About a year ago, we made the announcement of an assistant editor for the first time for Diabolical Plots when Ziv Wities joined the team. Don’t worry, Ziv Wities isn’t going anywhere! We are welcoming a a second assistant editor–Kel Coleman, who you might recognize from their story “A Study of Sage” that was published in Diabolical Plots this year.
Kel started as a first reader for the January submission window and has been helping out with line edits for the stories after the final selections, and we are looking forward with working with them more in the future!
For the past several years, Diabolical Plots has opened for submissions for an annual submission window during the month of July. This gives enough time to fully resolve the submission window before things start getting busy in August for The Long List Anthology production. In 2020, the pandemic threw us off our usual cadence and the submission window was postponed, to finally be held in January 2021. Since we are running on a bit of a tight schedule, we solicited a few to make sure that we would have some ready to fit in the schedule without gaps (we haven’t usually solicited any, so this is something new for us). For the submission window itself, 1938 stories were submitted by 1397 different writers. 120 of those stories were held for a final round, which resulted in 20 acceptances from the submission window, plus 4 solicited works that were accepted for a total of 24 for the year.
This submission window marked the first submission window since Ziv Wities became assistant editor! Thank you Ziv for helping to manage the submission queue and for your help with editing stories since the last window’s selections!
There are some familiar names, and at least some authors for whom this is their first professional short fiction publication! All of these stories will be published regularly on the Diabolical Plots site between April 2021 and March 2022, with each month being sent out to newsletter subscribers the month before.
This is the lineup order for the website.
April 2021 “The Day Fair For Guys Becoming Middle Managers” by Rachael K. Jones “For Lack of a Bed” by John Wiswell
May 2021 “The PILGRIM’s Guide to Mars” by Monique Cuillerier “Three Riddles and a Mid-Sized Sedan” by Lauren Ring
June 2021 “One More Angel” by Monica Joyce Evans ‘We Will Weather One Another Somehow” by Kristina Ten
July 2021 “Along Our Perforated Creases” by K.W. Colyard “Kudzu” by Elizabeth Kestrel Rogers
August 2021 “Fermata” by Sarah Fannon “The Art and Mystery of Thea Wells” by Alexandra Seidel
September 2021 “Rebuttal to Reviewers’ Comments on Edits for ‘Demonstration of a Novel Draconification Protocol on a Human Subject'” by Andrea Kriz “A Guide to Snack Foods After the Apocalypse” by Rachael K. Jones
October 2021 “Audio Recording Left by the CEO of the Ranvannian Colony to Her Daughter, on the Survival Imperative of Maximising Market Profits” by Cassandra Khaw and Matt Dovey “It’s Real Meat!™” by Kurt Pankau
November 2021 “Forced Fields” by Adam Gaylord “Lies I Never Told You” by Jaxton Kimble
December 2021 “There’s An Art to It” by Brian Hugenbruch “There Are Angels and They Are Utilitarians” by Jamie Wahls
January 2022 “Tides That Bind” by Cislyn Smith “Delivery for 3C at Song View” by Marie Croke
February 2022 “The Galactic Induction Handbook” by Mark Vandersluis “Coffee, Doughnuts, and Timeline Reverberations” by Cory Swanson
March 2022 “The House Diminished” by Devan Barlow “The Assembly of Graves” by Rob E. Boley
I keep my head low as I
sprint towards the floating Kakardemon, dodging left-and-right across the dusty
ground of Io. A ball of lightning
crackles overhead, a near-miss, and the Kakardemon’s single green eye twists in
fury, its red leather skin sparking in the twilight as it builds another
attack. But I’m Energy Power,
Queen of New Hell, I’m too damn fast and I get what I want: I leap forward with the Knife of Taertus held high and stab it into the
Kakardemon’s brow. I’m nearly thrown off as the floating ball of hate starts
bucking beneath me, but I grab one of its curved horns and hold on tight.
The Kakardemon sinks to the
rocky canyon floor with a hiss. I step away, leaving the knife buried up to its
carved-ivory hilt and grabbing the pump-action shotgun from my back. I cock it,
and the sound echoes from sulfurous walls stretching half a mile high.
No other threats on my
wristscreen minimap, players or monsters. Clear for now.
The demon’s huge eye, half
as big as the round body it’s set in, focuses on me. Its fanged mouth opens,
acid drooling out and fizzing where it lands. A deep rumble echoes up from
unknowable dimensions and coalesces into a voice reverberating with the screams
of a thousand swallowed victims. It speaks unto me:
“Knife of Taertus has
restored Kakardemon’s soul. Kakardemon can now talk, and will ally with—”
“Yeah, yeah, shut up,
you’re not my first. Look: there’s this boy.”
“Give Kakardemon a
player name to access performance statistics and—”
“I already wipe the
floor with him every which way from Sunday, I don’t need help there. That’s
kind of the problem, to be honest.” Tick tock, time to move, before
someone zeroes in on my location. I sprint out of the canyon and towards the
Security Tower. The tower is a needle in the heart of New Hell, a white
plasteel obelisk stretching from the plains of Io towards Jupiter above; that
great planet looms like a baleful orange eye in the ink-black night, its great
storm a malignant red pupil. Demonic sigils blaze crimson round the tower’s
crown, and my skull thrums with the subsonic resonance of their magic.
The Kakardemon bobs along
behind me like a puppy. Sort of. An
“If Energy Power can
be specific with her problem, Kakardemon can offer many techniques refined in
combat pits on the shores of hell.”
“My boyfriend won’t
talk to me anymore.”
Demonboy Ballsack stops at
this. Not the usual request, I’ll grant him. “Kakardemon has no context
for romantic guidance.”
“Don’t worry, Johnny
One-Eye, I don’t need your dating advice.” I kick the door of the Security
Tower open: a six-foot demon’s standing just inside, and its face splits
vertically in a drool-laden screech. I cut it off with a shotgun blast in the
mouth, jumping over the corpse as it hits the floor with a gratuitous surge of
blood. “We—Edge94 and me—we’ve been going out for a few months now. Just
online, y’know—in-game chat and emails and kicking eight shades of ass in co-op
tournaments—but we were going to meet in meatspace next month. He was all set
to drive down for a day, but I went past him on the leaderboard last week and
he’s been in a sulk since.”
uncertain how to offer support for Energy Power’s love life.”
“What is it they
promise in the adverts? ‘AI powered by an
advanced neural network for analysis of player thought patterns’, something
like that right? So I need you to tell me how to lose to him without it looking
obvious. Show me how other people end up losing to him so I can copy that
convincingly. If he’s above me in the rankings again maybe he’ll stop being
such an asshole about this.”
We’re coming up on the
temple room, a huge open square of sandstone pillars and lava pits, so I switch
to the chaingun. The Kakardemon falls into a brooding silence as I mow down the
advancing hordes of demons that pour from portals to flood this cursed moon.
I’m bouncing between raised carbon-steel platforms, not even looking where I’m
landing, flying by instinct with my chaingun spitting fury. The walls
reverberate with screams and gunfire, and my whole world is concentrated down
to the spinning geometry of circle-strafing.
of Energy Power’s player profile suggests this is not a stable long-term
solution to your problem.”
“You what?” I
switch to the rocket launcher and fire at my feet as I jump, surfing the
shockwave to fly across the room and escape a group of demons, their claws
clattering as they reach for my legs and grasp only air. I twist in mid-air and
fire again, simultaneously accelerating myself towards the far platform and
exploding the tightly-clustered demons into a glorious shower of chunky
“Energy Power does not
hold back,” says the Kakardemon. “Energy Power is most satisfied when
giving her all. Attempts to gain happiness by self-limiting achievements are
doomed to failure in Kakardemon’s opinion.”
“How’s any of this helping me, la Papa
Diabla?” I punch a secret panel in the wall and grab the armour upgrade
from the hidden alcove, juicing my power armour beyond its normal limits. It
glows a deep shade of blood red I’ve always been fond of.
Kakardemon’s intelligence is to maximise player’s happiness. Kakardemon
anticipates Energy Power will grow steadily resentful of the necessity to
perform sub-optimally in order to soothe Edge94’s ego, leading to the inevitable
breakdown of the relationship and greater hurt to both parties. Kakardemon does
not want this. Kakardemon wants Energy Power to be happy.”
“But I want Edge94 to be happy. He’s the first… look, my parents are never
really about, and VR nerds aren’t exactly the most popular ticket in town.
Edge94 is the only real friend I’ve got, as well as everything else. I miss
talking to him, and I miss him being happy, and I wish I knew why he cared so
much about the fucking leaderboard.”
“Analysis of Edge94’s
playtime pattern and ranking history suggests his skill at the game forms a
large part of his self-identity. Kakardemon also notes that high levels of
in-game communication between Energy Power and Edge94 began after Edge94 had
achieved the top ranking. Kakardemon therefore deduces Edge94 believes Energy
Power only likes him for his skill, and that Energy Power’s higher rank will
inevitably lead to a decline in her desire for him.”
It takes a moment to work
through all that in my head. I’ve never heard a Kakardemon talk so in-depth.
But shit, this is all because his ego means more to him than I do? “That
stupid S.O.B.! Why won’t he just talk to me about it?”
“Kakardemon has noted
male players often interpret the need to communicate as a weakness, and that in
order to solve their problems they should instead ‘git gud’. Kakardemon has also noted the ineffectiveness of this
tactic, and has frequently exploited it.”
“Ugh! You’re giving me
problems without solutions, Kakarmama. Just tell me what I gotta do.”
signalling your desire to talk.”
“Tried that. He starts
shooting before I can get a word in.” The last of the invading demons
drops dead, smoke rising from a dozen holes in its torso. The temple altar in
the central lava pit cracks open, and a column rises through it from
underground: there’s a Kyberdevil perched on top, an ugly-ass nine-foot
goat-legged little bitch with most of
its torso carved away to attach a rocket launcher. I say hello with a cluster
of precisely timed frag grenades.
Energy Power needs a delay. Tactical resource banks suggest that surprise is
the best way to force this.”
The Kyberdevil’s already on
its knees, stunned by the frags. I hop over and finish it with a boot to the
head, crunching through its skull to the squishy grey stuff beneath. “A
surprise like what?”
rolls around on floor singing classic pop song ‘Independent Woman’ while other
demons flank the player.”
That brings me up short.
“Huh. No shit. Didn’t know you could get down like that. Don’t reckon
it’ll work for me, though, I’m not round enough to roll. I need something
Energy Power think quick. Edge94 is closing on this position.”
Shiiiit. I check
the minimap and spot him below me. He must’ve already blazed through the
armoury on sub-level one. He’ll be kitted out now, definitely a plasma rifle,
maybe a BMF gun if he got lucky. He could oneshot me. I’ll have no time to line
up a shoulder shot to disarm him, no time to throw down my guns, no time to get
a “Hey” out on local chat. He’ll kill me and—and shit, if I’m honest,
Old Red Testicle here is right. I won’t be happy losing. Edge’ll kill me and
I’ll get pissed at him and come back hard, and then he’ll come back harder at
me and—well, then I’ll kill him again
cos I’m better, and he’ll get in an even bigger sulk and we’ll never get
anywhere. I need to get him to talk to me.
So I need a surprise.
Something he’s not expecting. Something where he can’t hit me before I’m done.
I look at the Kakardemon.
At the knife still sticking out its head, the ivory hilt contrasted against the
red leather skin.
“Well, buddy,” I
say. “It’s been good chatting. Good luck out there.” I yank the knife
from its head and stamp down on the central platform switch. I drop out of
sight beneath the closing altar just as the Kakardemon snarls, its electronic
facsimile of a soul vanished and gone.
I’m running before the
column’s finished its drop into the catacombs. It’s thick with darkness down
here, but I know Edge94 is close and I can’t be caught standing still. I could
beat him to the quick-draw easy, circle-strafe round him in my sleep, but this?
This shit’s gonna be hard.
My wristscreen vibrates
with a silent proximity alarm. I back up against a stone wall, facing a staircase
lit with flickering candles. Edge’ll expect me to run up there, get to the
mezzanine floor above, where I could drop grenades on his head. He’ll be facing
it already, waiting to shoot me in the back.
But he won’t expect me to
spin like this, whirl the other way
and crouch-jump through the window here,
come at him from the other side with the Knife of Taertus in my hand, zig-zagging
through the dark and headed straight for him. I’m Energy Power, the
too-damn-fast Queen of New Hell, and I—get—what—I—want. A huge ball of green plasma flies past me to one side and
then I’m on him, bearing him down to the ground, and the knife’s in his chest
and he’s staring in shock.
“What the hell?”
he says, pinned beneath me as I straddle his torso.
“Gotcha.” I flick
the knife hilt with one finger.
“You know the knife
only works on AI, right, not humans? It can’t make me talk.”
I raise an eyebrow.
“Well, I mean, I know
I’m talking now, but… well. Shit. Alright.”
“Alright yourself. We
need to talk.”
He looks at the knife in
his chest, and he looks up at me, and he sighs in defeat.
Author’s Note: I grew up on my PC. Well, first I grew up on my Amiga 500, but by the time I was hitting adolescence I was knee deep in Duke Nukem 3D, Quake, Monkey Island, Red Alert, Grand Theft Auto (in 2D!) and so on. This story is, therefore, the purest expression of my id I have yet written. It is full of stupid little references for no other reason than it amuses me, probably more than I even realise–and the entire thing is a reference to the British magazine Edge, who in 1994 famously concluded their review of the original Doom with “If only you could talk to these creatures…”That it grew from a stupid videogames in-joke into a commentary on toxic masculinity and the self-defeating futility of female-presenting people limiting themselves to be acceptable to society and the weak men in their life was, perhaps, inevitable.
Matt Dovey is very tall, very English, and most likely drinking a cup of tea right now. He has a scar on his arm he claims is from fighting Kyberdemons, though in truth he just walked into a tree with a VR helmet on. He now lives in a quiet market town in rural England with his wife & three children, and despite being a writer he still hasn’t found the right words to fully express the delight he finds in this wonderful arrangement. His surname rhymes with “Dopey” but any other similarities to the dwarf are purely coincidental. He’s an associate editor at PodCastle, a member of Codex and Villa Diodati, and has fiction out and forthcoming all over the place, including all four Escape Artists podcasts, Analog and Daily SF. You can keep up with it all at mattdovey.com, or find him timewasting on Twitter as @mattdoveywriter.
I’m not saying that there
aren’t any real people in the world. The ravens are very real, and indisputably
people. I’m not saying you’re the only human, either. There are definitely a
few of you about. How many, I couldn’t say. More than fifty? Less than a thousand,
that’s for sure.
Ravens are accomplished
mimics. If you’ve ever seen one, well, that’s basically accurate, except the
real thing is a little smaller and plainer and generally one metre to the left,
just as a precaution. If you’ve never seen a raven, you’re wrong.
Everyone you know and love
is definitely a raven. A gathering of humans is an unkindness. We space them
out, for everyone’s safety. I haven’t asked your ravens where you think you
are, but this was Siberian taiga. Aren’t these good trees? They’re recovering
There’s not another of you
for weeks in any direction. The nearest I know of is in what used to be China.
She thinks she’s a scientist in Wales. Her ravens love to make the sounds of
Don’t look at me like that.
She’s quite happy. Ravens are very social creatures.
Everyone thinks acoustic
mimicry is basically a party trick, fun and a little bit creepy but when you
get down to it, what’s the most you can do with that? Give someone the shivers,
maybe. Your alarm goes off in the morning and you find your phone but it’s not
turning off and you’re fumbling around in the dark and you hit the lights and
there’s this huge black bird on top of your wardrobe going beep beep beep. That
sort of thing happened a lot in the early days. Hilarious, but not the stuff
of revolution. And heaven knows we needed one.
The apes thought it would
be them, because of their hands. Poor apes. The dolphins were less hopeful, but
at least assumed they would survive. Poor dolphins.
A lot of humans actually
thought it would be them, some of them, someday, somehow, but it wasn’t.
Talons aren’t what you want
for touch-typing, but ninety percent of hacking is calling about forgotten
passwords. Major General Human Man, a word about the missiles, sir. Boy, did
you lot fall for that one. How’s that for a party trick?
We got better at it, too. A
No-one spins a story like a
raven. They live for drama. They can’t help it. Even when they’re doing their
thing, even when they’re playing themselves as big dumb birds who cuss for
crumbs, they still can’t stop. You’ll see them sitting on a fence, head cocked,
a little bit glossier, a little bit fancier than any raven ever was.
“Hello” says the human
watching them. “Hello! Aren’t you a pretty boy then? Aren’t you a clever one?
“Hello”, obliges the raven.
“Hello. Hello! Hi. Hi. Hi.” And then some funny throat-clearing noises, water
splashing, maybe some rude words. The human laughs and looks around for someone
to hold their camera.
“You should kiss him, you
know.” says the raven. The human spins back.
“Hello?” says the raven.
And the real raven, sitting
one metre to the left, makes the exact note-perfect soundscape of wind in the
trees, and clouds across a summer sky, and a friend coming to look at the funny
bird and throwing a warm, welcome arm around the poor bewildered human, a
mimicry so profound and absolute that the eyes no longer have a say in
reality. The good friend’s eyes are beady, unless the raven is really concentrating.
Their hair is black and glossy.
And all around, if the
story is any good, more unseen birds come whirling down. .
Main characters are
jealously guarded, a privilege for the proven virtuoso. The dark-haired boss,
the dark-haired wife, the dark-haired dark-eyed long-nosed stranger on the
train. Ravens are vain. Newcomers take up the song as scenery; the moon in
winter, maybe, or bees. Remember bees? They were kind of a last straw for us,
actually. There are none now; only the ones you hear. Lucky you.
But ravens need a lot of
stimulation, and sometimes they get bored. Here you are, you poor brave
soul. Have you been lost for long?
This world is not the one
for you. Your world is a place of plastic and glass, a nest of fans and pizza
and signposted roads and easy friendships with lovely people who sometimes flap
when startled. This is a hard world, a green world. A world where forests grow
from craters, and flowers spring from skulls. Don’t look at those.
The life you remember is
here, just over the nearest hill. Let me tell you about it. Your friends are
there, do you remember your friends? Tell me about them. I will fly ahead and
help you look.
Listen. This is where you belong. This is a story for you.
Author’s Note: I think most people know that ravens are mimics, but talking parrots and budgies have them completely eclipsed in the public consciousness. My theory is that this is because parrots are funny, and therefore safe. A talking parrot sounds like a friendly little goblin. A talking raven sounds like YOU. If they feel like it.
Phil Dyer does science and writes spec fic in Liverpool. His stories have lately appeared in BFS Horizons, 101 Fiction and Black Hare Press. He has recently begun to study for a PhD, against a lot of good advice. Retweets animal gifs @ez_ozel.
Hello! This is one of those posts where I declare what is eligible for speculative fiction awards (such as the Hugo and Nebula and Locus) and in what category from Diabolical Plots offerings.
Diabolical Plots itself is eligible for the Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine.
Editor (Short Form)
David Steffen is eligible for the Hugo Award for Best Editor (Short Form), for both Diabolical Plots as well as The Long List Anthology Volume 6.
Locus Awards have a category for Publisher, which would be Diabolical Plots, L.L.C. for Diabolical Plots, Long List Anthology Volume 6, as well as being the entity responsible for The Submission Grinder.
Best Reprint Anthology
For the Locus Award!
Related Work and Fan Writer
Websites that relate somehow to science fiction and fantasy are eligible for related work. So I believe Diabolical Plots as a whole is eligible, and I am eligible as “Fan Writer” for my work here.
Individual works of nonfiction are definitely eligible so individual pieces on Diabolical Plots, whether reviews or otherwise, are eligible.
This year marked the start of a series of articles I’m quite fond of: Music Video Drilldown, in which I analyze a professional music video as though it were meant to be a regular film instead of a music video–trying to understand the plot. Many of these end up being quite speculative.
And very recently I started a new series on Universal Transitive Headcanon–a metafictional framework of my own devising. In a nutshell, it is based around the idea that every character played by a particular actor is all part of the same character continuity, and every actor who plays a particular character (i.e. often rebooted ones like James Bond or Batman) are also part of the same character continuity. The concept is explained in more detail in this foundational post, and the first of the actual articles was posted very recently: The Story of Gandalf and Magneto.
And The Submission Grinder may be eligible as well! People ask me every year what they can nominate it for. (I think it would be very unlikely to win since that is a tool for writers and Hugos are voted by broader group than just writers but it is probably eligible anyway.)
Also, this may be a little bit odd of a suggestion, but the cross-stitch on the Diabolical Plots Twitter feed could be a related work. In 2020, in particular, I finished The Mighty Samurai, a project that took me FOUR YEARS to complete and which I chronicled step by step on the Twitter feed. There are also other cross-stitch projects completed in that time, including a Stormtrooper helmet, but The Mighty Samurai is certainly the most notable of this content.
Diabolical Plots commissioned one artwork this year, for the cover of The Long List Anthology Volume 6, which was produced by Jorge Jacinto. I believe his work would fall under the Professional Artist category by Hugo Award definitions. Check out his website.
This year only one of my own stories is eligible:
“Love From Goldie” by David Steffen, at Zooscape We used to be so close. What happened between us, Gloria? Is it because I died? I would never have thought our marriage was so superficial. For Christ’s sake, we’d been married for eighteen years! And now you won’t even talk to me, won’t even look at me. I’d never even believed in reincarnation, but here I am. I guess reincarnation believed in me.
All of the original fiction published by Diabolical Plots falls into the “Short Story” category as defined by both the Hugo and Nebula and Locus awards (meaning that each is under 7500 words apiece). The eligible stories are listed here with the announcement of Year Six fiction–but only those with 2020 dates, the ones with 2021 dates are eligible next year instead. Note that if you’ve been following along from previous years that this is a change from previous years–the last couple of years had had an anthology published early in the year that contained all of the story from April of the year to March of the next year–when that happened those stories were all first published in the anthology, and so the first 3 months of stories published on the site the year after were actually eligible the year before because of the anthology. These anthologies have been discontinued and so now “date on the site” is the only publication date to be considered. This means that even though Diabolical Plots has continued to publish two original stories every month, this year only 9 months of those stories are eligible (April through December). You can find all Diabolical Plots fiction here.
For the sake of convenience, here is a list of the eligible short stories with links and brief excerpts:
“A Promise of Dying Embers” by Jordan Kurella It is a long way down to the sea. A long way down, and treacherous. But I must make this journey today from my uncle’s castle, carrying his bones. I must make this journey, both for my uncle’s bargain, and for my own.
“On You and Your Husband’s Appointment at the Reverse-Crematorium” by Bill Ferris You place the urn carefully onto the examination table. The doctor opens the lid, takes a peek inside, sniffs a little. He nods, like he’s evaluating a new blend of coffee, then dumps half of your husband’s cremains into a big metal mixing bowl, the kind they had in the restaurant kitchen you used to work at. He uses a large copper whisk to mix in a bottle of purified water.
“Everything Important in One Cardboard Box” by Jason Kimble Max found the box that fit absolutely everything when he was clearing space for Roderick to move in. They had agreed he’d pare down to a single bookshelf, so he drove by the local rental place and bought a half dozen boxes.
“Synner and the Rise of the Rebel Queen” by Phoebe Wagner The Greyhood Gang created the boards to escape the guards. The Gallows Hand Gang modified the design with runes, potion washes, and badass art. The last gang, the Blacksmith Bitches, put the boards to their true purpose: rooftop raids on the rich.
“Open House on Haunted Hill” by John Wiswell 133 Poisonwood Avenue would be stronger if it was a killer house. There is an estate at 35 Silver Street that annihilated a family back in the 1800s and its roof has never sprung a leak since. In 2007 it still had the power to trap a bickering couple in an endless hedge maze that was physically only three hundred square feet. 35 Silver Street is a show-off.
“The Automatic Ballerina” by Michael Milne Cassia works leg-like appendages below its central chassis, tossing a frilly grey tutu out in a jellyfish whorl. It has a choice now: it could approximate anthropomorphic performance, occasionally wobbling, rotating its abdominal segment in concert with its lower half. It could fix its gaze on a sculpted sconce in the middle distance; it could mime fending off an impossible nausea. It chooses not to.
“Minutes Past Midnight” by Mark Rivett Ruth slammed through a metal security hatch. Solid steel met Ruth’s super strength and speed, and it shredded like tinfoil. From Ruth’s perspective, the world was frozen in time. Soldiers were posed in action – walking through halls, manning their posts, and otherwise going about the daily business of staffing a nuclear missile silo. None of them would be aware of the super hero in their midst. Only later – instantaneous in their perception, but many long seconds in Ruth’s – would they experience her intrusion: ruined passageways and an obliterated weapon.
“Bring the Bones That Sing” by Merc Fenn Wolfmoor The bird bones arrived on Grandma’s porch every day at dusk with no warning. There were all kinds of skeletons, each distinct: finches, crows, goldfinches, tiny barn owls, starlings, and once, a blue heron that had covered nearly the entire stoop.
“Finding the Center” by Andrew K Hoe I brought Annie to my math-racist’s because I’d stolen a laptop from the Syndicate. I’d stirred the vipers’ nest. Their reach was long, and I didn’t have anywhere to take her. Last year, they’d killed Annie’s mother—a trained policewoman—using crooked cops from our own precinct. So Annie went where I went—even to Sanger’s beat-down porch.
“For Want of Human Parts” by Casey Lucas The woman cuts down the street in her high-heeled shoes and descends to St. Patrick Station with her blood-red lipstick and victory rolls. The flare of her skirts and the streak of her eyeliner remind Bone Pile of a bygone era, not that it knows what a bygone era is. But something about her feels like home. Like a place Bone Pile can still remember.
“The Last Great Rumpus” by Brian Winfrey Except for me, he goes unseen and untouched by the world. But animals can still sense him somehow. So, as he drifts among them, dogs tense and huff and growl. Finally, the boldest of them, a pug, lets out a high-pitched squeal of a war-cry and charges.
“That Good Old Country Living” by Vanessa Montalban Phase Two consists of a trip outside Sector 684. It’ll take us two days to reach the human-curated farm fields. We’ll have the chance to see how our creators lived before the dark decline. How they coexisted with their animals in vast, clear-skied land.
“A Complete Transcript of [REDACTED]’s Video Channel, In Order of Upload” by Rhiannon Rasmussen Dark kitchen, grainy. Camera, low resolution, is pointed at a cooking range with dented skillet resting on it. Both are crusted with food and what appears to be rust. The stovetop paint is flaking off in layers. Over the side of the skillet, a lump which appears to have hair in it is visible. A black sheet has been draped across the counter behind the cooking range. After a moment of rustling, it becomes apparent that hands in black gloves have been in view.
“Are You Being Severed?” by Rhys Hughes He was lost in the guillotine section of the big department store. He could never have guessed there was such a thing, or he might have taken more care when the doors of the elevator opened and let him out. He was on the wrong floor. The lighting here was dim and bloody, the lamps shaded to deliberately cast a gory glow over the items that were on sale. It was crude and unfair. By the time he realised his error he had already wandered too far into the enormous room and his sense of direction was confused. He had no idea how to get back to the elevator.
“Many-Faced Monsters in the Backlands” by Lee Chamney On the third day, while using the washbasin, I saw my face had become asymmetrical. As I watched, the left side fattened. I put a hand to it and felt the bones below shift. The left side soon contaminated the right, and my face became someone else’s. It looked at me with eyes not my own.
“Mama’s Hand of Glory” by Douglas Ford Mama’s hand normally stayed inside the dining room cabinet, the kind that most families used for nice china. With it just me now, I used ours for other stuff, like interesting bones and rocks I came across. Naturally, Mama’s hand was the centerpiece. I picked it off the floor—fortunately, far enough from the vomit that it didn’t need cleaning—and placed it back on its display rack. I judged that it looked ok, despite one finger, the one that would’ve held a ring if Mama had ever gotten married, hanging off kind of funny. The pinky, along with most of the dried flesh under it, was gone completely. It didn’t look how Mama intended. But the tattooed planchette on the back didn’t suffer much damage, so I suspected it would still work.
“‘My Legs Can Fell Trees’ and Other Songs For a Hungry Raptor” by Matthew Schickele The junction of tunnels here had a rich sound, and the soft buzz of her bagpipes echoed in every direction. Just like yesterday, and the day before, she relaxed on a pile of stones, lost in the music, sifting her memory for favorite tunes from the timeworn canon. The bellows for the pipes was a ballooned mammal-skin bag on the floor, massaged by her large clawed feet; her small front claws tickled melodies on the chanter. Leathered intestines connected all the parts, snaking along her feathers from the bag up to her massive jaw.
“Tony Roomba’s Last Day On Earth” by Maria Haskins It’s Tony Roomba’s last day on Earth. After two years of working undercover as a vacuum cleaner bot on this boondock planet, he is finally heading home to the Gamma Sector, but his final day is full of challenges. He has to get out of the apartment undetected; has to reach the extraction point in time for teleportation; and he has to submit his intel-report to the Galactic Robotic Alliance (not that they’ll like it much). However, his most immediate and hairiest problem, is that he can’t get Hortense off his back.
This article is based in the idea of UTH (Universal Transitive Headcanon); if you are not familiar with the concept you can read more detail about it here.
From our perspective, most people in our world and time view Gandalf the Grey (and his second persona as Gandalf the White) as one of the greatest heroes of Middle Earth (i.e. The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, etc), in part because of the incredible portrayal of the legendary character by Sir Ian McKellen. Time and again Gandalf learns of a great threat to peace and life as people know it and he races ahead to forewarn those in danger to give them time to prepare a defense. Yet, Gandalf is known by another name by many people of that time and place that gives us a sense of the skewed perspective of those very same people he has saved: Storm Crow. Because, wherever Gandalf visits, a wave of chaos and death is surely following closely behind. And, while this is certainly true, many people confuse Gandalf’s role in the proceedings; Gandalf is not the cause of the chaos and death. With no Gandalf, entire kingdoms and their residents would have been wiped off the map in quick succession without forewarning to defend themselves. Gandalf has certainly saved many thousands of lives many times over, yet he is often blamed for those who didn’t survive despite his best efforts.
It is no wonder, then, that even after saving most of the then-known world from the evil power of Sauron yet again, that Gandalf would become embittered and, not only take on an entirely new persona of Eric Lensherr/Magneto (X-Men, X2: X-Men United, etc), but turn his back on his prior methods and many of the people he had fought to protect. No longer would he spend his efforts protecting a populace that as a whole despises and blames him. He may have been emboldened to change tactics by the modern rise of more people like him–in the times of The Lord of the Rings he was a rarity, only a handful of superpowered people like him, but by the time of the X-Men timeline there are multiple organized teams with their own agendas and with more superpowered people revealing themselves every day. As we saw in X2: X-Men United when Professor X uses Cerebro to target all mutants on the planet, there are multitudes more that are hidden in the population who perhaps do not even know that they have powers, or perhaps have just managed to keep it a secret from most. Perhaps in the time of The Lord of the Rings, a similar number of people have powers, but have not had the opportunity to develop it, or they manifest in ways that are taken for granted by those around them, but in any case the number of evident superpowered people has greatly increased from one film to the next.
Where Gandalf once depended on the support of the Fellowship of the Ring, Magneto now depends on the support of the Brotherhood of Mutants. Having revived from death at the hands of the Balrog and saving the entire population of the world from the evils of Sauron, and finding the world just as unwelcoming to him and to people like him as ever, he is back and is determined to establish a world where people like him can thrive without the blame and persecution of those who view them as different: “We are the future, Charles. They no longer matter”.
Gandalf/Magneto, among his more flashy talents, has a keen eye for new recruits, as we see in X2: X-Men United as he snipes Pyro from the X-Men team using Pyro’s insecurities and animosity toward Ice Man as a wedge. We see the start of his yearning for brotherhood with others of his kind with his befriending of Bilbo in The Hobbit, and then Frodo in The Fellowship of the Ring. At the beginning of each of their stories, Bilbo and Frodo seem fairly quiet and unspectacular people among a local population full of quiet and unspectacular people. But, especially in Frodo his skill at recruiting is never stronger. Without the Hobbits in general, and perhaps Frodo specifically, the battle against Sauron would surely have been lost. Frodo’s pleasant and calm demeanor is but an aspect of his supernatural resilience and resistance to the forces of outside corruption. Gandalf himself is susceptible to the mind control of Sauron: “Do not tempt me! For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself.” But Frodo carries the One Ring to the brink of its destruction, farther than any other individual may have carried it, even if in those final moments his resolve finally crumbled (though thankfully the deed was still carried out!). Of course, Boromir’s betrayal shows that Gandalf is not infallible in his recruiting skill–his recruiting is a high-stakes gamble–the world would have been lost if he had not found a mutant with an appropriate power to counteract the Dark Lord Sauron’s powers, but the flip side is that when this gamble went wrong it tore apart the Fellowship of Nine.
Before we see Gandalf in the guise of Magneto rising to notoriety at the head of The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, he has found a way to use technology to conquer his greatest fear: the fear of mind control, using a specially crafted helmet that shields him from telepathic influence. If he were to face Sauron again, he would be more prepared. He has also focused on some of his abilities to the loss of many others–can you imagine how much simpler most of the battles of Middle Earth could have been with the powers that Magneto has developed over metal? Every orc’s blade turned against them, a battle could be over in seconds with no survivors to tell of it! It’s no wonder that he focused so much of his power in more recent years on honing that skill to perfection.
As we see the resurrection of Gandalf the Grey into Gandalf the White, it is explicit that Gandalf is not bound by the same laws of mortality as the rest of us. One component of this great character’s life that is a matter of fierce debate is the debate of the other chapter of his life involving a quest for resurrection as Asparagus, aka Gus the Theater Cat (Cats) who joins with the others at the Jellicle Ball to determine which one of them will be reborn.
My personal interpretation of the Gus/Gandalf ordering is that his time as Gus the Theater Cat tells of the later years of his long and storied life. It’s only natural for him to take on a role in the theater, considering how skilled he had shown himself to be by then to take on different roles. And in his role of Gus we finally see spelled out how his earlier resurrection may have worked, although it seems that significant details must have been left out in the telling in both the books and the movies.
Although strong rules dictates certain parameters around a Jellicle Ball, it turns out that these rules are more customs than laws. Gandalf defeated the Balrog and earned his own resurrection by calling an impromptu Jellicle Ball as they fell from the Bridge of Khazad-dûm. Gandalf the Grey and the Balrog took their turns pleading their case for why each of them deserved resurrection in musical form. Of course with only the two of them, they could not fairly judge themselves in this case, so a higher power had to step in to make the choice. It turns out that Gandalf wishing to return to the surface and save everyone from the Dark Lord was more convincing an argument than whatever the Balrog could come up with in the heat of the moment when it had been expecting this confrontation to be a literal song and dance. Or perhaps it was Gandalf’s performance that made the difference rather than the contents of the argument itself, and thus inspired his later life in theater, as theater had saved his life and allowed him to finish his greatest work. One can imagine that the Balrog’s performance probably had a great deal of shaky rhymes and trailed-off sentences and circular logic, and the Balrog died for its failure.
It’s unclear why Tolkien skipped the musical nature of this sequence, considering The Lord of The Rings books are basically musicals anyway (count the number of songs in their pages and tell me I’m wrong). But why skip the most striking musical number? Perhaps Peter Jackson also skipped this musical sequence as a nod of deference to Tolkien, but the continued lack of a musical adaptation of the Gandalf/Balrog Jellicle Ball sequence is simply a travesty that I hope will some day be rectified! (preferably soon enough that Sir Ian McKellen may reprise his role!)
Gandalf’s breaking of custom may also have something to do with why Gus failed to secure resurrection at the later Jellicle Ball. He had already earned his chance at another life, and under a Jellicle Ball whose legitimacy could be called into question, and here he is at another one making the case for yet another life? So, this last chapter of his life was a quieter one, where others elsewhere wee fighting the battles that save the world.
I would like to propose some terminology for a particular type of headcanon that can be applied across many media, though centered around actor-based media like movies and TV based on actor-transitivity and character-transitivity: the Universal Transitive Headcanon (UTH). This proposal will be the basis of a series of posts that I intend to write analyzing movies, books, comics, and other media through the UTH.
For those who are not familiar with the term, “headcanon” refers to an unofficial interpretation of a work of fiction, which may or may not have any support in the source material, but which are not part of the official canon as defined by the source material.
Once a work of fiction goes out into the world, the creator no longer has complete control over it. The beauty of this is that fans can find their own interpretations whether or not the creators actually agree with those or not, and those interpretations can have an incredible life of their own even when (as the vast majority of the time) they are not considered by the creators to be canonical–they are officially not official.
The foundational concepts of the Universal Transitive Headcanon are:
Actor-Transitivity: Every character played by a single actor is part of the same continuity. For example, this would dictate that Darth Vader and Mufasa are part of the same character story.
Character-Transitivity: Every actor that plays a single character is part of the same continuity, as well as in non-acted media like comic books. For example, this would dictate that Adam West’s Batman is part of the same continuity as George Clooney’s Batman, as well as the Batman of comics and cartoons.
Multiple-Layer Transitivity: A continuity connection need not be limited to one transitive step. By this premise, it becomes to possible to, for example, examine how Beetlejuice and Edward Cullen are part of the same character story. Because: Michael Keaton played Beetlejuice, Michael Keaton played Batman, Robert Pattinson played Batman, Robert Pattinson played Edward Cullen.
Acting as Themself: If an actor plays Himself/Herself/Themself in a work of fiction, then by that extension the actor themself is part of their UTH, and so everything extending out from their acting roles is autobiographical. This may also imply that, for instance, one actor is the secret identity of another actor.
Disregarded Factors: Particular details that make contininuities difficult or impossible to correlate may be disregarded as necessary to make a unified narrative–such as differing character appearances, different family structures, different countries of origin, simultaneous or out-of-order timelines, or the fact that multiple characters combined by the continuity have canonically died (I’m looking at you, Sean Bean).
Future posts will further explore the possibilities of the Universal Transitive Headcanon for metafiction storytelling!
Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is a 2011 contemporary fantasy novel, the first in a series of three books by Ransom Riggs depicting children with unusual abilities.
The protagonist of the book is Jacob Portman, who as a child was enamored by his grandfather Abe’s stories of fleeing from Nazi persecution of Jews in World War II–to hear his grandfather tell it there were literal monsters and his grandfather found safety in a secret safehouse with peculiar children watched over by a “wise old bird”. When he was a child, Jacob took these stories literally, but as he grew older he doubted their literal reality, figuring that his grandfather was communicating with metaphor about the horrors of war. As his grandfather dies, Jacob sees a vivid vision of what appears to be a monster lurking nearby, but no one believes he saw what he saw, and he is sent to therapy to cope with the trauma of his grandfather’s death.
His therapist, Dr. Golan, suggests that Jacob should travel to Cairnholm, Wales, the place where his grandfather had lived at the supposed home for peculiar children. There he can either establish the reality of the home, or not, and settle what everyone else believe to be fantasies. He travels there with his family on a work trip.
This book has a very good hook, although it’s clear from the title and the picture of the book that it’s clear that “peculiar children”, whatever that means, are central to the book, and one can probably assume that the home for peculiar children exists or they wouldn’t name the book after it, there is still plenty of mystery in the book to keep turning the pages. As the mystery is revealed there is plenty else to keep the story going in terms of interesting characters and looming villains. It’s hard to discuss it in much more detail because the reveal of the mysteries is the biggest part that is fun in the book.
But another thing that makes this book stand out from other fantasy books is the found pictures that form the basis for many of the ideas. Throughout the book are actual found photographs of “peculiar” children, children who appear to be floating, or appear to be an invisible child visible only as hovering clothing, or things like that. Riggs has worked with collectors of these odd photographs to make a huge collection of images of these, and many of the characters are based on these photographs, so it’s really interesting how those odd photographs, presumably of early photographic special effects, were the basis of the story–it lends the story some feel of truth as well as adding a very cool weird touch to it all.
Untitled Goose Game is a 2019 puzzle stealth game developed by House House in which you are a goose generally making a nuisance of yourself in a small village.
“It’s a lovely morning in the village, and you are a terrible goose” is the line that starts the game. You are a goose with a purpose, and that purpose is a seemingly arbitrary handwritten list of objectives written on lined notebook paper wherein the only unifying seems to be “to be a nuisance”. As the villagers are trying to go about their daily business tending gardens, running pubs, and otherwise going on about their lives, you are the goose among them causing them endless inconveniences, stealing their things and move those things to other places, honking and scaring them at inconvenient times, and otherwise just generally making their days unpleasant.
Different villagers respond differently to seeing you–though generally most of them will chase you to retrieve their things if they see you stealing them, so much of the game is based on looking inconspicuous until their back is turned and then stealing and running off before they notice. There is also a puzzle element to the game, as many of the objectives give you a general idea what needs to be done but not HOW to do it. For instance, one of the objectives in the first area is to make a man wear a different hat… but how do you do that? Both the hat on his head and the other hat hanging on a hook are out of your reach.
This is a diverting and silly game, and it’s fun to have a game where your main objective is to be rather annoying, but the stakes are not earth-shaking by any stretch of the word.
Visuals Cute cartoony style, even if it is a little creepy that none of the humans have eyes.
Audio Very cute, the instrumental music cranks up in intensity when someone starts chasing you, and the HONK noise is amusing enough that I usually just walked around honking whenever I wasn’t trying to be stealthy.
Challenge Some of the challenges are pretty straightforward, others take some experimentation, but generally it’s pretty low-stakes since the worst thing that generally happens is that a human takes back a thing you stole and puts it back where it was originally. Where the biggest challenge comes in the game is later advanced objectives when you have a time-limit for completing a series of tasks. You have to work quite hard (and also be pretty lucky) to streamline your nuisance-making to fit it in tight time-limits. (It’s also probably the silliest idea in a silly game, who is imposing these time limits on the goose?)
Story Extremely light on story, which is fine, it’s not a story game. Other than the generally increasing dislike of the villagers toward the goose, there is not much progression. (But that’s okay, it’s not a game you play for story!)
Session Time Except for the time-based goals later in the game, you can start and stop pretty much whenever, and it will save your progress (even the time-based ones, the time limits are only a few minutes, so it’s not a big time unit anyway).
Playability Easy, there are only a few buttons–movement with the joystick, a general “manipulate” button, and a dedicated honk button (you can also flap your wings but that is almost never necessary, you can do it just for fun).
Replayability Certainly some replay value, after you beat the basic objectives you get some extra timed objectives, and even after that you could go back and find new ways to annoy the villagers (such as stealing all of their belongings and hording them in your den).
Originality Obviously stealth games are nothing new, but this one made quite a stir because the choice of the goose as protagonist and the goals as being just generally ways to be annoying to random villagers made this game a thing of its own.
Playtime It took me a few hours to play through everything including the advanced objectives.
A silly and fun stealth puzzle game well worth the time and cost. Even after all of the memes it inspired, I still found it original and fun and did not wear out its welcome. I still go back and play it just for fun even though I have completed all of the objectives.
Dog Man: For Whom the Ball Rolls is a 2019 graphic novel for kids, the eighth in the Dog Man series by Dav Pilkey (creator of Captain Underpants). The series so far has been reviewed here.
The villain Petey the cat is trying to turn over a new life and be a force for good instead of a force for evil, mostly motivated by a desire to live up to the confidence of his son, an immature clone of himself, known as Lil’ Petey. Lil’ Petey is a good-hearted scamp who is now in shared custody between Petey and Petey’s nemesis Dog-Man who is half-dog half-cop (Lil’ Petey and Dog Man are also members of a superhero group the Supa Buddies with the third member being the robot 80HD). But Lil’ Petey’s faith in humanity has been shaken.
The Fair Fairy is a long-running children’s TV show where a fairy explains to children how to be fair. But, it turns out that she’s not so good at keeping her temper when dealing with kids when she flips out (again!) on live TV and stomps off to become the newest villain. This combined with a minor mishap with some “supa brain dots” that turn a pond full of tadpoles into flying telekinetic monsters that team up with the Fair Fairy to wreak havoc on the city, and Dog-Man and his friends again have their work cut out for them!
Still very enjoyable series for grade-school age kids.