

The Hand of Glory, made from the preserved hand of a man hanged for murder,
was a potent magical item. Coated in the deceased’s body fat,
with a wick made of his hair, it was said to unlock all doors.

 

Worldbuilding Wednesday 3/25/20: Big Cat Hybrids

jaglions

A pair of jaglions (Jaguar x lion hybrids.) The darker one surprised the breeder with its black coat, but jaguars are known to carry a melanistic gene.

As I demonstrated last Wednesday, it’s pretty easy to come up with a name for a novel species of carnivorous mammal.

Now let’s turn to the feline world, and the naming conventions of big cat hybrids. The “big four” Panthera species (lions, tigers, leopards, and jaguars) are all capable of interbreeding with each other, as well as with pumas. Smaller cats, like the serval, ocelot, and bobcat, also hybridize, even with felis catus, the domestic cat – this has led to the rise of several new domestic cat breeds, like the Bengal with its spangled coat. Surprisingly, there is no scientifically accepted way of naming these hybrids, at least not yet. Breeders mostly wing it. One convention is to combine the first syllable of the male feline’s name with the last syllable of the female’s name, thus creating the well-publicized liger (male lion, female tiger) and tigon (male tiger, female lion.) This usually serves, except when it doesn’t. The jaguar-lion hybrids in the above photo were named jaglions by their owners, and another jaguar hybrid was called the jagulep (jaguar x leopard cross.)

But, in my own randomly generated world, I am going to adhere to the liger convention of naming, for the most part, and also assume that all feline species are capable of interbreeding and producing viable offspring. Here’s a list of feline species if you don’t recognize some of the names. I used both puma and cougar to the refer to the same animal. Because leopard and cat are the second part of many smaller cats’ names, which adds confusion, for these the first name refers to both male and female. Oh, and for snow leopards, snow serves as the first part, for the male, but uncia — the species name — for the second female part.

 

Big Cat Hybrids

Boncilla (M bobcat x F oncilla)

Caracelot (M caracal x F ocelot)

Caracion (M caracal x F lion)

Caracloudal (M caracal-clouded leopard x F serval)

Carager (M caracal x F tiger)

Careetah (M caracal x F cheetah)

Cheeger (M cheetah x F tiger)

Jagopard (M jaguar x F leopard)

Jagreetah (M jaguar x F cheetah)

King Cheetiguar (M king cheetah x F tiger-jaguar)

Leocarilla (M leopard x F caracal-oncilla)

Leomareetah (M leopard x F margay-cheetah)

Leperval (F leopard x M serval)

Liocougatigon (M lion-cougar x F tiger-lion)

Lioguar (M lion x F jaguar)

Liojaglynx (M lion x F jaguar-lynx)

Lionarble (M lion x F marbled cat)

Lioneetah (M lion x F cheetah)

Lyngar (M lynx x F cougar)

Lypuma (M lynx x F puma)

Lytiger (M lynx x F tiger)

Marcloud (M margay x F clouded leopard)

Margalot (M margay x F ocelot)

Margampa (M margay x F pampas cat)

Marjaguar (M margay x F jaguar)

Maruncia (M margay x F snow leopard)

Oceray (M ocelot x F margay)

Oncipalla (M oncilla x F pallas cat)

Pallabob (M pallas cat x F bobcat)

Pampard (M pampas cat x F leopard)

Pampeetah (M pampas cat x F cheetah)

Pamperval (M pampas cat x F serval)

Pumalion (M puma x F lion)

Sermapalla (M serval x F margay-pallas cat)

Serserlynx (M serval x F serval-lynx)

Serunciasnowger (M serval-snow leopard x F snow leopard-tiger)

Servalynx (M serval x F lynx)

Snowger (M snow leopard x F tiger)

Snowpard (M snow leopard x F leopard)

Tiguar (M tiger x F jaguar)

Tilynx (M tiger x F lynx)

Tipardelot (M tiger-leopard x F ocelot)

Tipuma (M tiger x F puma)

 

Narwhals: Arctic Whales in a Melting World [Reading
xxxxChallenge 2020]

Narwhals: Arctic Whales in a Melting World

by Todd McLeish
University of Washington Press, 2013

[Challenge # 22 : A book taking place mostly or all on water.]

My first choice for this category, Blackfish City, didn’t work out, so I subbed Narwhals one after noticing I had saved it to my Seattle Public Library reading list.

I am a sucker for reading books about cetaceans. Some of my favorites include Of Orcas and Men: What Killer Whales Can Teach Us, by David Neiwart, and The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea by Philip Hoare. Guess I should read Moby Dick sometime soon, eh? Anyway, not only did Narwhals promise to shed light on this poorly studied species of whale, it was also set, coincidently, in the same area of the world the previous STIQ (screw-this-i-quit) book was, namely the arctic waters around Greenland and Baffin Island. This was my favorite part of book. The author’s descriptions were sumptuous and made me feel I was really there. That was lacking in Blackfish City.

I wish the book had been more scientific and less anecdotal, though. The author’s journey was interesting but I really wanted to read about the whales, not his journey of discovery about them. And narwhals are interesting; as the author points out, they are the only species of whale exclusively dwelling in arctic waters (they don’t migrate out like some whales do) and therefore are the most impacted by global warming. They also have what no other animal on earth has: a spiral ivory tusk that spawned the legend of the unicorn. This aspect alone would have made an awesome book, as writer Christopher Kemp did with another whale byproduct, ambergris, which is, if you don’t know, a form of sperm whale poop that has undergone a sea change by floating in the ocean for months or years. The tusk does merit its own chapter focusing on its purpose for the whale. Scientists traditionally assumed, as many still do, that it is a sex-linked trait: male narwhals use it for dominance battles and to impress females. But this doesn’t explain why some female narwhals have it too, and why some whales even have two of them, and why no one has ever seen the whales actually fighting with it. The latest theory is that the intact tusk, being a giant tooth with pulp and nerves intact, acts as a sensory organ to gauge airflow, ocean chemistry, and air pressure, which, at the time of the book’s publication in 2013, was still very controversial.

narwhal, beluga, and narwhal-beluga hybrid skulls

From top to bottom, the skulls of a) a narwhal, b) a narwhal-beluga hybrid, and c) a beluga whale.

The book also mentioned narwhal-beluga hybrids, confirmed recently by the discovery of this skull. The beluga whale is the narwhal’s closest relative, and since the narwhal is toothless, and the beluga has teeth, the hybrid possessed its own unique dentition with which it was able to exploit a new food source and grow to maturity. This is exactly how new species arise.

In recent years narwhals have ridden the unicorn’s train of popularity to become cute, cuddly cultural icons in their own right. Notice, though, how the horn has moved to the forehead instead of piercing the whale’s upper lip…which would probably be too freaky for young children to contemplate.

And while it has no bearing on the content, I want to give a shout-out to the book’s cover designer, who has created a simple, effective, design that harks back to the three-color ink paper dustjackets of the 1950s which employed strong, eye-catching forms.

All in all I did enjoy my time with the book and it served to wash out the bad taste of Blackfish City, which you’ll probably hear more about.

The THING!

Oopsie!

Imaginary Creatures
(Neural Network Remix)

I’ve been working with random generation (courtesy of Gammadyne’s Random Word Generator) for almost three years now, and have to say it’s a nifty tool for generating both imaginary languages and imaginary names for people, places, and things. But now there’s another way to generate the latter: neural networks.

A neural network, basically, is a self-learning computing system, by which definition it also can be called an AI (artificial intelligence.) It operates by utilizing a series of algorithms that recognize relationships throughout a set of given data. In this way, it mimics the way the human mind itself learns, by considering examples. By reading a chapter of The Hobbit, for example, the network gradually “learns” that hobbits are small, have hairy feet, and like to eat; when asked to write a sentence containing the word hobbit, it is then likely to generate these characteristics. Of course, there are other data sets, like pictures, stock information, and the like; but for my purposes, I’m going to stick to text, specifically fiction.

Janelle Shane of Aiweirdness.com is an experimenter of this new system of learning and creation, generating things likely, unlikely, and hilarious, as in Fruit Fly Types and Recipes . In an eerie synchronicity, she’s also created apple types and candles as I have. (The tiny cartoons accompanying the blog are hilarious too.)

There are more than a few online neural networks that will finish a line of text for you, or a list, so it is to Adam Daniel King’s Talktotransformer that I turned to see what would happen when I fed it a list of some of my legendary creatures, etc. This is a distillation of what popped up, edited for readability.

 

Mythic Creatures, remixed via talktotransformer.com

Foxflower: An enormous, cloud-like figure whose whole body is made of a myriad of small flowers. It can use this flower to create a portal.

Falician: A fair-skinned duck with a four-foot wingspan. It lives underwater and looks for weaklings who have lost a bet.

Pronk: A bird with three pairs of large wings and a quill bill. Its flight is excellent even if it’s not supposed to be able to have a cheerful, enthusiastic personality.

Wozzah: An enormous cyan bird with five wings and the head of a mole. It can absorb other animals’ magic to form barriers and bring them under its protection.

This phrase was thrown out randomly by the network:
“He tells his tale of discord in order to lead the mortals to peace.”

Hetto: A black-winged serpent with arms and horns, possessing a cunning and evil personality. He teaches mortals to keep secrets in order to regain the power of fighting the Uryuom Tribe, a warlike monster tribe.

Asciolach: A tiny alligator with a detachable shell. It was said to be so cute that it would bring children back from the dead.

Loxonta: A nearly-mammal-sized alligator with tentacles instead of feet. Its name means “imperceptible legs.”

Vulpan: A crocodile that prowls in South America.

Bacook: A giant sauropod-like dinosaur. It has a horn on its head.

Blitzen: An armadillo that comes out of its shell. It only exists in the Nightmare Frontier.

Razaryss: A purple nymph with golden scales that looks to be drinking wine.

Vlad: An evil vampire with the appearance of an old man with a moustache. He wields two vampire bats on each hand, and is always winking at the player while being able to use Telekinesis and Darkness.

Welthuzad: A white baby dragon who will fly around and land on the player. He is immune to teleportation.

Gremlin: A little person who appears from time to time.

Crazed Creepy Squirrel: This animal is always ready for a fight and generally evil. Its tail has a sharp spike that can puncture a two-inch steel helmet. To fight the creeper, stand in front of it and fight it with your fists, or whatever your favorite weapon might be. Although crazy in nature, it has a good heart.

Ancient Crab: A huge giant crab from the ancient past. It uses its claws to fight off intruders. Interestingly, the clawed claw is one of the many bizarre man-made appendages in the Kajariki.

Elukstee: A giant spider that bites many times before dying. A remnant from a time when the lands were hot.

Smanlire: A pink fairy woman with a mallet for a right arm. She says things like “Hurry up and die!”

Blightheart: A monster with an iron heart.

This phrase was thrown out randomly by the network:
“The boys turn into puppies and grow into men in an age when everyone lives in a dungeon or towers over city streets.”

Yuna: A witch with a magical lamp to make a person or thing bright, on which it often smiles.

Mito: A fairy with magical powers of gathering (the) spirits of trees.

Buan: A winged monkey that rides on the back of a white gazelle and can grow to the size of a car.

Charlie: A monkey who is able to breathe fire and double as a smite attacker.

Bolorix: He is an overgrown starfish with four arms whose jaw has become ragged and toothless. He boasts long, sharp teeth that may have once been used to tear flesh from bone, and a pointed tongue with a pink stem and two rough barbels. (Bolorix is) usually playful and can’t be reasoned with, so make sure you have a good reason to calm him down before taming him.

Flame Ball: They are small, easy-going, and don’t eat.

Giant Tortoise: This giant tortoise is a very large form that can now be found everywhere in the wild. They’re smaller than Thunder lizards, but can still rival most other large reptiles.

Garorniel the Pugilist: An intelligent bird known for its unusual species of bird meat called pugilises.

The neural network generated this list of three related creatures.

The Elderlings:

Forest Booger: A small goblin king that follows an animal spirit of trees.

Sea Booger: A large and fat bird that often lands on the ground and rests on its belly, which it eats.

Snowball Booger: A small, withered, round cap mushroom that is generally pinkish with brown-tinted, anthracian markings which differ from each other with the oocytes, a gray to red mucilaginous type of cellular debris, and a reddish texture. It has many lobes and has a rough surface. It has no spines and resembles a luscious, tender, pink-capped, round-cap (limbumeum or trumpetfruiting.)

Bugbear Larvae: A dark brown-skinned horde of greenish-black insects.

Bites: A type of maggot found on infected corpses, resembling a tree-creeper.

Blob: The growth of a mussel-like creature that appears as an irregular pile of about one hundred creamy-white spongy masses.

Bloaters: Tiny grey-green blood-like fluids, possessed of high toxicity. Some mercenaries carry them.

On a later visit it seemed to create some blurbs for a MUD.

Find the nest of Xerxes!
Do you have a knack for magic? Explore the world in search of magical powers and artifacts! Magic is a great boon, but only the mightiest heroes can reach the hidden realm of Xerxes.

Azurian Codex: The Book of Death.

Azur is a series of Aesculapian-crazed cities.

Verdend: A frightening, demonic creature that dwells in the Western Highlands. It also speaks in riddles that are meant to terrify.

Veldin: A powerful and skillful pariah among the Giant Snakes of Eldrich Keep.

Vergelith: A blue, smoke-bellied serpent.

Plankton: A sort of leech-like corruption of the sea that sometimes can be found in various levels of Lake Idria.

Monsoon Pod (Iridium larva)

Every once in a while it threw out a related item like this one.

Hecate’s Hall: The place where the old gods used to live. The orbs have not been recovered yet, so don’t come looking for them.

 

To Sleep with the Angels
[Reading Challenge 2020]

To Sleep with the Angels

by David Cowan and John Kuenster
Ivan R. Dee, 1996

[Challenge # 47 : Nonfiction on any subject.]

The 1958 Our Lady of the Angels Catholic school fire traumatized a generation of Catholic schoolchildren. To Sleep with the Angels: The Story of a Fire, by David Cowan and John Kuenster, brings this long-forgotten tragedy  to life.

The authors tell the story as it unfolds, from the viewpoints of the participants, letting the victims of the tragedy – schoolchildren, parents, nurses, and clergy – speak for themselves. It’s a harrowing book that doesn’t sugarcoat. The fire took place in Chicago on December 1st, 1958 at the Our Lady of the Angels parochial school. The two buildings comprising the school were old and not up to the city’s 1958 fire code; however, a grandfather provision made them legal. The fire started near a basement stairwell in a trash can and quickly raced upstairs to the roof, ironically only minutes before the school was to let out for the day. The classrooms on the first floor were able to be evacuated, but the nuns and students upstairs were trapped as the fire filled the halls and stairways with thick black smoke before spreading to the roof. Many of the children were forced to jump from the windows onto the gravel and tarmac below.

Ninety children and three nuns died in the fire that day, which was most likely started by a student’s arson (the book makes a case that there was a cover-up by the city, the fire department, and the Catholic Church in not bringing charges against that student, who is not mentioned by name in the book.) The fire was made more deadly by a delayed response in sending the fire alarm, and afterwards it led to revisions in the fire code for all schools across the US.

The authors took a journalistic approach, which I liked… there was no bias and no agenda. The idea conveyed was that it was a tragedy all around with shared blame. The authors debunked a number of urban legends about the fire, such as the one where the nuns ordered the children to pray at their desks instead of trying to escape (not true, most of the children’s bodies were found by the windows) and another that fire department’s ladders were too short to reach the second story (also not true, the FD’s ladders were adequate.)

The most terrible aspect of all about the fire was that, in those times, it was earased. Those affected by it, no matter what their losses, and were expected to “get over it”… move on with their lives instead of dwelling, or as we say now, processing, their trauma. Despite the horrors of WWII, little more than a decade in the past, grief counseling did not exist, and neither did acknowledgement of PTSD. Only in the late 1980s did the event begin to be discussed openly as long-buried grief came to light. And the fire did more than scar survivors. It was the first step in the ruination of an entire close-knit neighborhood, as white flight out of the city and urban decay set in.

As a child in a Catholic school in New Jersey this fire was recounted to us by one of the nuns. I remember then thinking of how horrible it was and eying the distance from my school’s windows to the ground, imagining what it was like to land on the hard, gravel-studded asphalt that was used both as playground and church parking lot. These days, with many parishes on the decline or being consolidated, and Catholic schools suffering declining enrollment too, it’s hard to understand how so many children were packed into so unsafe a structure, filled with open stairwells, flammable wood and varnish, and tar paper roofs.  But many Catholic schools, including the one I was in, really were built that way, though mine had been retrofitted with metal fire doors and alarms and extinguishers in easy reach. Fire drills were taken very seriously.

A very good peek into the past of a terrible event.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 3/18/20: Carnivores

Thylacoleo carnifex

Thylacoleo carnifex, a megafauna marsupial predator. Art by Peter Schouten.

Exotic mammalian carnivores are heavily featured in SFF literature. William Rice Burroughs had his eight-legged, lion-like banth in his Barsoom series, and more recently Tomi Adeyemi took up the trope with her lionaires and leopardaires in Children of Blood and Bone and Children of Virtue and Vengeance. Prehistoric carnivores like the sabre-toothed tiger and short-faced bear once tortured our ancestors, and mythic beasts like the manticore and gryphon may be trace memories of these.

For this list I mashed up the names of terrestrial carnivores and added some additional modifiers. If you’re looking for a predator for some lost world or earth-like planet, here it is!

 

Carnivores

Polar Foxion

Pumhyena

Meercatel

Ginger-Maned Tigrina

Black-Maned Dholepard

Rusty-Crested Wildcat

Pampas Jaguarine

Bearfisher

Yellow-Ticked Racoonet

Red-Tailed Badger

Big-Eared Oncepard

Yellow-Crested Jungle Genet

Meercaroon

Catiger

Dingoroona

Gray-Crested Jaggerine

White-Spotted Fox

Ant-Eating Canival

Long-Tailed Musteiger

Bearot

Gray-Striped Pantherion

Black-Lipped Ottravine

Ferretion

Gray-Nosed Fisher

Red Genetine

Canipard

Mercafeli

Maned Bear

Ginger Ursverine

Martecoug

Crab-Eating Grizette

Little Marten

Brown Felival

Gray-Tailed Canivine

Dogerine

Serviger

Striped Dholeon

Black-Backed Dhole