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Podcast #104. My Life as an SF Writer. Cyberpunk and Transrealism.

March 7th, 2018

March 6, 2018. Talking to Tim Fitzmaurice’s class at Crown College, UC Santa Cruz. What it’s like to be an SF writer. Cyberpunk and transrealism as revolutionary art. Press the arrow below to play “Podcast #104. My Life as an SF Writer. Cyberpunk and Transrealism.”

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Skrbina’s “Panpsychism in the West.” Rudy’s “Panpsychic Manifesto.” Robot Consciousness.

March 5th, 2018

This will be a long blog post as I’m going to incorporate three things. Three takes on the same subject. The subject is panpsychism, which is the doctrine that everything is conscious, and that every individual thing has, if you will, a soul.

I myself have written about panpsychism, both in my nonfiction books, such as Infinity and the Mind, and in my novels, such as Hylozoic. (By the way, “hylozoism,” is a doctrine similar to panpsychism: it’s the belief that every object is in some sense alive.) While I was researching panpsychism for my novel, I came across David Skrbina’s wonderful philosophy book, Panpsychism in the West. And I realized I wasn’t alone. Up till then I’d almost thought, as Skrbina puts it, “the only panpsychic in history.” I was glad to learn I wasn’t!

I’m impelled to write about Skrbina’s book today, as a second edition has recently appeared. You can get an ebook or paperback for quite a reasonable price, either from MIT Press, or from Amazon.

What we have in my post today is, as I say, three takes. Take #1: Excerpts from Skrbina’s Panpsychism in the West , Take #2 Rudy’s “Panpsychic Manifesto”, and Take #3 On Robot Consciousness from Rudy’s Infinity and the Mind. You’ll notice a bit of overlap among the takes, but never mind.

Take #1. Excerpts from Skrbina’s Panpsychism in the West

Rather than summarizing what Skrbina says, I’ll quote excerpts from his book, and reprint some of the sources that he himself quotes. And, I hope, you’ll see for yourself what a terrific little tome this is. Introducing Panpsychism in the West, Skrbina says the following.

In reviewing the many cases for panpsychism, one notices over and over again a striking fact: that there is almost no recognition of panpsychist predecessors. In other words, most philosophers cited here seem to operate in a vacuum; they appear to have no knowledge of the long and lustrous history of panpsychism. They typically cite no one—or at most one or two individuals. … In essence, they almost act as if they were the only panpsychic in history.

Surveying ancient philosophy, Skrbina unearths a remark by Aristotle about Thales. “Certain thinkers say that soul is intermingled in the whole universe, and it is perhaps for that reason that Thales came to the opinion that all things are full of gods.” All things are full of gods. I love that.

The scientist-philosopher Gustav Fechner is of particular interest to Skrbina, who writes the following.

The most important aspect of Fechner’s panpsychism is his conception of the world as composed of a hierarchy of minds or souls. There are souls ‘below’ us in the plants, and there are souls ‘above’ us in the Earth, the stars, and the universe as a whole. Humans are surrounded, at all levels of being, by varying degrees of soul. This is Fechner’s ‘daylight view’— the human soul at home in an ensouled cosmos. He contrasted it with the materialist ‘night view’ of humans as alone, isolated points of light in a universe of utter blackness.

You can learn more about Gustav Fechner’s panpsychism in Chapter 4 of this online edition of a 1909 book by William James A Pluralistic Universe .

Skrbina mentions that the physicist Ernst Mach equates the processes of nature with human inclinations and feelings, and that his opposition to mechanistic ontology steers him toward a view of “nature as animate” rather than “human as mechanical.”

Skrbina writes about the German biologist Ernst Haeckel, known for his wonderful turn of the century book Art Forms in Nature, filled with gnarly images of jellyfish and the like.

Haeckel was explicitly panpsychist by 1892. “I regard all matter as ensouled, that is to say as endowed with feeling (pleasure and pain) and motion.” This affinity, Haeckel says, can be explained only “on the supposition that the molecules … mutually feel each other” He says that evolution shows “the essential unity of inorganic and organic nature” and “an immaterial living spirit is just as unthinkable as a dead, spiritless material; the two are inseparably combined in every atom.”

We learn that in1880, Samuel Butler wrote, “I would recommend the reader to see every atom in the universe as living and able to feel and to remember, but in a humble way. … Thus he will see God everywhere.”

Skrbina tells us that, according to Herbert Spencer in 1884 the man of science must conclude that: “Every point in space thrills with an infinity of vibrations passing through it in all directions; the conception to which [the scientist must] tend is much less that of a Universe of dead matter than that of a Universe everywhere alive: alive if not in the restricted sense, still in a general sense.”

Another great bit: In a brief essay titled “Intelligent Atoms,” Thomas Edison stated that “All matter lives, and everything that lives possesses intelligence. … The atom is conscious if man is conscious, … exercises will-power if man does, is, in its own little way, all that man is. … I cannot avoid the conclusion that all matter is composed of intelligent atoms and that life and mind are merely synonyms for the aggregation of atomic intelligence.”

And another: Josiah Royce advances this line of thinking in Studies of Good and Evil (1898), displaying a deepening conviction that all things have inner lives with as much reality and intrinsic worth as those of humans: “We have no sort of right to speak in any way as if the inner experience behind any fact of nature were of a grade lower than ours, or less conscious, or less rational, or more atomic. … This reality is, like that of our own experience, conscious, organic, full of clear contrasts, rational, definite. We ought not to speak of dead nature.”

As Skrbina puts it: The “dead nature” of mechanism is fundamentally challenged by the panpsychic worldview. Skrbina ends with a compelling peroration.

Panpsychism is a distinctive metaphysical worldview. As such, it stands in an awkward relationship with conventional positivist, mechanistic thinking. It can seem inconsequential, or even incomprehensible. And yet these are the very hallmarks of new worldviews; anything less would imply a superficial or minor revision to the prevailing view. The problems of mind and consciousness are so difficult, so intractable, that “drastic actions”— perhaps even as drastic as panpsychism— are warranted. … We may be approaching one of those times in history when fundamental assumptions about the world change.

And in closing, Skribina proposes a call to action:

Natural resources, including plant and animal species, are generally seen as mindless and insentient objects, and thus as deserving no particular respect or moral consideration. With no deeper meaning or value, they exist solely to benefit us. … [But] our mechanistic worldview is in error: that, by treating nature as mindless, we engage in irrational and destructive behavior. Metaphysics has consequences.

[You can see a one-minute YouTube video of David Skribina making this last point at an “Emergence and Panpsychism” conference in Munich, 2011. More videos from this conference are online as well.]

Take #2. Rudy’s “Panpsychic Manifesto”

For some reason, I don’t quite remember why, a couple of weeks ago I started thinking about David Skrbina’s Panpsychism in the West, and about panpsychism in general, and I took a break from working on my novel-in-progress, Return to the Hollow Earth, and I wrote a kind of manifesto—which is a fanatical format I’ve always found congenial. And then I emailed Skrbina to thank him for his book, and he told me he’d published a new edition, and I engaged to get a copy of it and to write this blog post as a type of review. My thoughts scuttling around like a nest of ants.

“Ants and Gems” acrylic on canvas, February, 2018, 40” x 30”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

Every entity is in some sense conscious. Putting it differently, every individual thing has a soul—from atoms to plants to societies to planets to the universe itself. The principle of universal mind is panpsychism.

This doctrine is familiar from the earliest history of philosophy, although it’s not popular now. Panpsychism fell out of favor during the Industrial Revolution, and even more so during the Computer Age.

The current tendency is to regard a mind as a computation, and to suppose that the only non-human minds are computers or robots or devices with chips. But a talking smart phone doesn’t represent the living consciousness that I’m looking for.

Panpsychic is about soul—an inner glow, far richer than any sly imitation. Trees, flowers, rocks, chairs, sandwiches, and atoms all have the glow. All are conscious.

Zen Buddhists tell the story of a monk who asks the sage, “Does a stone have Buddha-nature?” The sage answers, “The universal rain moistens all creatures.”

The inner glow is not the exclusive birthright of humans, nor is it solely limited to biological organisms. Each object has a mind. Another list: Stars, hills, scraps of paper, molecules—each of them possesses the same inner glow as a human, each of them has singular inner experiences, each of them takes in sensations.

The underlying reason for this may be that natural processes embody what we can call gnarly natural computations. Think of swaying trees, a candle flame, drying mud, flowing water, even a rock. Physical chaos is everywhere. To the human eye, a rock appears not to be doing much. But at the atomic level, a rock is like a zillion balls connected by springs. A lot going on! Deep thinker.

Okay, but why bother to believe in panpsychism? Because there’s an emotional reward. It feels pleasant to suppose I’m surrounded by living minds. The nineteenth century philosopher-scientist Gustav Fechner was an eloquent advocate for this point of view. He drew a contrast between what he called the daylight view and the night view of the world.

The night view: We’re the only minds around. We’re like fireflies in a silent, utterly black warehouse of cluttered junk and grim clockwork machinery. We’re specks of light amid great gears and unforgiving barriers. Lost in a gloomy, dead, uncaring world.

The day view: We’re surrounded by other souls as bright as ourselves. We wing across sunny meadows of beautiful flowers, and into the dappled forest. The air throbs with music. On every side, large and small creatures greet us. A teeming, cheerful, living, friendly world.

Which world do you prefer? I think for most of us the answer is clear.

Fine, but is there any practical use for panpsychism? I feel there is already an application. If I have a good talk with someone, I can sense they have a mind. The back and forth play of empathy brings us into a shared state. And now—here’s a jump. If you think in a certain way, it’s possible to have empathy with objects , and to see objects as glowing with inner light. This is a pleasant sensation indeed. And it comes very naturally to a carpenter, a mechanic, a painter, or a jeweler—or even to a writer, if you go so far as to think of a manuscript as a conscious, living thing.

Not practical enough? Consider this. We don’t use clockwork gears in our watches anymore, and we don’t make radios out of vacuum tubes. The era of digital computer chips will fade. Biotech computation will come and go And in the end we’ll be working with the gnarly natural computations of ordinary objects—a flame, a stream of water, a plant. Panpsychic panpsychic empathy can provide the input/output and the programming tools for these natural devices. Stare at a candle flame, and it’ll tell you what to do. Seers already do this!

A final point. Panpsychism, like other forms of higher consciousness, is dangerous to the established order. If the soil and the plants have minds, I feel more respect for them in their natural state, and I’m prone to be more environmentally aware. If I feel myself among friends in the universe, I’m less likely to waste my life in serving Mammon. If even a corpse is alive, then I don’t care so much about dying. And it’s that much harder for political oppressors to cow me into submission.

Take #3: Rudy on Robot Consciousness in Infinity and the Mind

I wrote about panpsychism in the “Robot Consciousness” section of my book, Infinity and the Mind in 1982. (At that time, as Skrbina might put it, I didn’t truly understand I was dipping into the panpsychist tradition of philosophy.)

It seems evident that there could be robots whose general behavior was the same as the behavior of human beings. These robots would be thinking beings who had evolved on a substrate of metal and silicon chips, just as we are thinking beings who have evolved on a substrate of amino acids and other carbon-based compounds. Would one be justified in saying that these highly evolved robots possess consciousness in the same sense that humans do?

Upon lengthy introspection, most people will agree that the individual person consists of three distinct parts: (a) the hardware, the physical body and brain; (b) the software, the memories, skills, opinions, and behavior in general; (c) consciousness, the sense of self or personal identity, pure awareness, the spark of life, or even the soul.

I would like to argue that any component of parts (a) or (b) can be replaced or altered without really affecting (c). My purpose in arguing this way will be to show that there is nothing about part (c) that is specific to the individual. …

I contend that the sum total of the individual consciousness is the bare feeling of existence, expressed by the primal utterance, I am. Anything else is either hardware or software, and can be changed or dispensed with. Only the single thought I am ties me to the person I was twenty years ago.

The curious thing is that you must express your individual consciousness in the same words that I use: I am. I am me. I exist. The philosopher Hegel was very struck by this fact, and deemed it an instance of “the divine nature of language.”

What conclusion might one draw from the fact that your essential consciousness and my essential consciousness are expressed in the same words? Perhaps it is reasonable to suppose that there really is only one consciousness, that individual humans are simply disparate faces of what the classical mystic tradition calls the One.

The essence of consciousness is, really, nothing more than simple existence. I am. Why should the possession of this sort of consciousness be denied to anything that does exist? Aquinas has said that God is pure existence unmodified. Is it not evident that there is a certain single something–call it God, or the One, or pure existence–that pervades the world as it is?

Consider the Zen phrasing of this: The universal rain moistens all creatures. Or think of the world as a stained-glass window with light shining through every part.

To exist is to have consciousness. The other things one might feel are necessary for consciousness are more or less complicated sorts of hardware and software, patterns of mass and energy. But no pattern can be conscious until it exists, until it is brought into reality. Existence is, finally, the only thing required for consciousness.

A rock is conscious. This piece of paper is conscious. And so, of course, is a robot, both before and after his behavior evolves to our level. Traditionally, those who have asserted the equivalence of men and (possible) machines have been positivists, mechanists, materialists. They put their viewpoint this way: “People are no better than machines.” But if one only changes the emphasis, then this equivalence can become the expression of a deep [panpsychic] belief in the universality and reality of consciousness: “Machines can be as good as people!”

Winter, with Hot Rods

February 1st, 2018

I haven’t been blogging much lately. I’ve been pouring most of my energy into my novel Return to the Hollow Earth, which is a sequel to my 1990 The Hollow Earth. Really rockin’ on the book these days, and I think I see the ending now. Might finish this summer. At that time I might Kickstart/self-pub it, just for the joy of seeing it out there…or I’ll suffer through that tired old hat-in-hand begging-publishers thing, followed by, if someone goes for it, a two or three year wait for the book to come out.

I have ten books in the pipeline at Night Shade just now, nine reprints plus my most recent novel Million Mile Road Trip, which I finished writing in July, 2017—it’s likely to come out in late 2018 or early 2019.

Anyway, let’s get into the photos! As I mentioned, I’m doing a lot of my shooting with my Pixel 2 camera these days. Having less glass in the lens, it’s inevitably inferior to the Fujifilm X100T digital that I used for the last few years but, as they say, the “best” camera is the one you have with you.

We were down in Santa Barbara for a family gathering last week, and one of the guys, my nephew-in-law, I guess you’d call him, Scott Bates, urged us to stop in Bradley, California, just off Rt. 101 between Paso Robles and King City. The old two-lane 101 went through Bradley, and it had about seven gas stations, but now that the town has been by-passed for years, it’s kind of dead. Like a diorama of the 1940s.

But! We found this amazing enterprise called Rader Rods Garage, or Rustamongus, run by Jimmy Rader. He drifted out of the garage after Sylvia and I had been poking around for about ten minutes. One of his pet projects is a Studebaker…it’s actually assembled from three different Studebakers, and has the loveliest pink color on the front half.

You can see Jimmy’s transcendent vision for the Studebaker’s apotheosis on a T-shirt that he sells a his annual “Hot Rod Social” in late September. Note the propeller on the front of the Studie. He has the propeller all set. Along with the motorcycle that has wooden Model T wheels.

Jimmy is working on all kinds of projects, but I assured him that, as far as I was concerned, his work is already at a very high peak of perfection.

Great light out there in the flat red land, heavily yellow sun.

Dig the teeth on this old bus. I’ve always been crazy about flaking paint. Such fabu gnarl. All the things that Nature gives us, just for free, with no extra effort needed.

And this rod, too much. I bet Hoke is a driver. Perfect name. My big brother was into hot-rods, he subscribed to car magazines, and fixed up two Model As and a Model T while we were kids. I’d thought Jimmy Rader might know about Robert Williams and his hot rod art, but he hadn’t heard of him. A natural-born hot-rodder in the purest form.

Jimmy said he grew up in Alviso on the north side of San Jose, at the end of 1st Street, at the bottom of the San Francisco Bay. Even now Alviso is somewhat Bradley-like. Empty and quiet. A holy blank space in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Back in 1972, I flamed our Ford, and was reminded of it by the flames on this, Jimmy’s regular driving rig.

The train track runs by the edge of town, and for whatever reason a long freight train with National Guard gear was taking a break. Enlightenment at the ass-end of nowhere. (My theme today?)

We stopped in Paso Robles, too—they have a nice old town square on the west side of 101. “Pass of the Oaks.” A tiny historical museum is in an old building in the square, and one of the displays was memorabilia of Paso Robles High School, including cheerleading uniforms. I dig this, with the timeless duds and the oak in the window outside.

It’s always a little cheap to hook a photo onto some printed words, but what the heck. And imagine that the furry “shako” hat is this being’s head.

Santa Barbara is, like, really California. Compared to them, the SF Bay Area is in the northeast. Classic scene in Sylvia’s aunt’s house here, that saturated morning light, the pool outside, the Scandinavian furniture, the leafy plant. Like a David Hockney painting.

The Santa Barbara harbor is really packed. And you know I went for the ripple jitter in that dark green water.

I always wonder if I could find a way to live in a house boat. With bubble portholes in ascending sizes, yeah. The damp could be too much.

I took a great hike in the woods a couple of weeks ago, hiked up along the bed of a dry (well, damp) stream not far from our house. If I stay in for too many weeks, I worry I might never hike again. These days I like to use two hiking sticks, whether in the mountaineer or the geezer sense.

Sylvia and I went out for the San Francisco Women’s March with our daughter-in-law and granddaughter. The signs were great, as in the photo above, taken by Sylvia. It was nice to be with all the women…they seemed happy, confident, and energized by each other’s presence. It felt…safe.

Sylvia had knit an extra pussy hat, so I got to wear it. As a fashion accent, I kept one ear flipped down, in the style of the cartoon pigs I like to draw.

Such a wonderfully ugly/scary drawing of that man.

Stepping out the back door one evening, lovely mist against a ganzfeld pattern of twigs. Good to have that pocket phone camera, times like this.

I’ve used the same kind of keyboard for about 25 years, it’s the Microsoft Natural Elite Ergonomic. You used to get them free when you bought a computer, and I always had an extra. But this fall my last one started skipping certain key presses, so I took apart to clean it…and was really bewildered by what I found inside…a floppy mat of translucent plastic, like a flat alien jellyfish, and I didn’t put it back right, and then, for awhile I settled for a newer Microsoft keyboard, but the keys weren’t clicky enough for me and not in the right spots, and already I’m putting up with an unpleasantly modern keyboard on my Thinkpad, so I went online to eBay and found this beauty at some shop in New Hampshire that was primarily devoted to selling “Scandinavian Housewares.” Nearly $100, but it was in-the-box new. And I’m so glad to have it…with that straight no-mind channel from my brain through my millions-of-words-trained fingers to the screen.

Note cover page of Return to the Hollow Earth. Yeah, baby!

One day Sylvia and I went up to the Legion of Honor art museum in SF, saw some decent Klimts, not his very best, but even so…and walked across the street on a fairly deserted golf course with its awesome view down off the cliffs to the waters of the Golden Gate. Spring’s here.

Saw a deer out my bedroom window the other day. They eat our flowers, but it’s nice having animals around. Once our friend Leon Marvell was visiting from Australia, and he was very excited about seeing deer on the hoof, mirroring our excitement about seeing loose kangaroos down there. I never did see enough kangaroos, though. Need to go back.

“Ratfink Pollock” acrylic on canvas, January, 2018, 24” x 18”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

I started this painting by dripping paint that I had left over from Shrig and Krakens. Then I started thinking about Jackson Pollock and I wanted to see if I could start to emulate his effects. I watched some videos of him for help. It’s hard to get just the right thickness to the paint so that it dribbles off a brush or a stick or a rag in an interesting way. Eventually I had some white spaces left over among the thicket of drips, so I made those into eyes. And then I noticed two eyes together that had a space under them like a mouth. So I made that a mouth and went for the Big Daddy Roth cartoon hotrod-art Ratfink look. To tie it together, I added one more thick black drippy line. And to liven up the black line, I flipped yellow droplets all along it.

I went by the Luggage Store gallery in SF to pick up my painting A Skugger’s Point of View, where it had been in a show. As always you can find out more about my art on my Paintings page.

Was great to have one or two days of heavy rain in early January. I’m wild about the circles that rain drops make. So perfect, so quick. Nature’s analog computation, eternally doing it. People who imagine successfully “emulating” all of Nature inside some kind of manmade computer are so totally missing the point. It’s here, it’s done, it’s working—relax and enjoy. And abandon all hope of control.

We call this the “Donkey Hill,” it’s near where we live. For the last thirty or forty years, there were always two donkeys here, a new pair every few years, walking around cropping the vegetation, and then somebody complained about the donkeys, said they weren’t being properly cared for, just hee-hawing in rolling fields like that, and the landowners were cowed into sending the donkeys to a farm. No comment.

After we saw the movie I, Tonya, I got all interested in figure-skating, from watching news footage of the actual Tonya in the credits, and when I heard the US Figure Skating Championships would be right here at the Sharks arena in San Jose, I went online and got a couple of tickets, fairly pricey, but in the first few rows, and we watched, it was cool, especially the five top-seeded contenders. I was surprised that nearly every single one of the ten lower-seeded contenders fell down on at least one jump. And that’s all they ever do, is to practice those jumps. Just shows you how hard it is.

After the show we went and saw the Benton St. Blues Band at the Po’ Boy’s Bistro nearby. Great band, and the food was okay.

Hiking in the Diablo Mountains near San Jose, the Levin park, plenty of cows around, dig this long gate panorama, such nice rhythm.

Before Christmas, Sylvia got this shot of the Santa Cruz surfer statue with a Santa hat.

Did I post this image yet? It’s the “Old Fire God” from an archeological site in Mexico. Saw other sculptures of this guy, and he always looks the same. I guess that’s a fire pit on his back.

Another day in Cruz…near dusk, near Steamer’s Lane, so perfect, the tubes. As the slogan read on the Last Whole Earth Catalog: “We don’t have to get it together. It is together.”

Sylvia and daughter Isabel near a good “healthy food” snack shack across the street from Steamer’s Lane. Dig the gnarly stump, and the mist on the field.

And a shot of Sylvia and me taken by Isabel. The golden hour of light.

Shot of our cozy home, processed by the Pixma “cartoon” filter. See you later!

Rudy & Paul Di Filippo in Lovecraft’s “Lost City of Leng”

December 28th, 2017

Early in 2017, I was starting work on my next novel, Return to the Hollow Earth, intended as a sequel to my 1992 novel, The Hollow Earth. Unsure where to take my story, I considered introducing a Cthulhu mythos theme. But then I decided to fission off the Lovecraft element into a separate story. And it worked! Paul Di Filippo and I wrote “The Lost City of Leng,” and it’s on the cover of Asimov’s SF. Here’s some extracts from my writing journals.

February 15, 2017. I want to write a 20 thousand word novella that’s a sequel to Lovecraft’s classic novella “At the Mountains of Madness.” For me, this work is the single greatest SF story ever written. I’ve admired to for years and years, and every time I reread it, it seems better. In this post, I’ll call Lovecraft’s novella ATMOM for short. I want to do the sequel project quite seriously, making a real push to create something great. Not a jape. But no need to be too serious about it, I suppose. Given that I’m more or less incapable of writing something that isn’t, at some level, at least to me, funny.

The tale is related to the Starkweather-Moore expedition that Lovecraft’s character William Dyer is inveighing against. I want to collaborate on it with Paul Di Filippo. Serious pastiche is one of Paul’s fortes, and I enjoy it myself…I call it “twinking.” Cf. my novel The Hollow Earth, which twinks Eddie Poe.

Maybe we’ll call it “The Plateau of Leng” which was Lovecraft’s indirectly intimated name for both the Elder Ones’ city and for the landscape it was in.

Re. this name, note that in 2009 my friend Marc Laidlaw wrote a memorably creepy Lovecraft-style story called “Leng,” which appears in his recent story collection 400 Boys and 50 More . Marc’s ending for his tale is one of the most disgusting climaxes ever, so be careful not to read any online discussion of the tale before you savor the foul original itself.

March 30, 2717 I finished a new painting, “In the Lost City of Leng.” It goes with the ATMOM sequel project.


[ “In the Lost City of Leng” acrylic on canvas, March, 2017, 40” x 30”. Click for a larger version of the painting.]

Recall that Lovecraft’s tale is about some adventurers who find their way into a tens-of-thousands of years old city beneath the ice and snow of an obscure plateau in Antarctica. And some of the down-sloping walls of the hallways are adorned with friezes that describe the history, science, art, and culture of the “Elder Ones” or “cukes” who lived there. The cukes were all but exterminated by some train-car-sized slugs known as shoggoth. So in my painting, we see a couple of explorers, totally unaware of the waiting shoggoth below…

***


[Awesome Fake “Classics Illustrated” Comic Cover for ATMOM]

As an aside, I found a nice online edition of “At the Mountains of Madness.” The page includes reproduction of a truly bitchin’ cover, purportedly for a Classics Illustrated edition of the book. The image features a raging echinoderm Elder One or what I call a “cuke-man” waving a hapless dog and a man. Dig the frieze in the background? Like the one I painted, and like the ones that Lovecraft describes.

Love the guy cringing in his Antarctic furs. When I posted thus image on Facebook, one of my more comics-savvy readers, Seth Kallen Deitch, informed me the cover is a fake. Wonder who the artist is. I just love those shades of green.

Looking up “At the Mountains of Madness” on Wikipedia, the closest thing to a sequel is Stross’s magisterial “A Colder War” in Toast. I reread it, and it’s very strong, and even a bit daunting. It’s set in the Reagan years, and the existence of the “plateau of Leng” with the lost city of the Elder Ones is systematically covered up by the powerful nations—they signed a 1935 “Dresden Accord.” Even Hitler signed. In the end, to my relief, Stross’s tale diverges from the path I plan. “A Colder War” segues into a WWIII disaster story, with the Lovecraftian Old Ones off-camera. On camera we have some star-gates to other worlds. Bleak worlds. And the story has an emphasis on the evil quality of the alien critters, which gets into into another area of the Cthulhu mythos, the Eater of Souls thing, and at the end we sense that the main character is literally in Hell.

I also found this sidelight on Wikipedia.

“Chaosium Games released a campaign book [that is, a connected series of battles, adventures, and scenarios] titled Beyond the Mountains of Madness for their Call of Cthulhu role-playing game in 1999. This book details the Starkweather-Moore expedition return to the ice to discover the truth about the Miskatonic Expedition. The book incorporates many of the aspects of the original Lovecraft story, including references to the Poe story novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, [the artist] Nicholas Roerich, [and the characters] Danforth and Dyer.”

The “campaign book” is on Abe Books for $120 or more, so never mind reading that.

Random idea: Have the characters be beatniks, a la William Burroughs’s Yage Letters,searching for deeper kicks? Nah, that would be corny, also I just did the Beats in my novel Turing & Burroughs. Would be more fun to do a full-on Cthulhu Mythos tale. Not that Ole Tentacle-Face actually needs to appear himself.


[Rudy Rucker and Paul Di Filippo in Boston, August, 2012]

I just now wrote Paul Di Filippo to ask if he will collaborate on this, and he’s like yeah, but not just now, he has commitments. I wrote back:

I went and reread the poem “Kubla Khan” just now. Possibly we can work in some of my Hollow Earth stuff into our tale, as it seems logical that’s where Coleridge’s Alf and the river in ATMOM both ran. Stench of penguins at their indoor pen at the NYC central Park zoo. Riding down through the sunless sea on the backs of two penguins. The resounding *bonng* of freedom and air as our characters pop out into the Hollow Earth. And there in the far distance, at the Hollow Earth’s Central Anomaly, there one can see *zonnng* the giant sea cucumbers, the true Great Old Ones.

Paul said he was booked till March 26, 2017, but he allowed as how he might have some “interstitial time.” I kept after him.

Aha. Secret interstitial high-quality Di Filippo time is on tap! I’m gonna frikkin’ start the story this week. Time spent on the “wrong” project is always the sweetest. First I’ll make a few notes. I’m thinking the characters might be Starkweather and Moore, the guys who HPL’s character says were about to make the second expedition. Say Moore is from Providence. He’s more of a practical guy. Starkweather is his somewhat flaky prof pal, like me. And we have a woman as well. She starts out as Starkweather’s wife, but she ends up with Moore. Starkweather dies or disappears near the end, maybe he tumbles off toward the center of the Hollow Earth. He’ll want to be with the giant sea-cukes at Earth’s core. I’ll get some notes together and write maybe 3 or 4 thousand words and send it to you in a week or two.

And Paul was like, “Go, man, go. Love it. It’s been too long.” So he’s in. Wonderful. Paul is great to work with. Thius will be our sixth story together. The others: “Instability,” “The Square Root of Pythagoras,” “The Elves of the Subdimensions,” “Fjaerland,” and “Yubba Vines.” You can find the older ones in my online Complete Stories.


[Rudy’s old painting “The Hollow Earth.” See his Paintings page for more info.]

I also read I. N. J. Culbard’s graphic novel version of “At the Mountains of Madness.” This one is nicely laid out, but it’s kind of weak. The buildings of Leng don’t look alien at all…they look like Chicago. And the friezes get short shrift, and the cuke-men aren’t so good, nor is the shoggoth, and the author writes the word “Tekeli-li” at least a hundred times in big red letters near the end of the book,..which doesn’t accomplish much. So much of Lovecraft’s effect comes from his prose. Culbard’s big eyeless penguin is good.

One more source to check, suggested to me by Paul Di Filippo: Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill, Nemo: Heart of Ice. I just bought it online. It came, I looked at it, not all that much there for me. He, too, invokes the sacred word tekelili in vain. The best thing is a super-intense drawing of a shoggoth.

***

In any case, it looks like there’s room for a post-ATMOM tale involving the Starkweather-Moore expedition. To give it a bit of an outsider spin, it could be that our trio of characters (two guys and a woman) are not in the S-M expedition. They’re freebooting drifters who go to Leng on their own, and have to outfox and/or save and/or be saved by the S-M crew.

Or, no, better, let’s say the S-M expedition has already been sent down and it was an effin’ disaster with every single person killed and the support ships sucked down into giant maelstroms as well! Of course! And then our chracters skeeve down there while the world powers dither whether to send a yet-larger expedition including full military support.

Having just three or maybe four in the party would make the story’s setup more lightweight. They’d need a special plane that can fly really far and high and carry a buttload of gas in expanded tanks, enough gas for the flight back, but that’s doable with 30’s tech, possibly modulo some slight rubber science tweaks. And they can steal the plane, so they don’t really have to be that rich or well-equipped.

An issue I’m worrying about is how our guys will deal with the shoggoths. These seem to be group organisms like mold slime, giant slugs the size of a subway train with eyes and mouths spontaneously forming and dissolving all over their surface. Capable of moving as fast as, say, a running horse. How do you kill one of those with tweaked ’30s tech? Projectiles seem fruitless. A flamethrower might work, but that’s hella heavy to lug over the Mountains of Madness and down into the tunnels of “Leng.” Need something trickier.

I’m thinking ultrasonics. Like a dog whistle. A shoggoth whistle. Breaks the thing up into amoebas. That “tekeli-li” chirp is how it holds itself together, an acoustic control system that marshals the protean cells of the undifferentiated tissues of the monster into form. You can carry the shoggoth whistle in your pocket! One of our guys, or, better, the woman, invents it.

Juices starting to flow, Muse casting flirty glances my way.


[Painting of Tibetan village by Nicholas Roerisch. Roerisch was an inspiration for Lovecraft’s vision of Leng.]

Characters

How about the characters? For his character, Paul suggested Diego Patchen, a character name from his novella “A Year in the Linear City.” Maybe we call him Doug Patchen so it’s a different person.

Doug Patchen (27) is a young, eager reporter for the Boston Globe. He has some women friends, but nothing serious as yet. Doug has done news-stories on both of the other two male characters, which is how he knows them. He thinks the people in Lovecraft’s Arkham town are full of shit and, as a reverse twist, this turns out to be, by and large, true. Small-minded religious zealots. We’re not going to see Cthulhu in this story.

Stan Gorski (45) used to fly a rescue plane for the Boston Coast Guard. He lost his pilot’s license for drinking and for getting involved in liquor smuggling. (Prohibition ran from 1920-1933.). Works as a plane mechanic now. Has a wife and four kids. A tough guy, Raymond Chandleresque.

Dog. Gorski has a dog named Gurrr. Or maybe Hauhau, which is supposed to be the Polish imitation of barking. Or, no, give the dog to Doug Patchen, and use the name Baxter.

Leon Bagger (37), a marine biologist. And Bagger’s wife Vivi Nordstöm (32). Leon is Australian, Vivi is (seemingly) Norwegian. She’s an artist, she does watercolors of sea creatures for monographs. Also a techie. Doug develops a huge crush on Vivi, who in turn flirts with him. Doug met these two while doing a Sunday supplement article on them. In Fredrik Sjoberg’s book on entomologists, The Fly Trap, I read about a cool aviator and adventuress and explorer named Ester Blenda Nordström, and she had a sister named Vivi, who had a scandalous affair with an entomologist.


[Ester Blenda Nordström in flying togs. ~1930.]

Leon specializes in echinoderms. Especially sea cucumbers. Leon has been trapping sea cukes on the deep sea floor off Boston, in the Grand Banks. He had a problem in his research boat—it was sinking—and Stan Gorski rescued him. Leon and Ariel are visiting scholars at the Harvard Department of Invertebrate Zoology, part of the Museum of Comparative Zoology. The museum’s echinoderm collection is one of the richest in the world. Founded 1860.

Leon gets in touch with Doug because he objects so strongly to the upcoming military attack on Leng. He found out via upper-echelon Harvard faculty club gossip. Leon feels the Elder Ones—whom he calls cuke-men or cuke-women—are meant to be our friends. He wants Doug to help him organize a commando-like rogue expedition to Leng in the Mountains of Madness before the joint US-Australian military expedition goes there. Leon, who’s quite a schemer, has gotten in touch with Stan as well. Stan is up for anything, with his background of bootlegger connections.

And—oh yeah, this’ll kick it up a big notch—have a cuke-woman in the posse. She made her way to Boston (or at least to Melbourne) and connected with Leon Bagger to talk about the threat to her race. A little tricky for her to disguise herself as human. See the image below!


[Wonderful drawing of a cuke-man by Jason B. Thompson.]

Name? Urxa, or even Urxula, if that’s not too much. Great reveal when Doug meets this cuke-woman in Leon’s office. Vivi close friends with Urxula.

Outline

February 21, 2017. If we want to write a novella, we need several blocks of story. Here’s a first slash at it.

I. To Leng! Tell back story and get our characters onto the plane to Leng.

II The Cukes. Leon enables them to find and to talk to a colony of cuke-men, who are agitated over the impending invasion. The cukes can hear radio waves, and generate them. They talk via the short-wave radio the crew brought along. The cuke-men are in some sense using Earth as a spaceship, riding it to wherever our solar system happens to be going.

III. The Battle with the Shoggoths. They use ultrasonics to wipe out the nest of Shoggoths beneath Leng. But not with full success. Maybe jealous Leon dynamites the entrance to the tunnel under Leng so that Doug and Vivi are trapped there—and then they have to exit via the Hollow Earth.

IV. The Lake. They flee go down into the deep subterranean lake, riding on the backs of cukes, who feed them air from their mouths.

V. The Hollow Earth. At the bottom of the lake is a hole leading into the Hollow Earth. Maybe it’s just Doug and Vivi, or maybe Leon is with them after all, and he flips out and wants to fly all the way in to the center to be with the giant sea cucumbers there. Vivi becomes young Doug’s lover. Stan Gorski gets drunk and fucks Urxula (maybe) or otherwise pisses off the locals and they have to leave in haste. Doug and Vivi get married.

VI. They make their way home and forestall further invasions of Leng.

As often happens, we used almost none of this outline.

Plane


[The Grumman Plane Stan Gorski Flew for Coast Guard Rescue, 1930.]

I was briefly tempted by the Dornier Do X planes, also called a flying boat. In 1930 it was the heaviest plane in the world. It has six engines in a row atop the flat wing and six more in the back and is enormous inside, with fifty passengers and a crew of 19. But the Do X could only manage an altitude of about 1,500 feet. And they only built three of them. Too kludgy.

In ATMOM they have large Dornier seaplanes that land on deep snow, and to land a seaplane in deep snow is indeed feasible. I assume they were the Wal or Whale or Do J planes. The pass to Leng is 24,000 feet, which might actually have been too much for hem. But Lovecraft didn’t worry about this.

For our novella, I like the Dornier Do 24, developed by Dornier for the Dutch Navy, mainly used by the Luftwaffe. All metal. Can carry bombs. Armed with Hispano-Suiza cannon and 2 machine guns. Crew of 6. Do 24 range is 1,600 miles, ceiling 26,000 feet. Had three Wright Cyclone radial engines mounted up on the overhead wing. You could fly it from, Ushuaia, capital of Tierra del Fuego, at the tip of South America to Leng if you managed to refill the gas tank on the way…you could manage that if you brought some barrels of fuel. Or, better yet, outfit the thing with double or triple size tanks of gas. If you double-size the tanks you can do 3,200 miles.

Regarding range, by the way, I notice that, as of 2017, there are round trip day-flights over Antarctica from both Sydney and Melbourne, Australia. Round trip flight time is about 12 hours in a 747, and it’s about a 6,000 mile round trip.


[The Dornier DO 24.]

Looking at the Google Earth program, I see a short geodesic path that goes straight down along the west coast of South America. About 10,000 miles from Boston to Leng. The Do 24 range is, again, 1,600 miles, and if I’ve doubled the fuel tank size, or a bit more, I can get a range of 3,600 miles, and I can do the trip in three hops.

A Do 24 cruises at about 200 mph. So we’re looking at a 50 hour flight for 10,000 miles, not too bad. Break it into just three hops to keep the story moving.

Boston – Lima – Ushuaia – Leng
3,600 mi – 3,000 mi – 3,500 mi
18 hr – 14 hr – 17 hr

A catch: they won’t have any gas to get back. Bagger and Gorski know this, but they don’t tell Doug, who’s too green to thin of it. They’re counting on the cukes to carry them back. Urxula told them they would.

Suppose that one of the other Do 24x planes sets out in pursuit a day or two later, and he can show up at the end in Leng for the finale.

Date

ATMOM expedition starts from Boston on September 2, 1930, and when they get to Antarctica it’s November 7, 1930. It’s not quite clear when Lovecraft’s story is written, perhaps in mid-1931, and the Starkweather-Moore expedition would be in the fall/winter of 1931.

And then I’m saying the S-M explorers were massacred by shoggoths—despite the cuke-men’s attempt to restrain the shoggoths—and their ships disappeared into maelstroms. There may also have been some damage from mysteriously purposeful lightning bolts, as were observed by Dyer above the next peaks over (the true Mountains of Madness.) And it wasn’t covered up, it was all on the radio.

After the utter disaster of Starkweather-Moore, nobody does a follow-up for a couple of years. Let’s say this brings us to the end of 1933. And the US, or maybe some private guys, are planning a secret expedition. And our guys steal their Do 24x in Boston at the very end of December 1933, on New Year’s Eve. Just checked and—how beautiful—there was a full moon that night. Perfect for a long flight.

Location:

Lovecraft’s Leng is near Lat 76 15’ S, Long 113 10’ E. In East Antarctica, which is (I hadn’t known this) the part of Antarctica that’s in the Eastern hemisphere. It’s close to being due south of New Zealand and Australia. It’s on a plateau beyond the volcanic Mt. Erebus in McMurdo Sound. Beyond the Transantarctic Range. Inland from Queen Mary Land.


[Map of Antarctica. Leng is by Lake Vostok.]

Turns out Leng is near the subglacial Lake Vostok , which Stross incorporates into his “A Colder War” of 2002. Lake Vostok’s existence was suspected around 1960, and confirmed around 1990. By some uncanny vision or stroke of luck, Lovecraft writes about a warm subterranean lake beneath the Elder One’s city of Leng. And William Dyer and the grad student Danforth were on their way there when they encountered the shoggoth.

Lake Vostok is at 77 S, 106 E, Also near the Southern “Pole of Cold,” that is, the spot where the coldest temperatures occur, at 78 S 102 E. Record: -130 degrees Fahrenheit, in July, 1983. Temperatures rise only to -10 F in the summer season of December to February. The surface of Lake Vostok is some 13,000 feet below the surface of the 12,000 foot thick ice, which puts the surface over 1,000 feet below sea level. This creepy lake is 150 miles by 30 miles, and is itself up to 2,500 feet deep. The Russians have drilled down to sample its water—one hopes without contaminating it.


[Lake Vostok, from Wikipedia]

And Leon Bagger and I know that a passage to the Hollow Earth lies beneath the lake, via the River Alf.

The Third Thing

March 20, 2017. In ATMOM, there’s some third thing other than the cukes and the shoggoths. Danforth sees something in the sky as they were leaving and it drives him crazy, and Dyer tremulously writes about this. A list of things Danforth said. I edited out the boring ones.

He has on rare occasions whispered disjointed and irresponsible things about “the carven rim”, “the windowless solids with five dimensions”, “the primal white jelly”, “the color out of space”, “the moon-ladder”; but when he is fully himself he repudiates all this and attributes it to his curious and macabre reading of earlier years.

And then I put these things into a vision that my Doug Patchen has. You could also call the third thing the “Unknown Kadath.” On the other hand, what if it’s a good thing? Just for a twist.

We’re going along well, nearly 14,000 words into the story now. I’m writing like a maniac—polishing, patching, and adding—fitting our word hoard into a seemly form. Putting a spandex Spanx body-shaper onto our textual shoggoth.

I’d considered having them leave Antarctica via a shortcut through the Hollow Earth, but I think I’ll drop any detailed Hollow Earth stuff—although perhaps the cukes can adumbrate it. Maybe their goal is to go down through Vostok lake into the Hollow Earth, and the shoggoths are hanging them up. We won’t follow them through the lake and into the Hollow Earth—that would be “a bridge too far.” We won’t even explicitly say there’s a star gate inside the Hollow Earth, although maybe there is one. Hollow planets are like stepping stones, or teleportation booths, you hop from one interior to the next.


[James Ryman’s rendering of one of the cuke-people, also known as Elder Ones. The wings are clearly shown here.]

During the battle with the shoggoths, Doug himself blows up the fuel dump, firing a Do 24 cannon blast into it because the boss shoggoth is right on top of the fuel dump. And then a flock of flying cukes invoke the power of the unknown Kadath to send lighning onto the shoggoth. And then the plane with frikkin’ Teirney shows up, and maybe he saves our boys. Or there’s a fight.

Not sure if Professor Leon is still alive in the end. Maybe yes, why not. The two guys were the dupes of Vivi and now she’s gone and they’re comrades in arms.

I’m assuming that Vivi is in fact a cuke, she’s been one all along, and of course Urxula knew this, but Professor Leon didn’t know, or maybe he does to some extent know. Vivi uses a “glamour,” that is, hypnotic teep to make herself seem like a woman to them. She isn’t actually speaking words out loud, only piping, and the teep makes it sound like words. Vivi enlisted Leon so she could get her ultrasound amplifier working, and so the cukes cold sing the shoggoth to bits. And it almost works, but there’s a final white-slime shuggoth core that’s immune to the music and it’s rampaging up towards them, and that’s the one that Doug blows up with the fuel dump—and maybe he’s put the dynamite in there too.

I do still want a scene in those tunnels with the cuke hieroglyphs. Maybe Vivi and Leon and Baxter and Urxula go down there to lure the shoggoths out.


[Rudy and Paul at H. P. Lovecraft’s grave in Providence, RI, 2003]

Two Issues

(1) Paul had the idea of them learning a shoggoth-language spell that would stop a shoggoth in its tracks. But why wouldn’t the cukes know this chant, and be using it? Maybe it only works if it’s declaimed in an ultrasonic treble which penetrates into the bodies of shoggoths.

(2) A problem: If I have, like, a cubic mile of shoggoths, then blowing up the fuel dump isn’t going to kill them. Unless—the shoggoths are flammable. And in the end, it’s the flame thrower that turns the tide. Prefigure his by having the shoggoth in Ushuaia harbor catch fire, though that would be too obvious, have it smoldering, or have them see a plume of smoke behind them.

(3) .. I’d said that a lot of the Starkweather guys were killed by smart lightning bolts. Doug despairingly blows up the fuel dump under the shoggoth, shooting it with the cannon like I said, but then whoops the shoggoth pinches out the flame and comes crawling forward—and that’s when the storm kicks up and the lightning zaps the shuggoth mass extinction. Oh, wait, I said the flying cukes would guide the bolts. And yon shoggoth is a crispy critter. And even more Kadath lightning up on the mountains of madness, killing off the castle-lurking shoggoths up there as well.

Final twist, as they leave and look back, the Mountains of Madness shrink down, and Leng totally disappears into a smooth, rolling field of snow. But maybe that’s too: “And then little Nemo fell out of bed and woke up.” But it’s a traditional kind of fairy-tale ending, and it gives closure, so go with it. And you can always dig deeper if you really want to find Leng again.

Finishing It.

April 2-10, 2017.Paul sent me version 6, pretty well wrapping it up at 17,800 words. He left out a couple of moves that I still might put in, and added some others, mostly better ones.. I’ll go over the whole thing and try to get the tone right—I’d like it to be serious, although somewhat funny.

So okay, by April 6, I had the ending down, and I went through it to make the whole thing consistent. I also started reading another H. P. Lovecraft story, “The Whisperer in Darkness,” which Paul had been talking about. He got his “planet Yuggoth” from there, also a guy Henry Akeley who had his brain packed in a can.

I sent Paul my version 7, he sent back a very slightly changed version 8, and then I dug in and worked for a week on the final version, number 9. As I wrote Paul about it:

“I went over the whole thing once, and went over the final part three or four times. Thickening and smoothing and logicizing. I made Leon a bit more of a bohemian. Added a couple of small eyeball kick scenes: a vision of Leng 100,000 years ago, and a view of Lake Alph, lit by Vivi’s flare gun. The very last scene has the welcome feel of Jack and Neal on the road. And now it’s 21K words and change. A novella, yes.”

Paul sent it off to one of the major SF magazines, and now we’ll see. IMHO, a Hugo and a Nebula would be in order, but I’ve been wrong about such things before 🙂

It was really fun getting into this world, and now I miss it. I added a light Hollow Earth element to the story, which kind of nudges me to go back to my current novel project, Return to the Hollow Earth.. I liked our character Doug Patchen. An unsure-of-himself young reporter in 1934. Maybe I could have a character like that for my Hollow Earth novel-in-progress.

April 20, 2017. Much to our fury and chagrin, the editor to whom Paul had sent our “In the Lost City of Leng” rejected it. Too raw for this person’s taste it seems. For some reason our use of the slang word “mofo” offended them. Or was it the three-way with two men and a woman who’s a trans sea cucumber alien? Said editor intoned that, yes, the Lovecraft canon was due for (their phrase) “re-visioning.” But not, apparently by a couple of old cyberpunk Thomas Pynchonian Lovecraft freaks like Paul and me! So much for my pre-visioning of awards—like poor Eddie Poe’s saddening visions of treasure in his “Gold Bug” story.

Well, remember that Weird Tales rejected our man Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness,” when he wrote it in 1931. He took this badly and was so discouraged that it was only in 1935 that his agent sent the story to Astounding , where the editor F. Orlin Tremaine butchered the text so badly that Lovecraft referred to him as, “that god-damn’d dung of a hyaena.” They gave him a good cover illo, though.


[ATMOM in Astounding Stories, 1936]

After his troubles with publishing “At the Mountains of Madness,” H. P. pretty much gave up on writing fiction, and died a few years later. Eeek!

So I sent our “Leng” on to the worthy Sheila Williams at Asimov’s, and hoped for the best.

April 25, 2017. Yes! Sheila bought it. Enjoy.


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