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Lyle Zapato

"The Octopus Cycle"

Lyle Zapato | 2010-10-22.2795 LMT | Cephalopods | Retro
Lyle Zapato

Airship Troopers: Volcanic Dinosaur Island of Doom

Lyle Zapato | 2010-10-09.8400 LMT | Fonts | Lost Worlds | Cephalopods
'Airship Troopers' cover

If you're in the mood for some old-school roleplay gaming in a pulp-adventure milieu set between 1900 and 1940, why not try Airship Troopers: Volcanic Dinosaur Island of Doom by Oliver Parkhurst, the first release of the Zeppelin Age line. (NB: The publisher, Heliograph, sent me a free copy because they used my font, Duarte Juramento, for some of the illustration labels.)

As the name implies, the game centers around airships and exotic island locations (I assume future installments of the promised Zeppelin Age series will have airships in other scenarios). I'm not an RPG player so I can't comment too much on Heliograph's DECO System: it uses dice; is run by a Director; has Moxie Checks when your character takes damage; awards Pavlov Points to reinforce entertaining roleplay; and defines characters by Trademarks, Motivations, and Hooks.

While in our reality Zeppelins were never that successful, Airship Troopers imagines a world where they are a major form of transportation. The difference that makes this reality possible is Monarch Airways, owned by wealthy and forward-thinking Ozma Tippitarius, whose mysterious sources of funding and helium keep the airship industry aloft and thriving. The titular Airship Troopers handle Monarch security and are able to deploy from airships thanks to Rocketeer-style rocket-packs called Firebirds. Well, they actually deploy thanks to gravity; the Firebirds let them get back.

Besides the Monarch backstory, there's lots of interesting info on real Zeppelin history, technology, and operations, including a Zeppelin Owner's Operation Manual (or Z.O.O.M.). While your Zeppelin can fly for days without fear of crashing, maintaining neutral buoyancy isn't as easy as one might suspect. If you deploy personnel or cargo, you loose their weight and must compensate by venting gas, of which you only have a limited supply. If they return, you must then drop water ballast, which again is limited. Going up and down relatively quickly also means expending gas and ballast. Unless your engines are running on Blau gas, using fuel decreases weight and requires gas venting. Environmental conditions can affect the effectiveness of the gas, requiring adjustments to the gas/ballast ratio. Balancing these two resources without running too low on either to safely control the ship necessitates skill and experience.

To explain the day-to-day operations of Zeppelins, the book introduces Monarch Airways' experimental testbed, the MAA Zenobia, which was retrofitted from the real-life R-80. Included are a blueprint, walkthrough, and descriptions of crew duties.

Being transportation, airships aren't very useful unless you have somewhere to go. Where you choose to take your airship in your game is up to you, and the book's outline of the DECO system and airship info can serve to build any Zeppelin Age adventure you want. But as you've guessed from the sub-title and Chris Appel's cover art, Parkhurst has some ideas of where your Zeppelin should be headed.

Welcome to the Volcanic Dinosaur Island of Doom (or just the Island)!

The Island is an environment filled with pulpy goodness for your Airship Troopers to explore and be killed by. And yes, there are dinosaurs. You could even play as a dinosaur; the character section suggests Uncommon Descriptions that include not only a Wonderdog (à la Rin-Tin-Tin) but a Wondersaur (T. Rex-Tin-Tin?), and there's a Wondersaur named Sandy described in an example adventure in the Director's section.

All the pulp staples are here: lost cities, mad scientists, gangsters, jungle girls, Neanderthals, giant arthropods, man-eating plants, weird fungi, Nazis, the Red menace. Of course, not everything listed has to be on your game's version of the Island. They're all just suggestions. The example adventure provides character/creature stats for a number of them, but it's easy to create your own.

Of particular interest to my readers, the Island is potentially home to a menagerie of terrestrial cephalopods: lakeside croctopus, giant elephantopus of the grasslands (reminiscent of the Umbrella Beasts from "The Octopus Cycle", as seen on this pulp cover [UPDATE: more about it here]), cave-dwelling stalactopus and stalagmopus, airfaring zeptopus, and naturally forest-dwelling treetopus. Since there's already Wondersaurs, perhaps you'll consider playing as a plucky arboreal Wonderpus sidekick. Also, the mixture of tree octopuses and dinosaurs means this will happen.

Lyle Zapato

Posters For Haiti

Lyle Zapato | 2010-03-05.5330 LMT | Announcement | Fonts | Art
Lyle Zapato

Talking Tree Octopus Of IMPOLEX

Lyle Zapato | 2009-12-08.0878 LMT | Cephalopods

IMPOLEX (2009) is an independent film about a US soldier on a special mission for Operation Paperclip to single-handedly recover the last two remaining V-2 rockets in post-war Germany.

(This is not a review since I haven't seen the film. It's on the film festival circuit, so I probably won't see it for a while. I'm describing it via the trailer, interviews, and PR on the film's site. My apologies if I get something wrong.)

The film follows Tyrone S. (Riley O'Bryan) as he looks for and finds a miniature V-2 rocket, then has to carry it around a forest in search of the second one. Along the way he encounters various unusual characters and eats bananas.

IMPOLEX's writer/director, Max Ross Perry, freely admits in interviews that he was heavily influenced by Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow -- besides thematic similarities, the main character's name is the same in both and the title was obviously inspired by Pynchon's Imipolex G, although Perry's IMPOLEX (short for "Initiative for the Monitoring and Protection of Liquid Energy Explosives") is a US military organization, not a secret Nazi erectile plastic.

What's drawn my interest in this film is that one of the characters Tyrone encounters is a talking tree octopus, of unknown European species, voiced by Eugene Mirman and played by two octopuses -- which I assume is some sort of union thing. One still shows them sitting together in the forest, engaged in a deep discussion:

IMPOLEX

I don't know what they discuss, but apparently they have a falling out. In the trailer at about 1:40, Tyrone shoots at the octopus:

Read more...

Lyle Zapato

AFDBs On Fringe

Lyle Zapato | 2009-11-13.2880 LMT | Mind Control | Aluminum | Fashion

The most recent episode of the TV show Fringe, "Of Human Action", was about a kid taking military-grade psychotronic drugs who gains the ability to control minds with only his bare thoughts. Near the end (35:00), Dr. Walter Bishop and his assistant, Astrid, wear AFDBs -- not to block the kid's mind-control, as one might assume, but to keep the sinister corporation Massive Dynamic from reading their thoughts:

Beanied Walter Bishop Beanied Walter Bishop Beanied Astrid

While it's good to see deflector-beanie awareness being propagated to the orthonoid masses, their AFDBs contain some potentially fatal flaws that could undermine the paranoid cause if widely adopted.

First, they're ill-fitting. You can see this especially with Astrid's, which she wears at a dangerously jaunty angle allowing free access to her right temporal lobe, center for the processing of sound and semantic meaning and the formation of long-term memory. The beanies are also not secured with tape or other fasteners and could easily be dislodged. Finally, though the Robin Hood they are sporting is a classic style, it tends to sit higher on the head, leading to suboptimal foil usage compared to the recommended form-fitting squashed configuration.

On their own, these may seem like simple amateur mistakes, but given the show's incongruous appearance on a network aligned with the Forces of Mind Control, they are certainly intentional -- designed to promote just enough paranoid behavior to provide a false sense of mental security, but not enough to withstand attacks targeting these specific weaknesses.

As you may recall, Fringe has also promoted the Handlebrot set and action on the show centers around intradimensional activities in a multidimensional setting -- topics of interest to my readers. Clearly this show has been memetically engineered for no other purpose than to counter my website with subtle misinformation.

I'm on to you, J.J.

Lyle Zapato

Harlan Ellison Stalks The Tree Octopus

Lyle Zapato | 2009-09-25.5670 LMT | Cephalopods

Stalking the Nightmare (1982) is a collection of miscellaneous short works by Harlan Ellison. One of the pieces, "The Hour That Stretches", is sort of a fictionalized transcript of a guest appearance by Ellison on the radio show Hour 25, hosted by Mike Hodel.

At Ellison's suggestion, callers to the show (including some of his writer peers) pitch ideas to him, which he then tries to develop into plot synopses for stories, improv style -- at least when he isn't insulting the callers or saving Humanity from mysterious, outer forces bent on our destruction.

After an idea about racing domesticated Arabian camels with NFL players as jockeys and someone suggesting he write "I'm Looking for Kadak" again, only with the Pope thrown in -- both of which he dispatched without synopsizing -- Ellison gets this call:

Hodel put on another caller. Mayer Alan Brenner.

"I know you," Ellison said.

"You sure do. And I've got a beauty for you."

"Be still my heart," Ellison said, sinking down on his spine.

"It's an excerpt from NORTHEAST TREE AND STREAM," Mayer said. "A short history of the famous Chesapeake Tree-Climbing Octopus..."

"Why me?" Ellison groaned. "Which God did I offend?"

"All of them," said Hodel.

Mayer went on, undaunted by sounds of pain coming over his radio.

"This retiring and rarely glimpsed creature lives in the many quiet estuaries of the Chesapeake system. Early each morning the octopus leaves the water and crawls up the trunk of a shoreside tree. It makes its way precariously onto a branch overhanging the water, where it waits for its prey to pass underneath." Silence ensued. Dead air hung heavily in the night.

Finally, Ellison said, "And that's it, right? That's the idea, right, Mayer?"

"Uh-huh."

More silence. Then, in a very soft, very tired voice, Ellison said, "These blue-skinned Jewish aliens with wheels come down to Earth and kidnap the Pope so they can have a race on Arabian camels to establish whether Jews or Gentiles are worthiest to live in the universe, and the Pope gets all these NFL players to ride as his team, because they're all Polish or black and not a Jew in the lot, and they have this watercourse raceway and they race for the universe, and as they come under this tree in the Chesapeake system the octopus drops out of a tree and eats every last, fucking one of them, football players, Jewish aliens, the Pope, the camels, Brian Sipe and Terry Bradshaw and Walter Payton and you too Mayer!"

Ok, so it's not "Devilfish with a Glass Tentacle" or "A Boy and his Octopus", but it's still a Harlan Ellison story about a tree octopus. Now if I could just track down that issue of Northeast Tree and Stream that Brenner found...

Lyle Zapato

Pratchett's Nation

Lyle Zapato | 2009-09-20.1325 LMT | Cephalopods | Piratical Yarrings

This is strange.

First of all, Terry Pratchett published a novel last year, Nation, that features tree-climbing octopuses and no one thinks to notify me, of all people? I'm hurt! If I wasn't already paranoid, this would put me over the edge.

Well, anyway, I'm in the loop now. I only discovered it last night while looking for more things to put on the media subpage on the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus site. (An aside: What was the deal with 2008? Five books -- that I've discovered so far -- were published with tree octopuses in them, not even counting school text books. And only one of the authors thought to let me know. Thank you, again, Eric E. Olson.)

But here's the weird thing: The cover of the UK edition has a tree-climbing octopus on it, hidden in the shadows. Excellent! But then I looked a little closer at it. It seemed strangely familiar. Here's a lightened and contrasted detail (taken from an extra-large image of the cover found here):

Detail of tree-climbing octopus from UK cover of 'Nation' UK cover of 'Nation'
The added white square on the cover is where the tree octopus can be found.

Now where have I seen that tree octopus before? Oh, yeah, here it is:

Original tree octopus image
Tree octopus image that's been on my site for a decade.

I applaud the cover designer's desire for technical accuracy by using an image of an actual tree octopus (albeit not O. arbori, as specified by Pratchett), but is it really the smartest thing, from a legal ass-covering perspective, to take an image off of some website and put it on a very notable commercial product? I mean, you're designing the cover for a freaking Terry Pratchett novel, not doing graphics on some penny-ante website in your spare time; someone's going to eventually notice, no matter how much you darken the image.

I can understand if the cover artist left the octopus out, and your boss told you just before the deadline that there had to be a tree-climbing octopus on there, and Google image search is just a few tempting clicks away... but, really? No one around the office can draw an octopus, not even one that would be mostly in silhouette? What are they teaching you people in design school? Drawing octopuses should be part of the fundamentals!

Just so we're clear, I have absolutely no intention of making any sort of drama about this (not that I rightly could... ahem), and everything's cool as far as I'm concerned. Mostly I'm disappointed that more effort wasn't put into having a proper tree-climbing octopus illustration on the cover (and none at all on the North American version, at least that I can see). But whoever's in charge of the cover-design department at Pratchett Heavy Industries needs to give some stern lectures to their underlings lest they get themselves into trouble in the future.

Lyle Zapato

Book Review: Drome

Lyle Zapato | 2009-09-19.0440 LMT | Cephalopods | Cascadia | Hollow Earth | Lost Worlds | Retro
Cover: 'Drome' by John Martin Leahy
But why had they set out on a journey so strange and so hazardous -- through the land of the tree-octopi and the snake-cats, through that horrible, unearthly fungoid forest, and up and up, up into the caves of utter blackness, across that frightful chasm, up to the Tamahnowis Rocks, into the blaze of the sunshine, out onto the snow and ice on Mount Rainier?

Drome, written and illustrated by John Martin Leahy, is a pulp story about a strange underground world, home to a lost civilization that may be the progenitors of ancient Greek culture. It was originally serialized in the Jan.-May, 1927 issues of Weird Tales, and republished as a book in 1952. I'm reviewing the book, which I believe has some differences from the pulp original (a preface, footnotes, and some casual references in the main text to atom-bombs and television that don't seem particularly 1920s-ish.)

The story has two elements of interest to me: 1) it starts in Cascadia (the entrance to the underworld is on Mt. Rainier) with references to regional history and culture and 2) it mentions Cascadian tree octopuses, albeit of an unusual and deadly subterranean variety. So naturally I had to acquire an original copy for the ZPi library and review it.

Read more...

Lyle Zapato

La Pieuvre Des Arbres

Lyle Zapato | 2009-07-22.9780 LMT | Cephalopods | Nature | Art

Below is some rare footage of a tree octopus from 1928:

The scenes were shot by the French experimental filmmaker Jean Painlevé and originally appeared in his surrealist nature film about octopuses, La Pieuvre (The Octopus). The silent short with the scenes in their original context can be found in the recently released Criterion Collection of Painlevé's work, "Science Is Fiction: 23 Films by Jean Painlevé".

(Thanks to Joshua for bringing this to my attention.)

Lyle Zapato

The Cloo Harvest Begins

Lyle Zapato | 2009-03-14.3520 LMT | Food | Technology

Four years ago I predicted that the technology of "cultured meat" -- meat grown in a vat from tissue samples, which is being promoted by the NPO New Harvest -- would inexorably lead to celebrity cannibalism:

C-level celebrities, unable to make any money in the crowded reality TV market, will turn to peddling their own flesh to pop-culture-obsessed gourmands. I think it's safe to augur that Kenny Rogers Roasters will start serving actual roasted Kenny Rogers and that an all-in-one George Foreman Grill/Meat Maker will let you grill up some George Foreman.

This turn of events will darken as unauthorized celebrity tissue samples find their way into the meat market. Big-name celebrities will be targeted, with stalkers and opportunists trying to steal medical biopsies from doctors or even samples directly from the source. In this black market of celebflesh, counterfeiters will flourish, leaving many celebrities torn between feeling violated by meat pirates and offended by being falsely portrayed as too stringy.

In time, these celebrities may find it wise to give into fan demands by offering up their officially licensed flesh as a gourmet alternative -- think "Newman's Own Meat". Increased pressure to perform gastronomically will lead to scandal over the common usage of "meat-synching" by celebrities of subpar flavor. There may even emerge a new kind of celebrity who's known only for how good he or she tastes, resulting in a generation of kids whose highest ambition in life is to be considered delicious.

Many of you called my prediction ridiculous, or disgusting, but were unable to argue against my logic. Well, now my prediction is off to an early start with the threatened introduction of tofu flavored like actor George Clooney.

Ingrid Newkirk, the president of PETA (presumably now standing for "People Eating Tasty Actors" -- hopefully I'm not late with that obvious joke), unveiled their plan to use Clooney-sweat, harvested from a gym towel acquired by a PETA operative, to engineer artificial Clooney-flavoring which would be added to tofu, creating what they're calling "CloFu".

While not quite vat-grown Clooney-meat, it is a harbinger of the looming intellectual property concerns raised by the easy availability of people's DNA -- a trail of which we leave wherever we go in our biological detritus of shed skin-flakes, finger grease, and lost hairs. If Clooney doesn't have a patent on his genome (or at least the genes that give him his flavor), can he legally do anything to stop PETA from making CloFu, or future New Harvesters from offering ClornDogs, ClooStew, chicken cordon Cloo, or other Clooney-based entrées? Or what if someone applies for a patent before him? Or if patents on DNA are ruled invalid?

It's a Brave Cloo World we're entering. Make sure to bring a bag lunch.

Update 2009-03-20: It occurred to me on rereading this post that the link I made from PETA's proposed artificial Clooney-flavoring to the cultured meat industry as envisioned by New Harvest might seem tenuous to the uninitiated. However, last year PETA president Ingrid Newkirk offered a $1 million prize to the "first person to come up with a method to produce commercially viable quantities of in vitro meat at competitive prices by 2012." That, in one year's time, Newkirk could go from "let's replace immoral murder-meat" to "let's enjoy the sweet, sweet, sweat taste of George Clooney" just illustrates the dangerous allure of celebrity cannibalism.