Saturday, February 20, 2010

A new tack

I think I will begin to post some of my amateur Mythos fiction. Spes Phthisica, a serial story (or perhaps a series of tightly connected short and short-short stories) about the dark future of humanity, starts, hopefully, next week (

(And, yes, I'll get to those Lumley reviews. Sometime.)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

More William Hope Hodgson

When looking back at my first William Hope Hodgson-related post, I noticed that I hadn't put up links to the following stories. They're all in the public domain (Hodgson died in WWI, and anything published 1923 or before is public domain in the US, so any of his works published in his lifetime are PD) and available free online.


The Boats of the Glen-Carrig (novel). One of Hodgson's sea-horror novels, not really the cosmic type like The Night Land and The House on the Borderland.

The Ghost Pirates (novel). Another sea-horror novel.

Carnacki the Ghost-Finder (collection of short stories). An interesting set of stories; while set in the modern day (well, Hodgson's modern day; the earliest 20th century) they use either the same 'cosmology' of supernatural effects and beings as The Night Land, or a very similar one. Carnacki is a sort of occult detective; think The Ghostbusters, except not comedy. Some of the 'hauntings' are real and some are frauds. (Also, on the same website, the Forgotten Futures free RPG: here is the Carnacki setting stuff. The entire Forgotten Futures site is well worth exploring if you have any interest in old SF.

Eloi Eloi Lama Sabachthani (original magazine title: "The Baumoff Explosive") (short story). A strange short piece about a scientist who tries to replicate the darkness at Jesus's Crucifixion. A bit odd, but quite short (a little over 6500 words), so try it.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Brian Lumley's Titus Crow series: part 1

Brian Lumley's Titus Crow series - The Burrowers Beneath, The Transition of Titus Crow, The Clock of Dreams, Spawn of the Winds, In the Moons of Borea, and Elysia - is often criticized for being totally un-Lovecraftian in tone. This is certainly a valid criticism - Lumley includes such elements as benevolent Kthanid, the golden-eyed cousin of Cthulhu, Eminence (ruler) of the Elder Gods; Elysia, the Elder Gods' paradise-world; Cthulhu and Kthanid presented as rulers of their respective factions, equal or superior to universal beings like Yog-Sothoth; Nyarlathotep as not an actual being but the telepathy used by the Great Old Ones; et cetera. Furthermore, Lumley's characters are far more resilient and far more proactive than Lovecraft's, tracking down and destroying minions of the Great Old Ones in a variety of locations. Psychic powers flow freely, and Titus Crow is "rebuilt" by alien robots into something of a literal superhero.

However, despite all of the above... the books are highly enjoyable. They are simply not in the same theme, arguably not even the same genre, as Lovecraft's work; they use elements of the Cthulhu Mythos freely, but present a very different interpretation of these beings. This isn't a bad thing, though; Lovecraft himself wrote in what we would now consider distinct genres (though the lines were nearly nonexistent in his time); "In the Walls of Eryx" is undeniably science-fiction, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath and "Celephais" nearly pure fantasy. The Titus Crow books, in theme and style, belong to the pulp adventure tradition of writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, and C. L. Moore; and they are good pulp adventure, especially for something written so late in the 20th century.

If you come to the Titus Crow books expecting cosmic horror in the manner of Lovecraft, you will likely be disappointed. If you take them for what they were written to be, however, they are very fun reads.

Part 2 will review the first two books of the series - The Burrowers Beneath and The Transition of Titus Crow.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Mysteries of Yith, Part 2: What Were Those Darned Cones?

Every other Mythos species on Earth seems to either be explicitly alien (Flying Polyps, Elder Things, Star-spawn of Cthulhu, etc.) or have believable relations to known Earth life (the fish- and frog-like Deep Ones, the reptilian Serpent Men, the hominid Voormis, etc.) The one exception are the cone-creatures which the Yithians' minds possessed when they fled to Earth from Yith. These cone-creatures are implied to be a native Earthly evolution, yet have no resemblance to any known form of life. So what are they, and how did they get here?

Are they Aliens?
Of course, there's the possibility that they are not native to Earth at all, but are relics of some previous alien colonization of Earth. This seems to be a copout, however, in the absence of any evidence of it.

The cones are clearly not from any vertebrate lineage.

Perhaps they are some form of mollusk. The large base of the cone, used to move the creature, seems very similar to the foot of a gastropod. The tentacles would not be unusual for a mollusk, either. The 'trumpet' like organs on the tip of one tentacle, and the location of the mouth and pseudo-'head' on another, are a more difficult problem, however. Still, the Yithians would be radically divergent from all existing mollusks simply by the fact of adapting to be large and terrestrial, so it does not seem unusual that they would evolve new organs (the 'trumpets' are likely hearing organs, as hearing that is adapted for water will not function well on land).

A bigger problem is that the Yithians originate too early for any known mollusks - before the appearance of animals at all.

Something Stranger?
The Yithians may well be the last remnant of an otherwise entirely unknown early evolutionary line of eukaryotes, neither animal, plant nor fungus, and not fossilized due to the lack of bones. They may be exceptionally distant relatives of slime molds, which can sometimes achieve surprising sizes.

With their intelligence, the Yithians could have survived the cold of the "Snowball Earth" Cryogenian period and the appearance of true animals, which would have wiped out the rest of the early eukaryote line that produced them.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Serpent People

The Serpent People, or Serpent Men, are an interesting Mythos race. They have been around essentially from the inception of the Mythos, first appearing in Robert E. Howard's "The Shadow Kingdom", published in 1929.

In "The Shadow Kingdom", Howard's first and best-known (and arguably best) King Kull story, the Serpent People are able to magically disguise themselves as human (and as specific people), and worship the Great Serpent. They form an ancient conspiracy working against Valusia - and, implicitly, they have infiltrated all human civilizations. They, and several other nonhuman intelligences, are said to have dominated the earth until defeated by early humanity; the serpent men survived by concealment and infiltration.

The phrase "Ka nama kaa lajerama", said to be handed down from the days of the wars between early humans and the serpent men, is usable as a test to determine if a person is real or a serpent man in disguise. Serpent men cannot speak the phrase, since their vocal apparatus is different from that of humans. When confronted with it, serpent men seem to change into their true form - but this is probably just a defensive reaction to being discovered, rather than actually being affected by the phrase.

In Clark Ashton Smith's "The Seven Geases", the serpent people are advanced, scientific, urbane alchemists, and not hostile to humans. "Ubbo-Sathla" has a briefer reference to them; their civilization's glory days seem to have been very ancient, probably pre-dinosaurian. Howard's serpent men are ancient and pre-human, but they seem to have directly predated humanity; the serpent men of "Ubbo-Sathla" seem far earlier.

On the other hand, Robert E. Howard also included serpent-like creatures descended from humans or near-humans in his stories. In "Worms of the Earth", a Bran Mak Morn story set in Roman Britain, the titular worms are serpentlike creatures descended from an ancient, possibly not quite human, people who warred with the Picts ages before. They were driven underground, and eventually became snakelike through ages of separate evolution or degeneration. They seem unrealistically snakelike for a human descendant, though, with "viper fangs" and viperlike heads. "Children of the Night" seems to describe the same creatures in an earlier, more humanlike, less degenerate state - but their appearance is still described as suggestive of snakes. The ancient feud in this story is with the Sword People, who seem to have no relation to the Picts.

Howard's "The God in the Bowl" includes a human-headed serpent. It is unclear if this has any relation with the other serpent-people and snakelike human-descendants, but it appears not.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Spring-heeled Jack in the Mythos

Another "using weird phenomena in the Mythos" post:

"Spring-heeled Jack" was a phenomenon from Victorian England: mysterious figures capable of superhuman feats of jumping, which terrorized people in London and many other parts of England. Spring-heeled Jack was sometimes described as being able to shoot blue or white fire, having burning eyes, or even having sharp claws. (See the Wikipedia article).

Despite popular legend, "Spring-heeled Jack" is not a single individual. At least four are known to have existed, though there were likely more.

Spring-heeled Jacks are named for their amazing leaping abilities. This ability is actually merely a part of their greatly increased agility. The other strange ability they are known for is producing blue-white flame; this is an electrical phenomenon similar to "St. Elmo's fire".

A Spring-heeled Jack is produced by exposing a human being to carefully modulated electrical pulses at a certain amplitude and frequency. If this is done correctly, the person's muscles are supercharged and a "Spring-heeled Jack" is produced. The technique was developed in 1836 by the English doctor Isaac Baker Brown, drawing on experiments by the Italian scientist Luigi Galvani. After three experiments recorded in his book "On Diseases and Conditions of the Muscular System, and their Treatments" (and possibly more unrecorded) he gave up the practice. The only known Spring-heeled Jack that did not result from Brown's experiments was accidentally produced in the small American town of Los Amigos by early experiments in the electric chair. That creature seemed to be more powerful than the normal Spring-heeled Jack, resisting bullets.

(If you're not interested in the RPG side of the Mythos, then ignore the following:)

In game terms: A Spring-heeled Jack's DEX increases by 2, but POW (in d20, Cha) decreases by 2. The St. Elmo's fire ability is harmless, but casts light as if a lantern.

A Spring-heeled Jack lives in this state for one week to three months after transformation. After this, it has a 50% chance of dying of heart attack; if not, it loses its increased DEX and 2 INT, but can live for as much as triple its previously natural lifespan.

The Los Amigos reference derives from Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Los Amigos Fiasco".

Friday, September 18, 2009

Ghost Lights in the Mythos

This is the first of (hopefully) a series of posts about tying in 'bizarre' or 'Fortean' phenomena into the Mythos, such as for use in gaming.

Ghost lights are a mysterious phenomenon known from many places around the world.

Marfa Lights: These strange lights appear to "dance" near the town of Marfa, Texas, on many nights. They have been seen in the Marfa area for at least 50 years. They are rarely seen close up. This much is common knowledge, but the true explanation is never mentioned. The Marfa Lights are in fact a strange form of fire vampire, less powerful and aggressive than the normal form.

These differences are caused by the fact that the form of fire vampire known by most Mythos scholars outside Texas is subject to the rulership of Cthugha. This violent, fearsome entity causes all creatures which serve it to become more aggressive; in its fire vampires, the changes affect not only their actions, but their fiery bodies as well.

Though they are not driven by the flaming wrath of Cthugha, any person approaching a Marfa Light too closely may be attacked.

Ropen: These strange lights found in New Guinea are often attributed by cryptozoologists to bioluminescent flying animals, such as relict pterosaurs, but they are generally another example of ghost lights.

(If you're not interested in the RPG side of the Mythos, then ignore the following:)

In d20, the fire vampires of Marfa have Wisdom and Charisma 2 points lower than normal; in BRP, they instead have POW reduced by 2. The Ropen of New Guinea are in fact identical to ordinary fire vampires.