barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
"You have any experience fighting nonhumans, kid?"

I hesitated for a moment, wondering how much I should reveal. "A little bit. Three years ago we took out a wizard in Salamanca going by the name of Diego en Fuego, and before we reached his inner sanctum he sicced some sort of hellhounds on us. They put up quite a fight; we managed to put them down but the Security agents carted off the bodies under wraps before I could get a good look at them."

"Huh," said Molly. "I read through your file last week; you've done great work in Mage Control, by the way; but I don't recall any mention of en Fuego having any sort of summoning ability."

"Yeah, uh, our team got another visit from Security after the mission," I explained, feeling a little embarassed; "they informed us that our official report was required to say that en Fuego had only elemental magic, and that no summoned beasts were present during the entire mission. Special orders from higher up. So I'd appreciate it if you don't tell anybody I told you about the hellhounds."

In the darkness, I heard a case being opened

"What hellhounds?"

"Thanks."

Molly pulled something out of the case and began plucking strings. Under the whir of the helicopter's engines, an ancient-sounding melody formed, at a fast pace in a haunting minor.

"Is that... a banjo?" I asked incredulously.

"Banjo ukulele. It's small. We're allowed a few personal items on missions, right?"

I shrugged, and Molly started to sing.

There is a wild hog in these woods,
Diddle-um-down, diddle-um-day.
There is a wild hog in these woods,
Diddle-um-down a-day-o!
There is a wild hog in these woods,
He'll kill a man and drink his blood.
Run him down, cut him down, catch him if you can.

We tracked that hog down to his den,
Diddle-um-down, diddle-um-day.
We tracked that hog down to his den,
Diddle-um-down a-day-o!
We tracked that hog down to his den,
And found the bones of a thousand men.
Run him down, cut him down, catch him if you can.


"Well that's cheery," I said.

"My da used to sing it to me when I was young, back in the hill country long ago," Molly replied, silencing the strings. "I thought he made it up, but later I learned it's old, very very old. At least Arthurian, maybe older still."

The helicopter touched down with a thump.

"We're here," snapped Molly, unbuckling and standing up. "Eyes open and have a look around."

I removed my blindfold and was dazzled by the bright sunlight. Through the now open door of the chopper I could see desert from horizon to horizon, a few big quonset huts and a variety of tents scattered around the landing pad... and one big shimmering obelisk stretching towards the sky, its true height difficult to estimate in the stark surroundings. Next to it was a pile of rubble that could have been the ruined foundation of its twin.

"Sorry to keep you in the dark on the way here," said Molly. "I figure at this point you're ready to learn a few company secrets, but the exact location of this site ain't one of them."

We stepped down onto the sand-strewn concrete. A small man in a lab coat and dark goggles greeted us.

"Good morning, Captain Clebban. This is the guest you mentioned?"

"This is Jackie, from Mage Control. I figured now's a good time for her to learn a little more about what we do here at Tower."

"Very well. Did you get my report on the field reading fluctuations yesterday?"

"I did. That's one reason we're here. Jackie might learn something useful."

"I see." Lab coat looked perhaps disapproving, but it was hard to tell with the dark goggles. "I shall leave you to it, then. You know your way around the base."

He returned to the nearest quonset hut, and Molly started walking towards the obelisk. I followed.

"What was that all about?" I asked.

"I'll explain in a bit," said Molly. "First, though, let's see... how much do you know about the Deluge?"

"Just the usual story from Sunday School. God creates Man, Man displeases God, God sends flood to drown Man and start over with one righteous family."

Molly chuckled. "That's one way to describe it, sure. Noah, or Noach, or Nuh, or Utnapishtim or Deucalion, depending on where you're from."

As we approached the towering structure I noticed scaffolding covering parts of it, with more workers in lab coats and dark glasses studying it and typing away on smartpads. I noticed for the first time that looking directly at the surface made my eyes feel uncomfortable.

"Do you know anything about the Pillars of Seth?"

"I think you've hit the limits of my Sunday School curriculum."

"Seth was one of the children of Adam and Eve. The story goes that he gathered up all the knowledge of the world at that time, including prophecies about the future of humanity from Adam himself. He knew from the prophecies that the world would soon be destroyed either by fire or by flood, but he didn't know which, so he built two colossal pillars, one utterly fireproof and the other utterly waterproof, and inscribed a copy of all his knowledge on each pillar, that the knowledge of the world would not be lost."

I let out a low whistle. "So this is the accumulated wisdom of the antediluvian world?"

"That's what the hieroglyph-jockeys up on the scaffolds tell me. They've still only just begun to translate it."

"So what happened to Seth?"

"Supposedly he hollowed out a room in one of the pillars, hoping to ride out the end of the world. Of course, there was only one Seth..."

"...and he guessed the wrong pillar?"

"Bingo." Molly gestured broadly towards the crumbled ruins near the surviving obelisk. "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair."

"Ozymandias?" I felt a sudden insight. "Did Shelley know about this place?"

"Not directly. He might have dreamed about it. Some other artifacts from this era act as psychic broadcasters under the right circumstances; we don't know if this one does or not."

Molly stopped and took a swig of water from her canteen.

"So why me? What does all this have to do with my experience with Mage Control?"

"You're good at what you do. And like I said, you're ready for a few more secrets. Here's a big one for you: how many times do you think God has destroyed the world and started over?"

I was taken aback. "One? I mean, assuming that the flood myth is true, and that all the different flood myths are referring to the same global event."

"Yeah. That just means one that we were permitted to remember. The Eden story--any creation myth, really--could just as easily be the 'and started over' half of a story that lost its 'destroyed the world' half."

"I... I guess so. But what difference would it make? If the whole world was destroyed and remade, there would be no evidence of the previous world."

Molly nodded meaningfully at the obelisk. "Some things survive." A dark look passed over her face. "Some things survive that shouldn't."

She shook her head, and asked "Have you noticed anything funny about that obelisk?"

"You mean like the way it shimmers, even in places where the sunlight doesn't hit it directly? Or the way it hurts my eyes to look at it for too long?"

"Yeah. And the corners don't add up to the right number of degrees, and rocks dropped in its vicinity don't fall straight down, and the whole mess just don't look right."

"Why is that?"

"Because it was not built using the laws of physics we have today."

"Oh, come on!"

"No, seriously. As far as the researchers can tell, every time the cosmos is destroyed and remade, the laws of physics change slightly. The pillars were made using the laws of the previous version, so they don't quite work the way they should in the current version. The physicsts working for us have figured out ways to tell how many times the 'destroyed the universe' counter has been incremented by examining antediluvian artifacts like this one. Apparently statistical analysis of numbers in various sacred texts supports their findings."

"So how many times?"

"We are currently living in universe number five hundred forty seven."

"Five hundred forty seven??"

"At least."

I ran my fingers through my hair in disbelief. "That is one indecisive Creator."

"Ayup."

(That's as far as I got so far.)
barnabas_truman: (army)
Have you ever wondered why songs and jokes and stories have always been the tools of the resistance?

Flyers can be torn down.
Graffiti can be painted over.
Picket signs can be confiscated.
Books and pamphlets can be burned.
Printing presses can be smashed.
Web servers can be turned off.
Guns can be out-gunned.

But if you compose a catchy song, a funny joke, an inspiring story, and you tell it to enough people, and they tell it to enough people, then you create a message that cannot be shut down.

Why does the resistance use songs and jokes and stories?
Because they are unstoppable.

Powering Up

Oct. 2nd, 2016 02:26 am
barnabas_truman: (kimiko)
With one last smash, the locked door bent open, and Ann Droid and young Apollo "Quasar" Jones burst into the empty bridge.

"They're all gone!' shouted Quasar.

"Hm. The pirates must have subdued our friends and taken them aboard their own ship while I was powered down from the EMP shockwave."

"I wish I hadn't been stuck in the ventilation shaft; I woulda fought 'em off!"

"No. They were many, and heavily armed. Be glad that they did not know you were there."

"Yeah, I guess. But we have to chase after them!"

"Indeed. Let us start the ship right away."

Quasar took a few steps towards the captain's chair, then cried out: "Oh no! They smashed the controls!"

Ann's eyes glowed red as she scanned the dashboard console.

"The damage is superficial. Many parts of the user interface are cracked or burnt and unusable, but the underlying systems are unharmed."

"But by the time we repair the controls, the pirates will be long gone!"

Thanks to the recent facial servo upgrade, Ann managed a slight smile.

"You, and apparently the pirates, are unaware of my full capabilities. As long as I have access to an undestroyed data port…"

She sat down in the captain's chair, folded back a hinged finger to reveal a datajack, and inserted it into the port under the console.

"…and the opportunity to concentrate without interruption…"

Her eyes dimmed and clicked off. The flashing red alert lights around the room went dark for a few seconds, then returned to the usual pale white. An echoing voice boomed from the intercom speakers:

"…then I do not need to control the ship, because I am the ship."

The hyperdrive began to hum awake.
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
Have you heard stories about "wild boars"? The Caledonian Boar from Greek mythology, Twrch Trwyth from Arthurian legend, the Wild Hog in the Woods from Appalachian folk song? Do keep in mind as you read these tales that the wild boar is not just a little pig with extra fur.

The wild boar is a primeval beast from the Pleistocene; larger specimens can be four feet high at the shoulder and weigh up to 700 pounds. It can sprint at 25 miles per hour and jump nearly five feet in the air, with enough force to knock down anyone short of Hercules. Snake venom has no effect on a boar; wolves run away from it; tigers that try taking one on will probably have a very bad day. The males have razor-sharp tusks, and during certain times of the year are covered with stiff bristles and an inch-thick extra layer of subcutaneous tissue. Good luck getting a spear through that. And if you do, I hope you're using a specially made hilted "boar spear," because if not, it will just keep charging up the shaft that's impaling it so it can bite you anyway.

Is it any wonder that the boar was spoken of with such fear and marvel in old songs and stories? These are legendary monsters brought to life.
barnabas_truman: (dwarf)
"So what kind of Dungeons & Dragons character would I be?"

"I think you're the cheery innkeeper who secretly has connections all over the place and knows everybody and has access to hidden resources that nobody else knows about."

"Neat! And what about you?"

"I'm the semi-retired wizard who rents a room in the attic above your tavern and tutors adventurers in theory of magic."

"The attic?"

"Yeah. Wizards are supposed to live in towers, but I really like this tavern, so I just moved in to the top room, because technically that counts as a tower."
barnabas_truman: (army)
The other day I brought up the notion of a crossover fanfic bringing together Mary Poppins, Ms. Frizzle (of the Magic School Bus books), and Carmen Sandiego (monument-stealing criminal mastermind from a series of old geography edutainment computer games), presumably as they pull off some sort of absurdly elaborate heist. A friend suggested time-traveling to the glory days of the Library of Alexandria to save a bunch of the scrolls that have been lost to history. Here's what I ended up with an hour or two later...

-----

"Can I help you find something?" asked the old librarian.

"We're looking for, er, the big fire that's about to destroy the library," said Ms. Frizzle with a bit of uncertainty.

"Fire? What fire?"

"My understanding is that the Roman army set the city on fire during a war and the flames spread to the library, burning everything."

"Romans?" interrupted Carmen; "I recall being told that the scrolls were destroyed by a mob of violent and fanatical Christians who thought they were heretical."

"Pish-posh," said Mary. "I have always read that the scrolls were used as firewood by decadent and uncaring Muslims."

"That's not entirely true," said the librarian slowly. "Yes, Caesar's army set fire to the city, and many buildings were burned, but the librarians were able to keep the flames away from most of the scroll-houses. Yes, Pope Theophilus decreed that the pagan temples were to be destroyed, and that included the main museum itself, but we were storing most of the scrolls in outbuildings by that time. Yes, Amr ibn al-As conquered all of Egypt, but the rumors of his using scrolls as firewood were propaganda spread by his opponents. Kings and conquerers come and go but we librarians make do."

"Then where are the scrolls?" asked Carmen.

The librarian gestured towards a dark doorway at the back of the room. The three travelers rushed to it, only to find a large unfurnished storeroom, dimly lit by small high windows. Piled in the middle was a colossal heap of dusty scrolls.

Mary cautiously reached for one and gingerly picked it up. It crumbled to dust in her fingers.

The three stood in silence for a while, looking over what was once the knowledge of the western world.

"What has happened to this place?" asked Ms. Frizzle as they returned solemnly to the front room.

"We've got no shelves," said the librarian sadly. "We've got no scribes. We've got no money too. The apathy of the people and the abandonment of the government have accomplished what generations of conquest could not. No library can survive long without support."

-----

(apologies to Pratchett for shamelessly plagiarizing his "kings and lords come and go" and "we've got no ships, we've got no men, we've got no money too" lines)
barnabas_truman: (dwarf)
Every once in a while somebody asks why Gandalf didn't just have the Eagles carry the Ring to Mount Doom.

Even if we ignore the fact that the Ring is a tool of corruption that entices its bearer--especially a powerful bearer--towards betrayal, and that therefore giving it to an Eagle would probably not be a good idea,
    AND the fact that the entirety of the plan to destroy the Ring relied on Sauron not finding out about it and a flight of giant Eagles is not exactly subtle,
        AND the fact that Mordor is a long way from Rivendell even if you do have wings,
            AND the fact that the Eagles are not Gandalf's personal taxi service,

we still have to consider

• Sauron's air force (flying dragons, fell winged beasts, Nazgul, some birds)

• Sauron's anti-aircraft artillery (the ancient Numenorians had aircraft; presumably they also built weapons that could shoot at aircraft, and I would assume Sauron might have kept a few in reserve just in case--beyond that, I'm sure Shelob could probably fling a web pretty high)

• Sauron's ability to control the weather itself (just try flying over the mountains in hurricane-strength winds, or finding your way to the landing zone in a country filled with volcanic smoke)

In short... ONE DOES NOT SIMPLY FLY INTO MORDOR.
barnabas_truman: (young whistler)
A few months ago I came up with a great idea for a creativity exercise: I got a stack of blank index cards and wrote the title of one of my GURPS role-playing game sourcebooks on each one (I have a lot of GURPS books); I draw three at random and try to quickly think of a game setting or plot that would incorporate all three. Today I went through the whole deck; here are some of the highlights:




• Japan
• Ultra-Tech
• Psionics

In the not-too-distant future, Japan is an anachronistic mixture of ubiquitous advanced technology and retro-feudal styles in culture and architecture. The player characters are a group of college students who gained strange mental powers when a mind/machine interface experiment went haywire.




• Vikings
• Black Ops (elite commando teams investigating and eliminating paranormal threats)
• Aliens

Leif Skywise knew something was wrong when he saw a star moving in a very unfamiliar way, especially when it seemed to touch down on the coast off in the distance. He took his ship and crew to investigate, and his suspicions were confirmed: the "star" was some sort of flying ship made of metal, and its demonic inhabitants attacked when Leif approached. The demons fought fiercely, but the Vikings triumphed. Though they had no idea how to re-activate the flying ship, they nonetheless found many powerful weapons and other strange magical objects on board. Now they sail the seas, seeking out supernatural evils to vanquish and ready to defend Scandinavia from further demon invasion.




• Middle Ages
• Places of Mystery
• Supers

Various persons from all over the medieval world feel strangely compelled to visit certain monuments--Stonehenge, the Sphinx, Uluru, the Forbidden City, etc.--late at night on one fateful equinox, and, in a flash of light that none of them remember clearly, gain amazing powers. Their abilities differ widely, but all include the ability to instantly travel from one place of power to another. They band together to form a secret society of heroes.




• Blue Planet (human colony on distant oceanic planet, probably inhabited in distant past by high-tech aliens)
• Time Travel
• Imperial Rome

A team of scientists and explorers on the Blue Planet discover an ancient alien device that appears to be some sort of time machine. They manage to get it working and send themselves back in time, hoping to encounter the ancient aliens who built it... but instead find cities of marble columns inhabited by humans in togas. Could there have been contact between Earth and the Blue Planet in the distant past?




• Cliffhangers (1930s-style modern adventure serials)
• Mecha (giant piloted robots)
• Mars

Edison and Tesla put aside their differences and join forces once again to reverse-engineer the Martian war machines left behind after the invasion, and build a fleet of their own to take the fight back to the Martians!
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
Mars is a harsh desert world, far older than our own, lit dimly and coldly by pale red sunlight, howling with winds and sandstorms, laced with the crumbling canals and ruined ziggurats of a once great civilization of which nothing is left but dust and mysteries.

Beneath the permanent cloud cover on Venus, though, is a lush watery surface, not unlike Earth in its younger days, its tropical zones hot and humid and thick with jungle, in which the first expedition reports seeing fleeting glimpses of large reptilian creatures lurking in the shadows.

So who's ready to launch a zeppelin, activate the onboard aetheric bridge generator, and explore a new frontier from the comforts of a climate-controlled gondola suite?
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
Didja know Paul Bunyan had a younger brother named Cal? Cal was in the railroad business; founded the Union Columbia line 'round the same time everyone else was just starting to figure out that you could put wheels on steam engines. Built a grand railway all the way from California to New York by way of Alaska. Of course that needed a lot of steel; he kept all the steel mills in seventeen states running overtime eight days a week just to keep up. Needed a lot of lumber for the ties, too, so he called in his older brother Paul the lumberjack. That was Paul's first job in that line of work, choppin' lumber from the Mojave Jungle to make ties for the Union Columbia. (What's that you say? There isn't any Mojave Jungle? Well, not anymore there isn't.)

Anyway, Cal personally designed and built the flagship train for the Union Columbia line, and he christened it the Wabash Cannonball. This train was so long ("how long was it?") so long that it had a miniature railroad on the inside to ferry passengers from the sleeper car to the dining car. It was so fast ("how fast was it?") so fast that on shorter journeys it would sometimes arrive before it left. Its boiler was so big ("how big was it?") so big that the American Cartographers' Association had to rewrite the definition of "river" to avoid accidentally categorizing it as one. It had so many cars ("how many cars?") so many cars that they had to hire six mathematicians just to keep track.

Once Cal tried to set up the world's first trans-Atlantic railroad, extending the Union Columbia from New York to London. Laying track underwater would be quite a task, but Cal had heard that the telegraph men had set down a couple of telegraph cables across the bottom of the Atlantic, and he figured, hell, a couple of cables is most of what a railroad needs anyway! So he sent down some divers to position the cables the correct gauge distance from each other, using wood salvaged from shipwrecks as ties. When it was all ready he sent down a specially made train, the Queen of Tortuga, with watertight cars and fancy porthole windows and plenty of oxygen for your breathing pleasure. Quite an experience, I'm told, but it didn't last long--on the maiden voyage, wouldn't you know it, some city slicker decided he wanted a bit of a breeze and opened up a window, and that was the end of the Queen of Tortuga.

After that Cal figured he ought to stay on dry land and focus on breaking the speed record. He got those mathematicians to invent a new branch of thermodynamics to get the engines running more efficiently, and found a way to refine coal so pure there weren't nothin' left. That got the Wabash Cannonball running so fast ("how fast was it?") so fast that even when it was at a dead stop it was still going sixty.

Once he thought everything was perfect, Cal took his newly remodeled flagship on a test run. He put it on the tracks at Union Station in Los Angeles, aimed it towards New York, and started stokin' the engine. What he didn't know was that some kid in Juneau had put a penny on the tracks to see it get squashed, and when Cal's supersonic train hit that bump, it got knocked off the track and flew clean into orbit.

Some folks say that Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon, but on a clear night, if you squint just right and look in the right spot you can almost see some tracks up there. And if you listen real close, you just might hear the lonesome whistle of the Wabash Cannonball echoing across America, carrying some old hobo on one last trip to the Great Rock Candy Mountain.

That may be a tall tale, but it's truer than most anything else you'll hear these days. Guaranteed 110% true, with the extra 10% because you're such a good customer.
barnabas_truman: (dwarf)
Bobberick's third fireball struck the necromancer square in the chest, but it fizzled in a gout of smoke. With a gesture from his skeletal hand he unleashed a shrieking skull spirit that sped towards Bobberick. Frantically, the gnome swung his wand around in a strange geometric pattern, tracing glowing lines and circles in the air, and in response the spirit curved in a too-close-for-comfort orbital arc around him and returned to its sender.

The necromancer began to do the same, but Aliss interrupted the counter-counterspell by the time-honored method of stabbing him in the back. The ectoplasmic missile continued on its new course: skull collided with skull in a horrendous crash, and the cloaked figure sank to the floor. The few remaining skeleton warriors froze in place and crumbled to pieces, leaving Karl swinging his axe at empty air.

"Aaaaand that's the end of Skullface Sam," said Bobberick triumphantly. "Done in by his own dark magics. Whew."

"Yeah, I'm sure it's very symbolic. Hey, what's this?" asked Aliss, reaching for a bit of sparkle on the dead necromancer's finger. She carefully pulled off a dull silvery ring, and his bony visage faded and changed.

"Whoa," said Bobberick; "there was a human face behind the skull all along."

Karl chuckled as he holstered his axe. "Usually it's the other way around.

Bobberick prodded the corpse with his wand. "He's young. Not usually a trait associated with powerful wizardry. Maybe he got most of his arcane skill from that ring. Aliss, what's it look like?"

"Probably silver, but I'm not certain," speculated Aliss. "It's got a little skull with glowy eyes."

"Lemme see," said Bobberick, standing on tiptoes. Aliss handed it to him. "Hmmmmmm." He stared at it and held his breath in concentration. "Yeah, definitely enchanted, as if we didn't already know. Almost looks like a cheap knockoff of one of the Glowskull Rings the Skullamancer made way back in the Revenant Wars. I wonder where Sam got it."

"Could it be the real thing?" asked Karl.

"Nah, they're long gone. The Paladin Patrol doom-dropped all of 'em back in the '30s. Nine paladins, nine rings, each one got his or her own personal sidequest. Good story; somebody made a TV miniseries of it ten or fifteen years ago."

"You sure about that?" challenged Aliss. "What if the Skullamancer made more than nine?"

"Sure I'm sure. Magic rings come in sets of three, seven, or nine; that's how magic works."

"You may know magic, but you don't know sneaky like I do, and the Skullamancer was all about sneaky magic. If it were me I'd make ten rings and let people think there were only nine, just in case."

"Yeah, but... but..."

"Is there any theory-of-magic reason why there couldn't be a tenth ring, or is it just traditional?"

"There's... um... crap. Yeah, we just found a lost Glowskull Ring, didn't we?"

"Are you gonna argue about it all day, or cast an Identify spell when we get back to town?" Karl asked. "Anyway, could we just hand it off to the Paladin Patrol and let them deal with it?"

"They're all retired," said Aliss with a wry grin. "Wouldn't be much opportunity for a Thieves' Guild if they weren't."

"Guess it's up to us then."
barnabas_truman: (young whistler)
Today I was walking back to campus from some errands downtown when a couple of young fellows stopped and one said "Pardon me, sir; is it true that you are capable of casting magical spells?"

I responded "Yes" enthusiastically and without hesitation, because how else is one to answer such a question?

"I knew it," he said, and he and his friend walked on.
barnabas_truman: (army)
Ron Weasley walked into the Gryffindor common room, carrying a cardboard box tied with twine. "A package from my family!" he announced. "I wonder what it could be?"

"Allow me," said Harry Potter. He took the package, whispered something to it, held it up to his ear for a moment, and confidently stated "A new sweater and a tin of biscuits."

"How did you know that?" asked Ron, perplexed.

"I asked it, and it told me."

"You can do that??"

"Of course. Parceltongue."
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
"Think when we talk of of horses, that you see them..."

I adore Shakespeare's prologue to Henry V. He understood so well the role of the audience's imagination in filling in the details that the medium cannot.

"...can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
O, pardon! since a crooked figure may
Attest in little place a million;
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forces work.
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder:
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide on man,
And make imaginary puissance;
Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i' the receiving earth;
For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o'er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass..."
barnabas_truman: (army)
HARRY POTTER vs SCOOBY DOO:

"Why, there was never any wizard school after all! It was all just Old Man Dumbledore trying to keep folks away from the ruined castle so they wouldn't find his bootleg butterbeer operation!"

"Alas! And I would've gotten away with it if it weren't for you darn muggles!"
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
Dickens Fair, and everything that goes on therein, is the truest real-world example I've ever known of "bigger on the inside." Imagination turns sawdust into snow; booths grow into buildings, aisles widen to streets, curtained stages become music-halls, and by some theatrical miracle a warehouse is transformed into a city.
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
Why do we always come here? I guess we'll never know.
It's like some kind of torture to have to watch the show!


So why are Statler and Waldorf so cranky and snarky all the time? And why do they keep coming back? They've obviously been around for quite a while. Their closeness suggests a lifelong friendship, and their sense of humor indicates a love of classic vaudeville.

Perhaps what we're looking at is a relic of a forgotten era of theatre; the last two surviving fans of the magnificent vaudeville show that used to play weekly on this very stage half a century before. Maybe they were a vaudeville comedy duo themselves in their youth; maybe they trained up the next generation and planned to retire into a comfortable routine of watching from their favorite box seats as their successors improve the act over the years… and then the company goes out of business, and the theatre gets bought up by some upstart frog-and-bear variety show.

But they can't just stop going! This theatre is their whole life; they have season tickets for these box seats for the next decade; and besides, it's something to do on Saturday nights. So every week they drag themselves to the show, heckle the frog and the bear, complain that theatre ain't what it used to be, and then head out to have a quiet drink together and reminisce about the good old days.

Ladies and gentlemen, Statler & Waldorf.

Reputation

Jun. 13th, 2014 03:59 pm
barnabas_truman: (army)
One of the group activities at today's end-of-the-year staff meeting involved writing about an individual accomplishment from the past year. I struggled to think of something specific and eventually wrote

"Became a character of mythic reputation within the campus community, rumored to be a wizard, a demigod, an omen of good fortune, whose very presence causes bystanders to understand math and physics better, whose music on the quad can tame wild beasts, whose mystic prowess can calm or drive off angry bigots. This raises student morale and improves publicity for the department."

Dwarf Tea!

May. 11th, 2014 03:47 pm
barnabas_truman: (dwarf)
Types of tea that sound like monsters from Dwarf Fortress:

The deep oolong is a colossal creature that dwells in underground lakes, pale, hairless, and nearly blind, shaped something like a seal and something like a worm.

The melon oolong is a smaller domesticated relative of the deep oolong; its name comes from the Elven word for "friend."

The orange pekoe a brightly colored jungle bird that can learn to mimic the speech of sentient creatures.

The golden pu-erh is a small flightless dragon with metallic yellow scales.

The Lapsang Souchon are diminutive gnomes with dark skin and great wisdom. They live solitary lives in rock huts on mountaintops, contemplating the stars and making maps which they sell to travelers.

The rooibo is a giant tan-colored rat with powerful hind legs built for jumping and a pouch in her belly to carry her young.

(Feel free to challenge me with other tea names.)
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
Did I ever tell you about the worst rain I ever saw?

This was back in the real early days of the Truckers' Union, when Admiral Buddy was still around. Greatest trucker that ever lived, that's fer sure. Anyway, I was workin' as a mechanic at the time and had the great honor of being part of his caravan. We were makin' the rounds from city to city around the Southern Sea,1 but somewhere between New London and New Tokyo we hit a patch of rain. We figured maybe if we just kept goin' it would let up, but it got worse and worse the further we went, until it was comin' down too hard to drive safely. "Let's park these things," said Buddy; "if we don't figure out what's goin' on here we'll never make it to New Tokyo."

So we parked our trucks and got out. Fortunately somebody was haulin' a trailerful of umbrellas,2 so there were plenty to go around. Buddy scouted around for a bit, picked the direction where the rain seemed to be gettin' stronger the fastest, and we headed towards the heart of the storm. Sure enough, it seemed like every step we took led to more downpour, until finally we reached a spot where the rain was so thick it looked like a waterfall streamin' down out of the sky--a pillar of fallin' water about ten or twelve feet across!

Buddy looked up, put down his umbrella, and said "Wait here; I'll be back." He took a deep breath, walked out into the middle of the column of water, faced upwards, and started paddlin' with his arms as hard as he could, as if he were swimmin'. Right before our eyes he started slowly pullin' himself up, and once his feet left the ground and he could kick, he just swam right up that waterfall.3

Well, we set up camp and waited for a day or two. Then, all at once, the water stopped, all of it--no more rain, no more waterfall, just soaked ground, soaked tents, and soaked truckers. We heard a warnin' yell from above, and just had enough time to get out of the way before Buddy crashed into the ground. (You can still see the crater to this very day.)

"What happened?" we asked, after we pulled him out of the hole.

"I put the doggone plug back in!" he said.

----------

1. The Southern Sea is a landlocked body of water in the southern hemisphere of Tarmackia. Each city lining its coast (New London, New Tokyo, New New York, etc.) is largely inhabited by descendants of immigrants from one Earth city in particular, and tends to preserve the culture and style of that city.

2. Scholars of Tarmackian folklore have pointed out that this is a recurring theme in legends of Buddy: whenever there is a desperate need for some piece of equipment, there just happens to be a truck in the convoy that is carrying a load of exactly that equipment. This is often implied to be one of Buddy's supernatural powers.

3. The notion of a larger-than-life hero swimming up a colossal column of rain, including the "put the plug back in" punchline, appears to have been copied directly from an old American story of the legendary lumberjack Paul Bunyan.

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