Theatre of Hades Illustration Wish List

November 26, 2012 at 12:05 am (Uncategorized)

For those of you that have arrived here know that I am looking for illustrations for my magical realist and Occupy inspired novel Theatre of Hades.

A great deal of the images would be related to architecture (towers, buildings, factories, and theatres). Other consistent images are murky ooze, living things infused with metal, caves, and military detention. Most of the images will be leaning towards the morbid side but any flavor is welcome. The posted titles of my chapters are as follows;

The 12 Prophets

  • Dr. Greek Goes to Washington
  • The Land of the Living
  • Cora’s Game
  • The Fall of the Tower of Words
  • Delphic Oracles and the Seraphim’s Vision
  • Case Files of HADES
  • The Cave Under the Bedroom
  • Girl Schools and Think Tanks
  • The Hidden Refuge of the Gnostics
  • The Mistress of Seeds

Concluding Attractions

  • The Numerologist Can’t Stop the Bees
  • The Garden of Treason
  • The Bank of Secrets
  • The Coffee House and the Quarter Machines

Part 2: Theatres

Introduction to the Theatres

  • Theatre of Prophets
  • Theatre of Tragedy

There are some stories that I’ve yet to write that I’d like to include:
Hemlock and the Playground
Theatre of Mirrors

I’d be interested in whatever people come up with, provided it’s dramatic. No kittens with sniper rifles or mushrooms eating toast. If a good idea came from the following list just comment on something I right. You can keep the originals if you’d like. The story being a film makes copies work just fine. Have fun.

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Orphan Receptors

December 14, 2010 at 5:43 pm (Uncategorized)

If a drug changes the nervous system and hence our behavior, it’s probably doing one of two things. Either it is a neurotoxin that damages nervous tissue, or it changes the activity of neurons.  Neurologists understand the mechanisms behind the well known drugs.  (Most stimulants affect dopamine. CNS depressants generally affect GABA receptors, narcotics affect opiate receptors, etc.)

These exogenous (coming for outside the body) compounds are better understood than their endogenous (produced by the body) counterparts. Neurons have receptors for various neurotransmitters, neuro-modulators, and hormones. Presumably these receptors are meant to be stimulated by endogenous compounds in the body. But it is often the case that scientists are unable to conclusively identify the compounds that psychoactive drugs mimic. Nerve cells are thus said to have orphan receptors. 

Perhaps a good place to start are the benzodiazepenes. (Xanax, Valium, Ativan, etc.) These drugs are GABA agonists (they increase the effectiveness of the mind’s no. 1 inhitory neurotransmitter). There is a site on GABA receptors where the benzodiazpenes bind to, but to this author’s knowledge no conclusive endogenous compound has been found.

This puts scientists in something of a pickle. What, exactly, are these orphan receptors for? Some time ago opiate receptors were orphans. This lead to the discovery of the familiar endorphins, which seem to be released as a reward for certain types of behavoir, such as active exercise and sex. What activity would the benzodiazapene by trying to inhibit when it binds to GABA receptors, and where does it come from? The answers (to both benzodiazipine receptor sites and orphan receptors in generally) should help us understand more about our minds and bodies, and this is only one of the orphan receptors found in the brain. Research into any receptors has serious potential for new medicine.

(Note, after finishing this entry I came across another interesting fact. A previous orphan receptor, the cannibanoid receptor, has an antagonist, cannabidiol. It blocks the cannabinoid receptors and is being looked at as a potential antipsychotic. Bizarrely enough, it coexists with THC in the cannabis plant. )

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The Collective Unconscious

November 19, 2010 at 10:09 pm (Uncategorized)

I can’t take credit for this speculation, take it up with Carl Jung. Freud advocated an individual unconscious that repressed that which ego couldn’t handle. Jung went a step further and proposed a collective unconscious. This wasn’t people connected to each other by magic brain waves, it was that evolution left in all human beings an unconscious as a result of our history as a species.  It was primitive and highly symbolic, and its inability to rise to the surface of human thought was not a disease process of repression but a reflection of how far down human consciousness went.

Recurring themes, myths, dreams, visions, and art are all a way to access this treasure trove of information. What else would disturb the ink of the poet, the tedious organizing of oral traditions, the slippery memory of a dream, the dissolution of reality of the visionary?

Perhaps a tangent of more empirical source: the degenerative brain disease called Huntington’s disease. Huntington’s disease affects many areas of the brain, including the basal ganglia, known to help modulate movement. The degeneration of the basal ganglia inhibits the afflicted’s ability stop random movement: hence the sudden jerking movements that develop in the afflicted. I bring this up because it suggests that a great deal of brain activity lies not in initiating electrical impulses, but inhibiting them. What lies behind that inhibition?

Perhaps clarity? A great tale in science comes to us from Kekule and the benzene ring. Vexed by his monumental difficulties, Kekule decided to rest. He began to imagine a snake eating its own tail. The metaphor (a common mythological creature)  that pointed to the benzene ring that is one of the foundations of organic chemistry (carbon rings).

What lies in the collective unconscious is symbolic, universal truth–a truth undiluted from the lies, blocks, and misperceptions of the ego and its personal unconscious. The ability of the brain to inhibit is among its greatest achievements. That which would crowd or injure conscious space is pushed back. But the ability to go around the brain’s blockades (in fact to recognize the blockades as blockades) is a feat greater still, and requires the ability to let consciousness go (up to a point) and explore the unconscious truth of symbols, be they physical, surreal, or spiritual.

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Silicon Based Life

October 29, 2010 at 2:28 am (Inventive Prototypes)

The complexity of our silicon technology, combined with silicon’s chemical similarity to carbon, have led people to consider if life were possible on a silicon backbone. It’s not the job of Theoretical Objects to declare something impossible, but big problems lie ahead. So let’s begin:

1) aerobic respiration

 inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide, the staple of carbon life beyond anaerobic bacteria, is impossible because silicon dioxide, is a solid (glass). Simply put, silicon life forms wouldn’t breathe.

2) selective permeability

one of the key features of life is a cell’s ability to maintain an environment different from outside conditions. This means they need selectively permeable membranes. Carbon based life uses a bilipid layer (two layers of fats) to accomplish this. Silicon to silicon bonds are not stable enough to form these long strings of fats. Some new chemical would be required.

3) polymers

Any complex life form needs to create complex molecules, and there’s no better way to accomplish this than polymers: long strings of repeated units. Silicon is capable of forming these polymers and with great variety, however these compounds (call silicones) are stablized by bonds to carbon and oxygen. Not exactly a silicon skeleton.

4) genetic instructions

If silicones might be the structure of silicon cells, there would need to be some method of coordinating the creation of these structures. DNA, is out as a canditate as it has a great deal of carbon base. Like DNA these instructions would be a highly stable chemical (the cell couldn’t survive otherwise) that is relatively easy to use by the members of a cell. 

The search for a primary silicon based ecosystem is rather remote, even in the vastness of the galaxy. But amidst man’s fears of his own creations is an artifiicial life form worth considering: the robot.

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Gravity Drive

October 29, 2010 at 1:53 am (Uncategorized)

Sci fi stories set in space always seem to ignore three horrendous difficulties: escape velocity, reentry heat, and artificial gravity. Ignoring the first two makes it easy to hop from planet to planet. Artificial gravity lets film crews shoot on solid floors. It makes it possible to avoid any counter intuitive interactions that occur in from a 360 degree environment. It also allows one to ignore the terrible effects long time weightlessness causes (muscular atrophy). But for a blog post let’s not ignore anything. What challenges lie ahead for designers of gravity drive?

Gravity has always been deceptively simple yet overwhelmingly complex. When a flat earth was circled by other celestial bodies the idea of gravity must have been a moot point. Things just went down. The rotating earth orbiting the sun had to have some force to keep things from falling/spinning off.  That force was soon to be called gravity.

Newton’s gravity become the stuff of legends for science, because it proposed that the properties of heavenly objects obeyed the same rules as the ones down here. Newton even developed an equation for calculating the gravitational force between to objects.

What Newton was unable to do was explain why gravity exerted the force it did. This work was staggeringly complex and lay undone until Einstein, over two hundred years later. Gravity resulted from the curving of time and space.

Einstein’s equations revolutionized celestial mechanics, but gravity has remained as difficult as ever. How is the curving of space-time achieved? Some scientists have posed the idea of a graviton, a particle like a photon that would carry gravitational force. No such particle has ever been found.

Where would it be located? In the nucleus? Hovering around matter? How would one extract it? In terms of the four forces in physics (electromagnetic, strong, weak, and gravity) extracting the strong force from the nucleus results in atomic fission, which can create an atomic explosion. Would the science of manipulating gravitons simply be too risky or expensive?

It’s simply impossible to tell at this point. Despite the simplicity of the falling apple that inspired Netwon’s gravity, gravity is still nowhere near being understanding, and it’s so complex that your lay person without an intensive scientific education probably won’t understand it anyway.

So ignore gravity in your sci fi tales? If they involve ships moving from planet to planet I’d say yes. Otherwise, centrifugal force might be a workable replacement. If your craft were spinning fast enough, you should be able to keep your feet on the ground (that ground being the outermost layer of the wheel like space ship). But who wants to go thtrough the trouble of explaining that kind of architecture?

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Orwell and the 1984 Universe

September 28, 2010 at 1:25 am (Literary Concepts) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Even 60 years after it was written, 1984 remains one of the most lucid meditations on human cruelty. Though many a literary critic would loathe calling 1984 science fiction, strictly speaking that’s what it is: a projection of a plausible future with new technology and new social systems (i.e. speculative objects). 1984 is now twenty five years past. I still consider the book required reading because of its insights on human nature (the focus of literature). But how about technology and social structures?

The Speakwrite and the Ministry of Truth:

Orwell realized the power of physical writing and its ability to clarify an author’s thinking. Hence, all Big Brother sanctioned writing takes place on a speakwrite, or a device that encodes your voice into letters. Today’s speech recognition systems hold up. Moreover, today’s technology is easily capable of doing electronically what Orwell imagined physically. A great deal of “correction” (conforming facts to ideology) takes place in the Ministry of Truth, and as a result millions of physical records have to be recalled. This was something of a stretch but can now easily be done. Should e-readers be the only method of written communication, Big Brother could simply correct all the misinformation on the server side without ever having to recall any physical paper. Constant surveillance would be necessary, however, to make sure no one could be capable of finding physical paper.

The Telescreen and Constant Surveillance:

In 1984 the middle class is under surveillance by a device called a telescreen. This was a combination of a television you watch and a television that watches you. However, no matter how many cameras one has one can only monitor a small population at any given time. The modern world, however, has many new tools at its disposal, including gps trackers, phone taps, email monitoring, social media (imagine being forced to post on facebook so the government could keep tabs on you), etc. The internet has been quite difficult to monitor, but this is based on one thing: there are a great number of countries that would simply balk at this kind of control. This kind of monitoring could only come across if ordinary internet users demanded it.

Orwell’s Continuous Warfare

So what on earth would cause people all over the world to demand their rights be taken away? War. When citizens feel their security is at risk, they seem incredibly willing to give their rights away for security (rights that are rarely given back). The only way to excuse tyranny at home is the prospect of giving in to greater tyranny abroad. So how does apply to modern warfare?

The War on Terror. Is this not a continuous war? Isn’t there always this possibility that some rogue group exists that could get its hands on WMD’s and take millions of American lives? Does this not by definition create continuous war?

The reason our civil rights have managed, in some degree, to maintain themselves is simple: since 9/11 there have been no large scale attacks on our home soil. The “Patriot” Act and the adoption of  “enhanced interrogation techniques” (torture) were at their peak in 2002. While many issues have taken or are taking much longer time to resolve than they should, our war on Iraq and the war on liberties back home originated in the panic everyone experienced after 9/11. That we might be attacked again and this time by WMD’s lingered in people’s minds. But the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are/were partially invisible. If you didn’t follow the news and you didn’t know anyone in the war the country might not seem at war. There is/was no draft, no rationing of materials, etc.  But most of all, there were no more 9/11’s.

Fortunately these days Americans have wanted to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan. They don’t want to deal with the expense of maintaining a military force multiple continents away. The course of these wars follows one of the traditions of American war, that a difficult war is unpopular unless the opponent poses a real threat.

The Final Fate of Orwell’s 1984.

Orwell’s idea of three powers: Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia, and their endless squabbling seem to fit the United States, Russia, and China respectively. It seems to me that Orwell anticipated much of the Cold War.

What seems missing is environmentalism’s understanding that natural resources are limited and that in the information age censorship has proven difficult even for the most totalitarian states. Not that this undermines 1984’s power, which comes from its examination of cruelty and the political structures that maintain it. 1984 wasn’t going to be a straight forward prediction of the future. It’s more of an allegory, or a speculative object.

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Steampunk Zombies

September 22, 2010 at 11:38 pm (Steampunk) (, , , , , , , , , )

I can hear the groaning now. Why on earth would anyone need steampunk zombies? Hasn’t the world already had enough steam powered robots and zombie apocalypses? Perhaps–after I am finished.

Steampunk is a complicated thing, though it does boil down to one thing: science and technology in the Victorian era. That interest may be science, technology, technological ideals, or simply fashion, among others.

So where do the living dead come in? In none other than Frankenstein, where Dr. Frankenstein animates a dead being. Frankenstein’s monster is different in origin than the modern zombie, but is actually quite similar. Both are creatures on which we can project our fears for the future. For the early readers of Frankenstein, this was fear of where industrialism might lead us.

Though no one has been revived from the dead, the kind of technology Mary Shelley described in Frankenstein, is developing. The human genome has been mapped and animals have been cloned. Genetic engineering can be achieved on a crude level (i.e. isolating and inserting single genes). However, if you read into the science, the difficulties in full scale manipulation are still as insurmountable as they have always been. Humanity has yet to be able to play God.

The modern zombie is again a monster we can project our current fears onto. The fears however, are of a completely different nature. Those of us young enough not to remember life before computers have seen “next generation” technology develop every three to five years, while human generations are typically 20 if not more. In the modern era, people have grown up with these massive technological changes and have grown comfortable with them. The fear they have is quite different: that it will all fall apart.

The modern zombie is thus an agent of apocalypse. Society breaks down and survival skills have been lost over the generations that were too preoccupied with their technology. The people you love or befriend while society is in relative comfort can turn into your worst enemy. This species of human dead is always mindless and carnal in its brutality. The zombie horde generally spreads rapidly, overwhelming a society not prepared to deal with so raw a threat.

Frankenstein’s monster, by contrast, is a completely sentient being and able to choose between right and wrong. He attempts to live a human life, but no one can accept his inhuman nature. It is only when he is miserable that he turns to acts of violence and vengeance. Frankenstein’s monster is thus quite human and that’s what makes him terrifying, for human beings were not to return from the dead.

Now onto the Steampunk Zombie. As the Victorian era’s living dead, the SZ is sentient. Yet unlike Frankenstein, the Steampunk  zombie readily makes copies of itself, probably through a medium poorly understood by Victorians at the time (probably electricity). The replicated zombie holds the modern fear of a zombie horde, though because the zombies would be intelligent, they would not need to overwhelm by numbers.

Shelley most likely figured one monster was compelling and terrifying enough. To contemplate a zombie horde is a modern notion. Thus the steampunk zombie fulfills the heart of steampunk: to project our modern notions into an earlier era that was projecting its own ideas into the future.

ps, much thanks to Ryan Littleton and James Wilkes whose material has inspired this entry.

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Non Linguistic Communication

September 10, 2010 at 12:42 pm (Inventive Prototypes) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Alternatives to Language

Human beings are creatures of language. It is our primary way of communicating. There is an inherent satisfaction in being able to put your thoughts to words. And when we can’t put feelings to words, we idolize the people that can. The novelists, the singers, the greeting card companies.

Yet it is apparent that language breaks down when it comes to discussing some objects. While it works as narrative (fiction) or as information (non-fiction), its power to describe certain objects is quite limited. The raw emotive power of music provides a fine example. No combination of words will ever put you in the ecstatic state that music can. And for this reason we have ipods, car stereos, etc. Clearly us linguistic apes operate outside of language quite a bit.

But even as we operate outside of language, we still find ourselves bound by it. Our reaction to music, or other non linguistic forms such as smell and taste, is highly personal. While language is not immune to subjectivity, it’s the only form of communication that human beings can readily share. A short talk over the phone with the fire department is the quickest way to call for help, not music or perfume. Even in our increasingly pixelized society, the direct power of words still holds sway. Thus it is hard for us to imagine a communication system that is not language. But it can be done.
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Shadow Vortex

September 9, 2010 at 4:11 pm (Metaphorical Concept) (, , , , , , , , , )

Shadow Vortex

The shadow vortex is a speculative object of pure chaos. To understand it properly, you must know about feedback. Feedback is the response to a force. It comes in two flavors. Negative feedback diminishes the effect of the original source.The day is hot so you sweat to cool yourself off. This is negative feedback. The result of negative feedback is homeostatis or equillibrium. Positive feedback, on the other hand, increases the original source. This can be seen, for example, in a highly infectious disease. Each person that gets sick makes it all the more likely that the disease will spread. Positive feedback results in explosions and viral effects. A Shadow Vortex is a speculative object that is pure positive feedback.
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The Experimental Screwdriver

September 3, 2010 at 3:11 pm (RPG Source) (, , , , )

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For the Paranoia RPG:

This post is for all those Paranoia RPG lovers out there. This Speculative Object exists in the fictional setting of Paranoia.

The Experimental Screwdriver

Any veteran Paranoia player knows that there is nothing more dangerous than experimental equipment. If it doesn’t create a giant explosion, it always jams in the middle of battle. After awhile though, paranoia players get too used to the idea. My solution for this problem is the experimental screwdriver. The experimental screwdriver is made of titanium alloy and employs special polymer grip technology so that the screwdriver never slips from your hands. It has a compartment containing so many variant extensions that it can unscrew anything in Alpha Complex.

Of course like all things in the Paranoia RPG, this design just seems to be too good to be true. Well it is true except: if any member of Green security clearance or higher sees it, they will use their superior clearance to steal it. Among high security clearances citizens in Alpha Complex rumors about this screwdriver abound and they all want it for themselves. Any attempt to recover the screwdriver from the higher clearance thief is accused of being a traitor. Now for the finisher.
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