Archive for the ‘Million Mile Road Trip’ Category


SF in SF, Blumlein, End Draft MILLION MILE ROAD TRIP, Gunnar, John Shirley

I did a reading event with Michael Blumlein  for an SF in SF event in San Francisco on June 12, 2016.  I read my story “Knobby Giraffe,” about a woman rescuing her girlfriend from the dead, and Michael read an essay/memoir called “Unrestrained and Indiscreet,” which turned out to be about the fact that Michael is dying of cancer.  It was deep and profound.   I posted a podcast of my story. And I posted a podcast of Blumlein’s amazing performance as well.

Here’s the audience. The discontinuity is because Richard Kadrey and Pat Murphy were off to the side.  A good crowd. If you were there and want to find yourself, view the larger version. Many thanks to Jacob and Rina of Tachyon Press for keeping the SF in SF readings going, and to Terry Bisson for serving as the leathery emcee.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’ve been talking about my novel Million Mile Road Trip for nearly two years. I finished the first draft this week. What you see above is a sketch for a scene that’s in the second to last chapter, entitled “Cosmic Beatdown: Part I.” The attack of the giant saucers. A classic, classic theme.

“Saucer Bagpipe” acrylic on canvas, June, 2016, 24” x 24”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

In the very last chapter, “Cosmic Beatdown: Part II,” my characters finish off a certain evil alien bagpipe named Groon. Who’s he? He’s a mountainous bagpipe that spews flying saucers, and who forces the saucers to act as leeches. But you don’t need to know that. As I’ve said before, I like to regard many of my paintings as being illustrations of unknown parables or proverbs. Like medieval illos of tales gone missing in the flow of time. Just from the image, we have no way of knowing of the horn is sucking or blowing. We also have to wonder about the outer, wider horn, what is it for? And why does that top saucer look more alert and disturbed than the others? And who are the three tiny people watching? No answers are really needed. The bagpipe and the flock of little saucers are enough.

I had a nice time working on this painting in my backyard “studio.”

Priliminary sketch of how to eliminate Groon. Click for a larger version of the drawing.

Here’s a quote from Million Mile Road Trip where the characters discuss how to kill Groon. The “Figures” mentioned in the text relate, somewhat, to the frames in the preliminary sketch above.

“A new era’s coming,” says Villy. “Scud’s talking about how we’ll kill Goon. He’s giving us an illustrated lecture.”

Scud is glad to have Zoe here. “For my pictures, I’ll draw two parallel universes that are 2D planes in 3D space,” he says. “But really it’s supposed to be one dimension higher. Two parallel universes that are 3D spaces in 4D hyperspace.”

“Hyperspace,” echoes Villy in the dumbest hick accent imaginable. “Haahpurspayce.”


“Saucerpeople” oil on canvas, Sept, 2015, 24” x 18”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

By the way, Maisie is a saucerperson, that is, she’s half flying saucer, so she has a rim or flap around her waist that Scud can draw on. The rim has a cuttlefish-skin-like ability to change colors.

Scud starts drawing on Maisie’s flap. “So we’ve got two universes that are like 2D planes. And in one universe we’ve got a really and truly flat cow, like a cut-out piece of paper. Also a flat bagpipe with a flat horn. And in the other universe we’ve got, well, let’s put a flat person with a flat eye. These creatures can’t normally travel from one universe into the other. They’re inside their home surfaces—you shouldn’t think of them as sliding around on top of the surfaces. They’re like inkblots in paper. And they just see what’s in their home world.”

“And now you want to show how they do sometimes go from one universe to the other,” says Maisie.

“Exactly, says Scud. “We travel from world to world by using unny tunnels. And I happen to know a lot about unny tunnels from reading popular science books about the fourth dimension.”

“Doesn’t everyone?” goes Villy.

“An unny tunnel is what we call a wormhole or an Einstein-Rosen bridge,” says Scud, drawing his second picture. “The idea is that you bulge down the space of one world, and bulge up the space of the other, and they meet and join together like soap films, and there’s a, like, throat connecting the two worlds. Unny tunnel.”

“The flat bagpipe and the flat cow fall through the hole in the middle of the hole?” says Villy.

“Precisely not,” says Scud. “Remember that these guys slide around inside the surfaces. Moving ink blots! What they’ll do is creep down the side of that wormhole I’ve drawn.”

“Which side?” asks Zoe. “The inside or the outside.”

“Riding the Flat Cow” acrylic and oil on canvas, April, 2016, 24” x 20”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

[As I mentioned before, the novel has a character called the flat cow, or Yulia, although she’s not really flat, she’s just flattish, like partly squashed. Turns out she’s able to fly into the fourth dimension. But back to the quote from the text.]

“Wrong question!” cries Scud. “I’m telling you, they’re not really on one side or the other side of the surfaces. They’re like tattoos. They go all the way through. But! Our flat cow, she’s different. She has real thickness. She can peel free of the surface and fly around.,”

“And if you’re flying around in hyperspace outside the tunnel, what do you see?” asks Zoe.

“You’ll see a sphere that keeps bulging and warping and changing size while you move. Like this.” Scud runs his finger along Maisie’s rim, enjoying himself.

“And what does an unny tunnel look like to regular people in 3D space?” asks Villy.

“To us, the gate to the tunnel looks like a sphere with another world inside it,” says Scud.

“And what about when we’re inside the tunnel?” asks Villy. “Sliding down along the wall. What do we see then?”

“It’s effed up,” says Scud. “In one direction you see the back of your own head. And maybe you see a ball that has your old world inside it. And in the opposite direction you might see a ball holding the world you’re going to. We saw stuff like that when we hopped over here from Los Perros. But I don’t want to draw it. Too hard. Let’s show something easier.” His finger moves caressingly on Maisie’s rim. “Here’s a bagpipe going through the unny tunnel,” continues Scud. “That’s supposed to be Groon, right?”

“Kill Groon,” goes Maisie.

“I want to see the attack of the flat cow,” says Zoe.

“Yulia’s out there in hyperspace. Let’s suppose she has an agile person squeezed inside her flesh like a maggot. A heroic helper to pull the strings tight around the unny tunnel at either end.” Scud looks at Villy.

“Thus trapping the evil bagpipe in Nowheresville,” goes Zoe.

Some of my old friends have been leaving town lately. My neighbor Gunnar Vatvedt, 82, who’s been renting up the street from me for thirty years—his landlord decided to sell the house, and Gunnar’s outta here. I’ll miss him. He was a real character, very enlightened, but not via book-learning. With a great Norwegian accent.

My fellow Dark Lord of Cyberpunk, John Shirley, is moving up to the vicinity of Portland with his wife Micky. Here again, the Bay Area’s current real estate bubble and price inflation played a role. It’s been nice having John and Mickey around. You never know what John is going to say next, which is why it’s fun to talk to him. We had a farewell dinner at a tapas place in the Mission, with the oddly distorted artist Paul Mavrides and fellow cyberpunk Richard Kadrey there as well.

And here’s me, Sylvia and Micky. We were laughing about the Mondo 2000 party where we’d met Tim Leary around 1989. Tim asked Micky if she had some drugs. And then he asked Sylvia…where she had gone to high-school. Ow! Sylvia says that Tim asking her that proved that, just like me, he was, deep-down, kind of a preppie. Preps gone freak.

John and Micky left town via a teleport through this odd slab gate on the shores of Santa Cruz. The flat cow was busy that day.

SFMoma, SRL show, Cyclecide, Bagpipe and Flat Cow

Time for another blog post. I have a lot of photos that have piled up. Today I want to make it easy on myself, so I’ll just post the photos, recent ones first, older ones last, with some comments.

Today’s theme? ART!

Sylvia and I got into the newly renovated SF MOMA yesterday. They got a ton of modern works from the Gap owner, who also paid for the new galleries. A little bit of a vanity self-publishing aspect to this. “My collection is perfect, and I don’t want no stinkin’ curator messing with it!” Some good stuff in there, with a certain number of misfires. I mean, the guy was buying art every year, no matter what…and some things don’t hold up so well.

Here’s a couple of my fellow culture vultures with an Ellsworth Kelly painting. A bunch of paintings by him…they’re kind of satisfying. I don’t think they’d work at all if they weren’t so big.

I guess it goes without saying SF MOMA isn’t on a level with the treasure house that is the NY MOMA — despite some local boosters’ efforts to say otherwise. Floor area isn’t everything. But, hey, don’t ask too much, after all, SF is only a tenth as large of a city as NYC. And, make no mistake, the new SF MOMA really is a fun place to visit, and I don’t mean to dis it. More stuff than you can see in one day. I look forward to many trips there.

Saw a great Stella called “The Hunt: the Third Day,” … see the horse hooves on the lower right. Stella has done a million of the wall assemblages, but this a particularly nice one.

I really liked John Chamberlain sculpture made from a squashed washing machine biting a car bumper. I told my brother-in-law I’d pay $100K for it, if I were richer, and he said that to buy that sculpture he’d need to have $60M in the bank…and be drunk. But I feel he’s mistaken. It’s not so easy to bend and crumple a washing machine so that it looks like art. The frozen torque, mon ami.

When Sylvia and I wandered down the 2nd floor galleries wondering what was there, we were surprised to find the museum’s old collection…I had forgotten about that in the hullaballoo of the new Gap-load. Good to see some old pals here. Fabulous surreal painting by Diego Rivera, called “Symbolic Landscape,” inspired by a woman’s murder in Taxco — suggested by the woman’s glove, and the bloody dagger with a ring at the bottom — and dig how the peeled log “is” the woman. Such lush painting. Diego is king. Not enough of that in contemporary works, in my geezerly opinion.

I was happy to see they have Arneson’s “California Artist” on display, wearing shades whose lenses are holes revealing, oho, that he has an empty head, California artist that he is. I first saw this sculpture when we moved to California in 1986, and I was, like, yeah, I’m a California artist too. I just didn’t realize that before. It’s high time I got here. Solidarität!

“Riding the Flat Cow” acrylic and oil on canvas, April, 2016, 24” x 20”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

I’ve been painting a lot myself lately. Here’s “Riding the Flat Cow,” with my character Villy atop the back of a seemingly flat, or flattish cow, who is in fact a flying saucer and, more than that, is the general of the flying saucer rebel army and, more than that, is capable of travel into the four-dimensional “unspace” that separates our universe from the saucer-filled parallel universe in which it is in fact possible to do a Million Mile Road Trip in your car, assuming you have some really good tires and shocks.

I love the bagpipe in Hieronymus Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights.” With what you might call a “Yay Bagpipes” flag near it. Cropping the image, I see a possible Boschian commentary, to the effect: “The sound of that frikkin bag is like a knife through my ears.”

The super boss villain in Million Mile Road Trip is a bagpipe the size of Mt. Everest. He’s about to touch down on the high-school building during graduation ceremony. Fortunately everyone is sitting on the lawn outside, just like at Los Gatos High every spring. Unfortunately giant jellyfish-like saucers will be dragging their edges across the lawn, eating people. Fortunately, Villy and the Flat Cow are going to get rid of the giant bagpipe. Unfortunately the book is almost done. Fortunately I’ll be able to stop writing.

Thinking about a device in a container, I noticed this little tableau near Aldo’s restaurant in the Santa Cruz Harbor. Love how lively that ensemble of red fire pipes looks.

I always get some good photos when I’m at my son Rudy Jr.’s house or with him and his friends. What is more beautiful than a faded yellow plastic ball with the sun shining on it?

The legendary Marc Pauline and his machine art group SRL (Survival Research Lab) were putting on a surprise show in San Francisco when we were up there a couple of weeks ago. And Rudy’s rabid bicycle art group Cyclecide, a.k.a. Bike Rodeo where helping to set the show up. Here we see some of the Cycleciders assembling an SRL Tesla coil for creating giant sparks.

All sorts of great photos to be found in the Bike Rodeo’s workspace/living space down near the bay. A bag of hammers saying “HAMMERS”…so great.

Jericho, one of the main forces behind Cyclecide, has never seen a bike he didn’t like, not a bike that he didn’t wish to liberate and to reform to revolutionary standards.

Of course you have a steering wheel on the floor.

And a meaty noose with a poster of a Pullman porter.

A tin roof with chains and block and tackle.

A head-mask monster and a hipster.

“Funland,” a word to conjure with. Fading memories of amusement park arcades…

If it’s green enough, a bulb horn doesn’t even need to honk.

Such a great assemblage on this wall. Like…why do I go into museums?

Across the street, a whole Corvette incorporated into a body shop’s sign. Wonderful.

Here’s me, still on my effing crutches for the cracked femur, with some of the Bike Rodeo characters: Big Daddy, Violet Blue, Katie Bell, and John Law.

And that night we saw SRL in action. Some robots here attacking innocent dummies.

For the last twenty years or so the San Francisco fire marshal refused to give SRL another license for a show. This might have had something to do with an epic 1988 or so show with a stack of three burning grand pianos being attacked by a back-hoe under an elevated freeway leading to the Bay Bridge. With chunks of “front line demolition” explosive cubes with fuses scattered about. In any case, the old fire marshal has retired, and the new one was like, “SRL? Who? An art show? Sure.”

And here’s a “claw” that Marc Pauline’s been working on of late. Facing down that sparking Tesla coil.

What does “Bob” Dobbs have to do with anything anymore? Well, I did run into a fellow SubGenius named Philo Drummond at the show. This is a processed image I made of “Bob” using the software CA Lab about thirty years ago. You can get that ware free online. (And good luck getting it to run.) We had to change it’s name to CelLab because some humorless greedy pinheads at a company called Computer Associates claimed they “own” the initials “CA.”

Anyway, back at Rudy Jr.’s now-former apartment, here’s a nice touch of California spring. I like the weathered peeling San Francisco paint, in a pastel shade of course, and the untended garden.

These are the bad ass wheels of my grandson Calder.

I don’t remember where I took this photo. Who do I know who has a stack of four snow tires in their kitchen? Obviously I don’t go there often enough. Reminds me of our old days in upstate New York.

As my leg/hip gets better, I’m going out more. I went to Santa Cruz with my professor pal Jon Pearce. Classic picnic table on wharf here. Blustery spring day.

Look at these three seals. Part of a whole “raft” of them floating off the wharf, on their backs holding up flippers to warm them in the air. I like how these three are in a triangular pattern. The graces, the muses, singing out to me the ending for my novel:

“Have a giant bagpipe attacking from the fourth dimension with a big cloud of flying saucers.”

Oh, of course. Duh!

Pokes from the Muse

I’m still recuperating from a series of operations to replace my left hip. But at this point I think the end is in sight. Meanwhile I’ve gotten very good at using my fancy forearm style Sidestix crutches. I’m 70 years old. And I often wear a fedora hat. A picture’s worth a thousand words:

During this ordeal it’s been good for me to have my novel Million Mile Road Trip to work on. Like, I need to go into my fictive world to escape boredom, anxiety, and pain. To forget my ragged, worn self.

Recently I got some encouraging pokes from the Muse.

Poke 1: Dali in a Bosch Painting.

John Shirley, my old partner in literary crimes and misdemeanors, sent me a link to a super detailed online image of Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. And while panning and zooming around in there I found an image of Salvador Dali!

I maintain that the great Surrealists Bosch and Dali synchronistically conspired to place this image here and now for me to find! William Gibson sometimes speaks of SF as a type of “street surrealism,” like in his Introduction to my Wares series.

Encountering first the fiction and then its author, I took it instantly for granted that in Rudy Rucker I found an exemplar of a natural-born American street surrealist, bordering at times on a practitioner of Art Brut. Rudy’s fiction has a much higher percentage of surrealism molecules than most fiction, science or otherwise. It has, as moonshiners say when they swirl whiskey in a glass, in order to closely observe how it settles back down the sides of the glass, “good legs”. Rudy’s fiction is probably a bit too strong, in that regard, for some readers, but even the hard stuff, let me assure you, is an enjoyably acquired taste.

So my brahs Jeroon Bosch and Sally Dali are in the house to help.

Poke 2: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego

Recently I was gearing up for my characters Zoe, Villy, and Scud to encounter this kind-of god called Goob-goob. Out of the blue, I started thinking about the Bible story of Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego. They walked through a fiery furnace? I got the idea that my trio should walk through Goob-goob. Much more interesting than to stand there talking to her like she’s a face on a wall-monitor. God is a door. So, yeah, going through Goob-goob should be like Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego in the fiery furnace. I looked up the story in the Book of Daniel, and learned that an angelic or god-like fourth figure appears in the furnace with the trio.

While deepening my research I found a Beastie Boys 1989 cut, “Shadrach,” great words, very wild, and a video hand-colored by, Adam “MCA” Yauch. The video has an ad on top of it that you have to close.

Anyway, I have my characters go inside the “furnace” of Goob-goob, and there’s a fourth figure (a virtual fourth Beastie Boy?) who’s maybe a little hard to see. Is this new being a quantum mix of the three kids? A quantum superposition? But I need to know what he or she looks like.

Poke 3: The Flat Cow.

I suddenly had the idea that the extra fourth character should be what I’ll call a flat cow. Shaped kind of like a saucer, but smoother, more discus-like, and covered with nappy, brindle-pattern calfskin cow hair. And her side unzips like a coin purse so the kids can hide inside.

I still need to make up a logical explanation for the flat cow. Not worried about that. I believe in the Surreal hard SF approach: Vision first, Logic later.

Here’s an esoteric notion that I probably won’t use. In the higher physics of mappyworld, a “flat cow” is a term that literally means “quantum superposition of any set of objects, producing a new superposed object.” And—for reasons so erudite that I haven’t invented them yet—the flat cow sum of any set of objects does happen to indeed resemble a bulging disk covered with calfskin and which moos. The number of spots on the cow indicate how many objects it’s based on. Computing the flat cow of some objects is a routine mathematico-physical operation.
Imagine a divorce counselor. Who gets the house, hubby or wife? Generate a flat cow based on the man, the woman, and the house. And then listen to this flat cow’s moos.

I have a mental image of one of the saucers attacking or molesting the flat cow that hides the kids. Either the saucer takes a jagged shark-bite out of the flat cow or it extrudes a tube that it tries to insert into the flat cow. Not clear to the kids if this is a mating or a feeding tube. But highly unwelcome in either case. Scud shoos it off with a dark energy zap from his wand.

I’ve always liked drawing and painting blobby animals with spots on their coats. Brindle cows. Here’s something that I called a gub in my novel The Big Aha. A gub is a little like a knobby giraffe, and a little like a flat cow.

Vintage Poke: The Knobby Giraffe

Liz Argall posted a nice interview with me in Lightspeed magazine today, to accompany my story “The Knobby Giraffe,” which is also online.

Let me quote a Q & A pair from the interview, as it relates to the Surrealist Hard SF theme of today’s post.

Q (Liz). A couple of questions about your story “Knobby Giraffe.” Why a giraffe? And why the philosopher Gottfried Leibniz’s cryptic essay, The Monadology?

A (Rudy). For many years, I kept journals, where I’d write about my thoughts and moods, and about things I’d read or see. One particular entry, from 2004, was about me being alone in a motel in the North Beach area of San Francisco, and how I’d woken up early, and I’d read the whole of Leibniz’s short book, The Monadology, while lying in bed.

The Monadology is pretty close to being incomprehensible. It’s way out there. Leibniz seems to say that our universe is an assemblage of “monads” which reflect each other, and each monad has the whole world inside it. And, naturally, it struck me that an idea this crazy ought to be used in an SF story. And—here’s the pro surrealist-in-action part—as soon as I thought of that, I immediately thought that each monad should resemble a knobby giraffe. With brindle patches on it. A zap from the muse. Those little black antlers on a giraffe, they’re like joysticks, see, and you could wiggle them to control the appearance of the world. The knobby giraffe! Very clear in my mind.

So, okay, I’d written this journal entry in 2004, and I came across it again in 2014, and a year later I found a way to put that image and the Monadology rap into the heart of an SF story. I often start with a cool image or situation, and I grow a story outwards from there, filling in the gaps with transreal story cubes.

Cubist Transrealism ?!?!

Oh, one other Q & A pair from Liz Argall’s interview that I want to highlight. I got a chanced to coin and define a new label for a type of SF writing. Cubist transrealism!

Q (Liz).You wrote a pretty passionate manifesto for transrealism in the early 80s. How has your relationship to transrealism evolved over time?

A (Rudy). In short, transrealism means writing fantasy or SF that is in some way based on your actual life. You’re steering clear of received media ideas and trying to write about your daily reality in a warped way. SF tropes become objective correlatives for your psychic drives. At times, I’ve based transreal novels on specific swatches of my personal history—such as college, say, or my experiences working at a software company. But these days I’m more likely to write what I call cubist transrealism. That is, I don’t go for a full reality-encrypted roman a clef. Instead I shatter my daily experiences into surreal frags and tessellate them into a tale. The juxtapositions generate the story and plot.

I’ve done a lot of interviews over the last quarter century, and the collection is up to 400 accumulated Q & A pairs—all of which appear in my “All the Interviews” document online. Any further questions?

I’m Bursting With “Million Mile Road Trip”

I’ve been working on my novel Million Mile Road Trip pre-visualizing some of the chapters with drawings and paintings. This might be my last novel. When I told this to Bob Silverberg last year, he said, “Make sure it’s a good one. If you write a bad last novel, then everyone will say, ‘Aw, he was bad all along.’ Your last one has to be a killer.”

I have a lot of wild, funny things going on in the book, and I feel like it’s going to be one of my best. After some of my writing days, my heart is pounding with excitement about the book. And when I think about some of the scenes I start laughing. Getting near the home stretch, I might be done by July, 2016, at which time I’ll try a few of the commercial publishers, and if that doesn’t work out—as was case for my most recent two novels—well, then I’ll do a Kickstarter for it and publish it myself via Transreal Books. What-effin-ever, it’s gonna be a masterpiece.

I’m bursting to share some of Million Mile Road Trip . So I’m posting three scenes today, along with some of the visual art I’m doing as part of my writing process. As these are excerpts, some things might be a little unclear, but the flow should work for you in any case. And the paintings are getting pretty gnarly too. More info on these on my paintings page by the way.I just started a spring sale on the paintings.

I: The Royal Pupa

To Scud’s undeluded eyes, the Lady’s room is a low, littered den—and his companions are eating garbage. The room is lit by some glowing knobs of fungus on the walls. He sees the reality this thanks to his wand, and he also sees the Lady for what she is: a leathery, boneless form on a heap of rags. A meaty yam, wide in the middle and pointed at both ends. She has about three dozen eyes, and a slit mouth at one end. Just now she’s lapping at a cracked bowl of water. An Aristo. In no way is she like a Szep.

Flipsydaisy walks over at Scud and makes a languid, knowing gesture. She offers Scud an arch smile. “Can you find it in your heart to see Lady Filippa as she wishes to be seen?”

“Never mind that,” hisses Scud. His heart is pounding from his near escape. “There’s a monster outside, the thing that was wailing in the high tower, it’s like a giant dog. I zapped it into dust, but it’s not dead.”


Tollah Dog attacks the Pupa, Scud, Villy, and Zoe. Watercolor, March, 2016.

“Groon spawns those things just as he spawns the saucers,” says Flipsydaisy, speaking too quietly for Zoe and Villy to hear. “We call them Tollah dogs. Tollahs eat Szep and I believe they eat humans as well. And, yes, he’ll soon regain his vim. The Lady and I mean to open the hatch and let him come in. You are the bait. And handling him will be a test for you three. An entrance exam. But meanwhile, Scud, can you be a gentleman as I asked?” With another of her odd smiles, Flipsydaisy raises her left hand—as if proposing a toast.

The Tollah-dog flings himself at the Lady Filippa pod with his slavering jaws wide open. As soon as he touches the pod, it goes doink, like an error-sound in a videogame but with a sting attached, and the Tollah yelps like a hyena and runs all around the room breaking things, as if that matters, given what a total shit-hole the Lady’s lair is.

Scud’s waves his baton-wand in rapid figure-eights and gestures for more volume. Zoe follows his lead. She gets into a riff that circles back on itself, a little higher and louder each time. It’s the old stairway to heaven routine, and Villy’s adds accents to the riff, like spikes sticking out of the stairs, or like a rain of razorblades. And—here’s the wand coming into full effect—Villy’s spikes form thicker threads than before. They radiate out from his Flying Vee guitar like glowing spaghetti. And Zoe’s chords are cords.

At first it seems like the sound-threads will stay trapped inside the gold igloo with them—the strings are feeling around like worms looking for a hole. They’re not fading away, but they’re piling up around their feet, which isn’t going to be much use.

“Get Lady Filippa to help,” yells Villy over the guitars.

“She’s won’t,” shouts Scud. “She and Flipsydaisy and Pinchley just want to watch.”

“Like this is a test?” says Zoe.

“Your college admission application,” says Villy, weirdly amused, never truly afraid. “Time to kick up your game, Z-bomb.”

“Yah mon,” she says, heartened by his voice. “I’ll bring it.”

So Zoe adds funk to her riffs, bending the notes and smearing them like you do with a dirty blues, and the spaghetti and the zig-zags get that much hairier, and now, thank you, the strings of sound are radiating out from the gold igloo like the spines of a sea urchin.


“Defending the Royal Pupa” (not that they’re defending her in the story. Oil “24 x 20”, March, 2016

Somehow this pisses off the Tollah dog, or scares him, and he charges toward them like he’s going to pop the igloo and tear the humans to bits. He leaps. It’s like a scene in a horror movie—with a giant tweaked-out wolf coming at Zoe in slow motion, trailing rabid slobber from his mouth. Zoe and Villy bear down, stratocast style, Scud sends extra energy through his wand, and—the strands wrap all around the Tollah dog, layer after layer, tighter and tighter, until he’s lying motionless on the ground, like a fly that a spider’s cocooned up for a later meal.

Moment of silence.

The gold igloo and the yam’s pod fade away, and here’s the six of them. The captive Tollah. The three humans. The two Szep: Pinchley and Flipsydaisy. Plus Lady Pinchley, the Aristo.

She’s not a Szep, that’s for sure. She has about thirty eyes on her body and she’s dragging herself across the filthy floor. No arms or legs, but very dynamic.. She gets right up on top of the shrouded Tollah dog, and she looks over at Zoe with a twinkle in her eyes. Pinchley and Flipsydaisy have their arms across each other’s shoulders, watching the show with big smiles. Like they know what’s coming next.

“Be so good as to sprinkle on your caraway seeds,” says Lady Filippa. Her voice flutes out of the little mouth slit at one end. “A nice fresh Tollah is the special food I require.”

Scud hesitates. “Go on,” says Villy. “This is what we came for, seems like.”

So okay, Scud pours all the remaining caraway seeds across the music-thread-wrapped Tollah. Zoe can hear the threads a little bit, humming and reverberating. They’re pretty colors, and the caraway seeds stick to them like sprinkles on a frosted cake.

And then Lady Filippa digs in. She opens up her mouth slit, and she’s got this nasty translucent squid beak inside. With a twitch of her body, she flips her other end up in the air so that she’s balancing on top of the laid-out Tollah. She’s nearly as tall as a person, a bumpy column of eyes, with her open mouth at her lower end, already munching on her prey. She starts at one end of the Tollah and eats him up entirely, working from one end to the other.

Right when Lady Filippa begins chowing down, the tight-wrapped Tollah is still alive. So there’s anguished pathetic dog howls that Zoe would rather not have heard, plus a puddle of sick juice like yellow blood, but Lady F gets down the whole entire meal. And then she flops over to one side and lets out this huge fart. Then closes all her eyes and falls asleep.

“Lifestyles of the Szep City Aristos,” goes Villy, and Scud cracks up, with all the crazy tension of the last hour jittering out into his voice.

II. Villy in the Jet Stream.

The great Aristo zeppelin-creature is on the ground next to Scud, fluttering his comically small bat-wings and gesturing with his tentacles. Talking with Scud. The zeppelin has eyes scattered across his body like polka-dots—just like on Lady Filippa’s pupa. The eyes are big, with black pupils and yellow irises. For sure he sees Villy and Zoe.

“Feeling uneasy,” says Zoe, fully grasping the size of the Aristo. Although Stolo is nothing like the size of a classic Hindenburg-style zeppelin, but he’s still half a football field in length, kind of pointed on one end, and blunt on the back. With tentacles.


“Aristo vs. Saucers,” Pen and ink drawing. Previsualization for this chapter.

The creature’s body is translucent, ribbed, and filled with gas. Villy can see twisty intestines within, plus feathery gills, plus all the other lobed, rounded organs that animals have. The innards look almost weightless, bobbling around inside Stolo’s outer skin.

“What’s the word?” says Villy. He’s having trouble with his train of thought. Very strange teep emanating from Stolo, completely alien, a collage of colors and smells highlighting a scary image of flying saucers blasting them while they’re still on the ground.

“His tentacles are what have my attention,” says Zoe. If our new pal Stolo is like his pupal relative Lady Filippa, there’s gonna be a nasty-ass killer beak in the middle of that squid-bunch bouquet.”

“We won’t go near that spot,” says Villy very quickly. “We’ll ride on top”

They’re close enough to smell Stolo now, kind of a fishy odor, mixed in with lavender and wax and latex rubber. The giant Aristo makes a wet blatting noise.

“His voice,” says Scud. “He says he’s glad to meet you. And he’ll fold a special wrinkle for us on his back. For our seat. He says we should hurry. He doesn’t want them to catch us on the ground.”

“Them?” goes Zoe.

“Don’t ask.”

“Where’s he gonna take us?”.

“To Goob-goob,” says Scud. “The god who lives above Szep City in the Sky Castle cloud.”

Villy hears a sharp crack and a bullet tears past, ripping at the air. Shit. It’s that saucer-worshipping faction of the Szep locals again—boiling out of the tunnel into the stack, twenty or thirty of them, armed with rifles and heavy rayguns.

Stolo says something, that is, he makes another fart-like noise, and then, faster than it takes to say it, he wraps three tentacles around the kids, one tentacle each, and tucks them into a crease on his back. They rise like a helium balloon.

The belligerent saucerians keep shooting at them, but Stolo’s leathery underside is quite impervious to their bullets and rays. And then Stolo and his riders are halfway up the immense stack. Stolo isn’t exactly using his little wings to fly—it’s more like he’s levitating, and the wings angle against the air to steer him. They’re rising so fast that Villy has to yawn and waggle his jaw to equalize the pressure in his ears. Scud’s exultant, and Zoe’s laughing with relief.

The air cools as they continue climbing. There’s an odd, wavering tone sounding from the top of the insanely tall stack. Like a giant blowing across a bottle. And when they drift out, the encounter a howling, gale-force wind. It’s a broad river of air, separating them from the vast, intricate cloud they call Sky Castle—five hundred feet above them, with its underside ruffled and torn by the frigid gale.

Stolo bucks and shudders, on the point of tumbling out of control, but he doesn’t seem worried. He’s used to this difficult crossing. Borne by the wild wind, they fly along the bottom of the Sky Castle cloud at several hundred miles per hour. Stolo’s little bat-wings flap like rags on a laundry line. Flexing his bulky body, he maneuvers himself back and forth, working his way higher. He flies with his pointed end in front and his tentacles end in the rear. Meanwhile Villy, Zoe and Scud keep their legs tucked under a crease in Stolo’s skin—it’s almost like they’re sitting in a bed, or perhaps in a kangaroo’s pouch. It feels secure. For now.

A particularly strong gust flips Stolo to a vertical position. If he were a boat you’d say he was pitchpoling—with his bow digging into the waves. That is, his pointy front end is down, and his tentacled back end is up. The Aristo blimp stays cool. Villy senses that he’s worrying about something, but it’s not the wind. Not that Villy has much time to think about this just now. Zoe is screaming that they’re about to die, and Scud has gone catatonic with fear.


“Sky Skirmish,” Acrylic 30” x 24,” April, 2016. Inspired this passage, but with the zeppelin changed into a squid.

Meanwhile Stolo allows himself to tumble further. He executes a full flip, and then another and another, somersaulting and rolling. Scud and Zoe are hanging on tight, but Villy loses his grip and—oh no!—he jolts out of his seat, bumps along Stolo’s ridged hide, skims across the bulging cornea of one of the creature’s great eyes, fails to catch hold of the monster’s ragged wing—and goes into free-fall.

Villy’s several thousand feet above Szep City, which stretches out beneath him as far as he can see. His one bit of luck: the wind is so insanely strong that he’s not so much falling as he is skimming along horizontally, bowling along like windblown trash, moving in parallel with Stolo. Gathering his wits, Villy surfs the wind instead of fighting it, yes, he’s riding the gale, stabilizing himself with graceful bends of his body, keeping his arms at his sides, controlling his motion with slight twitches of his hands. It’s working, but the air is so brutally cold that he’s going to be dead pretty soon. Villy teeps a desperate S.O.S. rescue-me message to Solo.

And that’s when the three flying saucers attack. Stolo sends out a warning, and, yes, Villy sees the evil trio rising up from the Saucer Temple far below. They’re moving at a several hundred miles per hour, homing in on Stolo, Villy, Zoe, and Scud.

Villy remembers that Flipsydaisy said the saucers have little hope against an adult Aristo. Evidently their attackers are willing to risk all. Villy has the feeling the saucers would do virtually anything to prevent his party from returning to Van Cott with an Aristo wand. They’re like suicide-bombers. The fanatical saucers are firing pale-yellow zap beams as they come.

Zoe and Scud are in teep contact with Villy, and all three of them are imploring Stolo to pick up Villy before the saucers blast him out of the air. Like a duck in a shooting gallery. But Stolo has his own agenda. The alien zeppelin holds himself still, riding the wind like Villy had been doing. Deeply focused, in a state of Zen-like calm, Stolo aims his tentacles. A fusillade of quick, efficient rays rains down from the tentacle tips and—thank you—the three kamikaze saucers are dead, charred meat.

With a startling burst of speed, Stolo pounces on the saucers before they can drop from the sky. The Aristo seizes the dead saucers with his tentacles and—how gnarly—devours them one by one with the great, curved beak that lies at the center of the tentacle-bunch. It’s just like the the way that the pupal Aristo Lady Filippo ate the dead Tollah dog.

III. Three-Dimensional Moiré

Zoe’s always been fascinated by moiré patterns—the strange visual effects she sees when, say, two window screens or two chain-link fences overlap, slightly out of kilter. A fluid series of lobed patterns erupts, changing with Zoe’s slightest motions. And there’s chic fabrics with mashed-in grooves to give a watery moiré effect as well—quite a craze for these during Zoe’s junior year, matter of fact.


Pre-visualization of the Sky Castle chapter where the 3D moiré will appear. Watercolor, Feb, 2016.

And—here’s the new part—Zoe has found that, once in a while, under certain conditions, her perceptual system can create moirés on its own. Like one time, while she was zoning out in her bedroom, her retinal cells and her brain’s neurons got a smidgen out of synch with each other—or something like that—and, whoah, she sees three-dimensional moirés rippling around her. Faint pale purple or maybe even ultraviolet patterns, lively and improbable as air currents.

The underling grids that create the 3D moirés aren’t just sheets, you understand, they’re solids filling the whole frikkin room. The 3D moiré is generated by a pair of patterns like gelatinous, transparent, 3D blueprints for billion-room apartment buildings—two patterns like virtual-reality honeycombs, or like rubbery jungle-gyms. These two underlying cell structures are ever so slightly, and ever so deliciously, out of phase with each other—and the interfering overlap engenders glorious, tasty shapes that caper around Zoe’s room like dreamtigers.

For a minute she imagines that she herself is a moiré dreamtiger. No realer, and no unrealer. A sum of aethereal grids, why not. And in her ears she hears a symphony of wavering interference beats, emerging from a stereo pair of orchestras, each of them ever so a tiny bit out of tune with the other. Vive la différence, baby. Long story short—Goob-goob looks like a dreamtiger.


“Diego’s God Hunhunahpu,” Acrylic, 36 x 36 , November, 2015. Based on a sketch I saw in Guanajuato, MX.

A Mayan dreamtiger… some of the time.


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