Thursday, 28 July 2016


Welcome Elect! the Golden Teat, Vornheims only true marker of the avant-garde, the final broadside firing, the journal of thought for those who truly THINK, returns!

Though haunted by FIRE, that bright shadow to life itself, we speak once more to shame our slavish imitators, rebuke our foes and kindle again the canker'd spark of DARING in those few within this warren of frozen mediocrity who retain and renew the capacity for original conception!

Rumours of this journals DEATH & DESTRUCTION at the hands of a church-mandated RESURRECTIONIST MOB, riled by porcine fabulists, gifted with the means of conflagration by the ARCH-CONSERVATIVES of the NOBLE CLASS and directed by well-placed DOUBLE AGENTS to assault our megre premises by catapulting small burning wolves lobotomised with golden pins through our windows until the ferocity of the burgeoning fire, the occlusive properties of smoke and the unmixed tragedy of the wolves sad consumption combined to DESTROY our press and CAST OUT our staff into the city street where they were radished and pilloried (MARTYRS), thereby depriving this decrepit manhive of its only true ORGAN OF PRINT dedicated to the preservation and sustainment of True Art, has FAILED.

The Golden Teat PRINTS ONCE MORE. We extend our apologies to our phandom within the body of the CHURCH, to our dedicated readers in the SALONS OF THE RICH and most of all to the Editors and Staff of that BASTION OF CONSERVATISM  the journal of the HONEY'D OAT and to its owner and editor, Voltoom Von Markenstark. Since you, SIR, were previously able to report on our papers ATTEMPTED destruction some hours BEFORE it took place, we do hope your PROGNOSTICATIVE CAPACITIES remain, and have warned you in advance the remarkable, the unspeakable, the unprecedented contents of our freshly disinterred and RESURRECTED journal. If so, then surely you are the ONLY ONE WHO LIVES to guess at what follows upon these words....

That is, the GOLDEN TEAT is proud and snide to report an interview, the first and ONLY  of its kind, with the overwhelmingly famous and shockingly reclusive author CAPHTOR CLOWE!!!!

This passenger of un-mixed fame, perhaps the most well-known writer of cube-entire, called by some 'The Gorgoliths True Bard' whose works have been translated into every language known and some un-known, invited in this organs factotum, Bathsheeba Vile, requesting that she pass through numerous unmarked portals and approach him only by a strange and vacant path. Vile (and scribe) met with the writer in conditions of ceramic secrecy and intense luxury.

Unlike the commandants of some OAT'er journals, the editors of the TEAT will spare no verbs in bringing you to the POINT. The interview begins upon this dash-


VILE: Caphtor Clowe...

CLOWE: Please Bathsheeba, call me Caphtor.

VILE: It would be a pleasure Caphtor.

CLOWE: And make no signs. I am aware of all codes that pass and I have penetrated the mind of your scrivener.

VILE: Have you.

CLOWE: I become instantly aware of all thoughts within a five-metre distance of my naked skin, as, I am sure, do you.

VILE: I was not aware of it.

CLOWE: We are both Artists Bathsheeba, and we both know that True Art is THOUGHT and the substance of thought is ART. But if this masque pleases you, and I see that your scrivener still writes, then please proceed with your 'questions' and I will 'answer'.

VILE: Thank you. Mr Clowe..

CLOWE: Caphtor, please.

VILE: Caphtor, you have written two books over a space of five-hundred years.

CLOWE: I have.

VILE: Your first book 'Through the Eyes of the Gorgon' was published in the year (adjusted) 1532 and instantly banned. It claimed to be a 'tell-all' biography of an immortal being, one partly responsible for the creation of this world and mentioned in the scriptures of Vorn.

CLOWE: It was. It was, and it remains, an unappreciated and misunderstood work.

VILE: The few surviving reviews suggest that  it did not meet a favourable reception at the time...


(At this stage Clowe became violently agitated and moved rapidly about the room for several minutes. He then left the room and could be heard loudly requesting his 'substance' from an unseen member of his extensive staff. About a quarter of an hour later he returned, apparently weeping, though smiling and breathing deeply, and continued his response as if no interruption had occurred.)

CLOWE: 'Gorgon' was a misunderstood book. Most (all) of the qualities mocked by critics at the time were simply avant-garde or unpredictable stylistic choices necessitated by the remarkable nature of the subject.

VILE: The Honey'd Oat called it "Cheap, rubbishy, researched by dogs chewing dictionaries, unfit even for a turgid voyage, composed of error and transmitted by a borderline-retarded mind."

CLOWE: They failed to even notice, let alone un-pack and cognate, its multiple overlapping ironies. OF COURSE the biography of an immortal near-divine being would be written in the style of a poorly-researched potboiler, the style is both representative of the mortal minds collapse into apparent cliche when confronted with events of titanic significance over a period of incomprehensible time, and ALSO an investigation into and commentary UPON that self-same collapse.

VILE: And what they called "significant errors and inaccuracies in the text, not only in reference to recorded history, but even to its own narrative"?

CLOWE: A deliberate and entirely necessary aesthetic choice. The 'gaps' and 'inaccuracies' referred to are carefully chosen and precisely arranged lacunae in the syntax of rational thought designed to both provoke and NECESSITATE a free-floating relationship to the text and the near-shamanic leaps of intuition and interpretation which are the ONLY way in which the true narrative, not only of the book, but of HISTORY ITSELF can be comprehended! OF COURSE  it would seem to an unengaged and mediocre reader that I had written the book in under a week while drunk, OF COURSE it would seem to  DULL MIND that I had dropped the pages on the way to the publisher and had not bothered to put them back in the right order, OF COURSE it would look  to the LARGE CHESS SUBNORMALS AT THE HONEY'D FUCKING OAT that I had barely researched the thing and had simply made up details when required! Every single element was a deliberate aesthetic choice!

VILE: Your total disappearance shortly after publication seems to have caused almost no investigation or surprise.

CLOWE: They thought I jumped off a bridge. SHE saw to that.

VILE: And in your absence you were tried for both blasphemy and libel by the church. How did that feel?

CLOWE: I only discovered it recently. Luckily, since both trials proceeded in parallel, and since the evidence and arguments required for each conflicted at a basic level, to be found guilty of one would mean I was innocent of the other.

VILE: You mean you could not be guilty of both blasphemy AND libel?

CLOWE: Quite so, it was one or the other. If what I said was true, it might be blasphemous, but could not be libel, if it was not true, then it was libel, but, being legally classified as such, I could not be found fully guilty of blasphemy.

VILE: Both trials collapsed after only fifty years...

CLOWE: Of little use to me! Imprisoned as I was within a petrified cell!

VILE: And yet you were also charged (twice) with contempt of court for failing to present yourself at your own trials.

CLOWE: Yes, that charge still stands, making me persona non-grata within Vornheim itself and requiring my exile here in Osc Lithicum.

VILE: Are we not in Osc Leth?

CLOWE: Since no-one has ever been able to fully define the difference between the two cities, it makes little difference.

VILE: Your subsequent re-appearance though, almost five hundred years later, early in the year of Our Vorn (adjusted) 2013, and the publication of your sequel to 'Gorgon', 'The Maze of the Medusa', telling the story of your captivity, 'rescue' and of the death of the Medusa at the hands of a group of wandering and contemptible rogues, was perhaps the most staggering event in the history of publishing, seismology and the church of Vorn.

CLOWE: I have seen my future born, and it is hell.

VILE: Would you care to un-pack that for our audience?

CLOWE: Bathsheeba I will. Our culture, and the Gorgolith itself, exists currently in a state of mortal and extreme danger, totally unsuspected by the majority of its population. Both it, and I, have enemies of overwhelming and terrifying power.

VILE: Is this the reason for your hiring of an army of highly-experienced mercenaries and your fortification of this gigantic woman-shaped tower into a kind of high-security pleasuredome?

CLOWE: No. That relates to a legal matter and to the protection of my substance. My true enemies cannot be dissuaded by mere force. No lock or bar may stand against them, only the power of my ever-reaching and all-penetrating mind preserves even this thin sliver of reality from their relentless assaults upon both it and me.

VILE: Caphtor what are those enemies?

CLOWE: Their form is twofold. First as a race of invisible intelligent floating psychic pigs, and second as the poor enforcement of international copyright.

VILE: Mmm, I know the question of copyright has become something of a 'hot iron' issue in Vornheim recently....

CLOWE: Bathsheeba it is UNQUESTIONABLY TRUE  that AT THIS MOMENT, individuals ranging from the Hexenbracken to Vovoidia to distant Yoon Suin are experiencing and indulging in PIRATED  and POORLY TRANSLATED copies of my work for which NO REMUNERATION has reached either my publishers or myself and that an army of invisible mind-controlling pigs whose slavering mouths vomit pearls of pure psychic lightning are the unseen, and real, masters of this reality.

(The pigs fly oriented in a vertical manner, standing as crucified men, not in a lateral or animalistic way.)

VILE: Some more radical authors have argued that copyright ultimately benefits, not the author,  or the culture at large, but the vast power of the publishing houses who control the major presses, most of whom have close relationships with both the church and state.

CLOWE: They are either helpless victims of the psychic pigs or THEIR WILLING CONSPIRATORS. THERE IS NO DOUBT that the failure to enforce copyright over international boundaries is coarsening our culture, ROBBING authors and WEAKENING THE MINDS of the public, making them ever-easier prey to the tyranny if the invisible psychic pigs. It is for this reason that I am offering a SIGNIFICANT BOUNTY for the suppression and arrest of anyone pirating my work, even so far as Yoon Suin itself and for the destruction and annihilation of the levitating mesmerist pigs that haunt and destroy us even while we sleep.

VILE: Caphtor, may I speak frankly?

CLOWE: Bathsheeba I feel and know that we are and should be friends and between friends frankness and direct honesty is river and connection of SOUL that kindles and engenders the sweetness of mutual knowledge which is the primary course of life and the sweet release of comradeship. Please do speak with total frankness.

VILE: Skeleton armies, goblin armies, rings of demonic wolves, the discovery and dissemblement of sleeping gods, mechanical eyeborgs and sexual harassment by cockroach men, a lot of people would say that the last few years have been bad enough. 'Why pigs?' they might say. 'Aren't demons bad enough? At least we know they are real. After all, it's 2016'

CLOWE: Bathsheeba you're quite right, it is twenty sixteen, the darkest and most contemptible of years, and that's exactly why we need to take action now. I'd like to answer each of your points in turn.

VILE: Mm hmm.

CLOWE: Let me first say that I have been, and am, a deep, deep supporter of the rights of women.

VILE: It's so good to hear you say that.

CLOWE: Despite being directly involved in the murder of the Medusa, I consider myself a feminist.

VILE: I know that will mean a lot to our readers.

CLOWE: And let me state quite clearly on behalf of everyone in this ceramic pleasure dome, not just myself and the guards, but all of the staff as well, that we all take a firm stand against  sexual harassment, especially by filthy subhuman insect men who, lets be clear, may technically have a right to exist, but probably shouldn't exercise that right.

VILE: Just becasue you can breathe doesn't mean you should breathe.

CLOWE: And secondly, let me say this. I am weak, I am afraid, I am verifiably mentally ill, but do not silence me.

VILE: You have a right to speak.

CLOWE: I have that right. As much as any man. My hands are shaking.

VILE: Don't give up Caphtor.

CLOWE: I do feel as if I am about to vomit.

VILE: You are so brave for doing this.

CLOWE: I may require my substance.

(Clowe then left the room for approximately twenty minutes and reappeared weeping, smiling and with slight purple stains on his fingertips. Again he took up the conversation with no apparent awareness that he has been gone.)

CLOWE: Bathsheeba I'm going to take on these invisible pigs.

VILE: Thank you.

CLOWE: It may kill me. It may kill others. I have an army of well-paid magical assassins and roughly a metric tonne of my substance and I'm going to take on this intangible civilisation of invisible psychic pigs, I'm going to take on anyone influenced by those pigs, I'm gong to free humanity and I'm going to make damn sure that copyright is respected across international boundaries and no degree of unseen psychic force is going to stop me.

VILE: Caphtor I want you to know that both I and the Golden Teat stand with you in your war against these invisible pigs.

CLOWE: Thank you Bathsheeba. Although I'm fully aware that this could be an elaborate double-bluff by the pigs invisibly controlling your mind, I want you to know how much I appreciate what is probably your genuine and free-willed support.

VILE: Thank you.

CLOWE: And I want you to know that this makes you significantly less likely to be destroyed by my army of magical assassins.

VILE: But Caphtor..

CLOWE: Yes Bathsheeba?

VILE: I'm not here to form some kind of unquestioning assumptive choir for your point of view.

CLOWE: Of course not.

VILE: I am a journalist.

CLOWE: You are, and it's highly likely that you are not currently under the direct control of invisible pigs.

VILE: I feel I should present a few counter-arguments.

CLOWE: I feel ready to answer any and all of your arguments.

VILE: Caphtor, a lot of people are going to say - how do we know these pigs are real? They're invisible, they're intangible, they fly and they control minds..

CLOWE: They're going to say "Where's the evidence?"

VILE: Yes.

CLOWE: Bathsheeba I think if you look at the people making this argument..

VILE: Yes.

CLOWE: If you look very closely at them. If you think about the kind of person they are, I think your'e going to start noticing a lot of connections between them, a lot of similarities.

VILE: And what are those?

CLOWE: That they're all being controlled by invisible intelligent psychic pigs.

VILE: Caphtor I'd like to talk to you about fame.

CLOWE: I appreciate that Bathsheeba, fame if a powerful and terrifying force that imbues us with a mighty yet dissociative influence while slowly stripping away the armature of our moral self, not unlike the projective capacity of a mentally empowered sow.

VILE: Caphtor, do you feel that fame has changed you?

CLOWE: No. I remain centered in myself. Neither the five hundred years spend petrified in a bath of acid, my direct witnessing of the collapse of an interdimensional otherspace and the escape of multiple demonic horrors, my long and depressing sojourn on a tropical island that was not fond of artists, my staggering fame and wealth or the multiple legal actions and death threats against me have altered my core personality. I have always maintained my essential desire for a simple, clean, secure life in a ceramic fortress shaped like a gigantic woman and for the absolute power of life and death over everyone around me.

VILE: Death threats?

CLOWE: Bathsheeba I'm not here to play the victim card. Yes a number of amoral, deluded and violent people carry a direct and immediate hatred of me, yes the church wishes to imprison me and yes I am locked in psychic warfare with a race of flying invisible pigs, but harassment is simply something artists have to deal with in our modern world, whether its scheming newsboys flinging dead birds, fishwives interrupting you or monks stealing your letters, my policy has never changed; turn the other cheek and quietly order your army of magical assassins to kill them all.

VILE: Caphtor, some people might say that one man commanding an army of magical assassins is too much, it's one thing for educated people, for artists and writers and critics, we understand. But the ordinary peasant, the man in the field vacantly tilling his frozen earth, he's going to think "Hey, does that guy really need a private army of magical assassins? And what does it mean for me that he has one?

CLOWE: Bathsheeba, I understand and I want you to know that I am that man. I wasn't always the insanely wealthy genius you see before you now. I too have suffered I too know what it is to feel small.

Let me address the reader directly for a moment. Please understand, the only thing you have to fear from the professional killers under my command is freedom from the much more terrible threat of invisible flying pigs and non-payment of reasonable royalties.

VILE: Caphtor, thank you so much for this interview.

CLOWE: Bathsheeba it was absolutely my pleasure.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

The Ogre and the Golden Bird

This one is for Arnold, who sent me a book.)

Everybody knows where the Ogre came from, though nobody was there to see it done, and no-one knows how it attained the Golden Bird, (did he always have it?) and no-one knows how the Ogre got his twin, (did he have a twin within the pit? Were they down there together?), and no-one knows where the Ogres Palace came from.

From the Golden Bird somehow.

It seems right that the owner of the Golden Bird should have a palace. A mighty treasure should be protected,the golden bird could not be kept within a cave. Diamonds end up in palaces and crowns, either their owners get one, or the treasure changes hands, so maybe it worked out like that with the bird.


Someone threw a baby in a pit.

The pit was deep, with vertical steep-sided walls: close-packed soil that collapsed under the hand. They threw scraps in every couple of days, or not. Other than that they forgot. They didn't talk, they didn't look, they didn't think. No-one went there and that went on for a good long time.

Then the baby escaped. It had turned into an ogre in the pit. It was huge and strong and smart and mad. Its hair was a matted mess, its skin was brown from filth. It drooled and twitched and gnashed its teeth and peered with short sighted eyes at a world that it had never seen. It was naked and its skin was full of scars. The scars were words, (phonemes really), the baby had survived and taught itself a language, one made from the wind and rain and the glimpses of the sky, the stars telescoped by the rim of the pit as they moved across the night and by the curling of worms that fell from its sides and by the bones of birds that died and were preserved as treasures by the Ogre-Child.

It was a language no-one else would ever speak or learn. It sounded like a river of mad noise, but it served to Ogre well enough to abstract and divide the world.

The Ogre had built steps, carved the black earth of the pit into a step-well, slowly moving soil down and around over years, not that impressive intellectually, you could have thought of the same thing but the Ogre thought it through from nothing, from raw nothing, it invented the idea from solid black.

(Also it came up with language on its own, which is more impressive, though less practical in the circumstances.)


As to what happened to whoever threw the baby in the pit, here stories divide, for some it's a revenge drama and the Ogre tears them up, in others he just leaves. However that goes, everyone knows where the Ogre ends up: in his bifurcated castle with the Golden Bird. And everybody wants the Golden Bird, especially the Mad Thief League, who have all tried to steal it and failed. And that's where the PC's come in, an encounter with the Mad Thief League.



It's exactly what it sounds like.

By its own mad law, every mad thief, anywhere, is a member of the league, though they may not know it.

Some thieves who are absolutely active members of the league do not know they are. Some do not know they are thieves, some do not know they are mad.

What binds the active members together is that they have all tried to steal the Golden Bird, and failed.

The Mad Thief League wants you to steal the Golden Bird.

(Everybody talks about the Golden Bird like it's the most incredible thing they can imagine but they're a bit short on specifics. They know it's very gold, it's  beautiful, how wonderful its feathers are, how wonderful its song is, how beautiful and rare and unique and precious it is, but exactly what makes it so great is hard to put a finger on. They don't know, for instance, what species it is, or what gender.

They really want it though. When they mention it they get a dreamy look in their eye and even the maddest thieves grow quiet and calm. Eventually, you'll probably just give in and agree it's pretty great, everybody else seems to think it is, so why not go along with them?)

The Mad Thief League are not the *only* ones who want the Golden Bird, sorcerers, kings, madmen and monsters all want it too, it's just the Mad Thief League that wants it *most*.

The only people who don't want it are extremely worldly, boring, materialistic persons, who regard it as a silly fad, but anyone with half a gram of poets heart wants the Golden Bird within their hands.


Members of the Mad Thief League get caught a lot. They are mad. Some are severely retarded. Some are effectively immobile. Some can't stop hooting under stress. This makes no difference, the League still brings them along on capers, heists and robberies. If they get caught, the League just steals them back from jail.

The talents of the League, as a whole, are enough to accomplish any task. They have savants that can open any lock, those who can forge any object, those who can simulate any personality, those who can see perfectly in the near-dark and those who can perform any athletic maneuver even if seen only once. They have people who can draw a complete building plan after glancing at it once from the corner of their eye, they have people who can imagine a heist in such concrete, absolute and perfect detail that they can visualise a city block and know which locks will need oiling, which guards will cough, and when, which tumblers will turn and why, and be right, all in advance.

They have any talent necessary for a crime, somewhere, though that talent probably goes along with a bag full of serious neurological and psychological impairment.

The greatest of the League are fractured geniuses of crime. People with incredible powers of lateral problem solving and fine expression, though also always severely fucked in the head. As in, they might hoot at you and flap their arms, lunge spastically, throw things, not be aware you are a person, not be aware you are not a collection of objects, not look you in the eye, not understand basic social cues, not understand that language is real, not understand that they are not the only personality in the cosmos, not understand that they are a separate thing to the environment around them, not remember anything done after a certain date, not be able to see or not be able to hear. They may think they are someone else and try to arrest themselves. They may think *you* are a member of the Mad Thief League and attempt to find out what you want. That can be a complex conversation.

If the need of the Mad Thief League is simple and direct, their methods are  are infinite and oblique, including, but not limited to:

- Blackmail, either with real sins or fictional ones confirmed by exhaustive, but false, evidence.
- Conspiracy.
- Entrapment.
- Threat, or offer of, Assassination.
- Hearts Desire.
- Glory.
- Revenge of any kind.
- Imprisonment, or freedom from imprisonment.
- And of course the offer of staggering amounts of cash, a figuerative, or literal, Kings Ransom.
- Or just an actual King, if you want a particular one?

Once PC's have been persuaded to accept their 'mission', they will be told about the Ogre and his palace, and his bird.



There are two Palaces locked onto the dark rock, mirrors of each other. The sides that face each other are nearly sheer. The sides that face away are crenellated, towered, encrusted with keeps and details, bridges and roof's, multi-levelled, staggering and slipping down to the walls and the glinting hematite on which the palaces reside.

The two sides match each other almost perfectly, the divide observable only from a narrow axis.
Stand here and you can see the gap between the palaces, like the gap between close skyscrapers, and the slender bridge of white that forms their only visible link, hanging high in the air in the near-centre of the buildings shape.

There are no gates to the Palace of the Ogre King, you have to climb in through a window, or sneak in through  hematite caves down below where the Onyx river gusheS from the rocks.


The Palace, or Palaces, is/are occupied almost exclusively by animals of varying levels of intelligence.

Their arrangement is as so:

The Dungeons of the Worm

Deep in the bowls, below the Onyx river, where the black organic walls are hung with ooze and mats of simple fungi droop into pools of soft invertebrate life, there is only a gigantic worm. The worm is huge and consuming and eats anything it finds. it never leaves the dungeon. No-one is sure what it looks like, or if it matters that it looks like anything, it is a worm, mindless and alive it seeks only to feed and live, no more detail is required. It fills corridors and runs through rooms like a freight train.

These dungeons are the only other place, other than the silver bridge, where someone can pass back and forth between the two palaces, but they must brave the darkness and the worm to do it.

The River-Corridors

Above the dungeons are almost dark corridors lit by dim blue lamps and reflected light, most of them hip-high in the water of the Onyx river. Fish live in the corridors exactly as if they were the river. The fish have few duties, they swim and feed and mate, sometimes mammals harvest their parts for the work of the Palace. Some fish may speak a little, single words.

The Reptile Halls

Hot and steaming are the Reptile halls, hung with tattered finery, full of crocodiles, chameleons and snakes (not all the Reptiles in the Reptile Halls are true reptiles, a ball-park similarity seems to be enough to get you in), tortoises and Tuatara's smoking cigarettes. It's here that the work of the Palace truly begins. The Reptiles chew wood into simple tools, gnaw things into shapes that might at one point be useful when combined with something else. The Reptile halls are full of fine trash that might not be trash, but something being re-purposed or transformed into useful stuff.

The Reptiles are still reptiles so, even though they have a modicum of intelligence regarding their mono-focused task, they still find manipulating things very difficult, it takes a long time for a Tortoise to gnaw out a simple picture frame, or for a snake to weave cloth.

The Mammal Rooms

Ballrooms and parlours and kitchens and armouries and endless painting halls. It becomes clear here that though the work of the Palace includes every kind of object and construction, its real work is the production of paintings. Most animals tend to have two jobs, whatever their main job is, and painting. Or at least, facilitating painting. The wolves, antelopes, pigs, cows, dogs  and zebras are bossed about by tribes of fast monkeys that run back and forth constantly, checking and manipulating. As soon as something is ready, maybe some blotches of colour or lines on some canvas, or some other work of rudimentary art, then it is snatched up and taken to an apes tower.

The Ape Towers

In the towers that encrust the palaces Artistic Apes do their keen work. Gorillas, Orangutans, Chimpanzees and slutty Bonobo's. The Apes make art, or re-interpret and finish art that's brought to them. Over half the art is paintings but they do sculpture, music and poetry too. The music sounds like wind and rain.

Apes tend to hyper-specialise

The fast monkey tribes run back and forth between the towers of the Apes, bringing art supplies and sometimes moving art around. (The Apes like to be inspired by and to re-interpret art made by other Apes.) When it looks like something is quite done, the monkeys, or sometimes an ape, grab the art and take it to the Skeleton Aristocracy.

The Skeleton Aristocracy

At the front of the Palaces, above the gushing waterfall of the Onyx river, are the many-windowed parlours of the Skeleton Aristocracy. While almost every animal in the palaces has the purpose of creating art, these Skeletons attired in finery have the deeper purpose of appreciating it, of understanding it, to this they devote enormous energy and drive, sometimes (rarely) entering mutual duels and often (with the Mirrored Skeletons of the Twin at least) engaging in massive arguments.


Everything in the Palace is ruled by the Ogre King (though the Worm just barely) and must obey his direct command (to the best of the subjects ability). Yet the King is silent and rarely commands at all. He is occupied almost entirely by his marvelous bird, which he keeps tenderly in a cage held in his hands. His only wish is to protect and preserve the bird and to understand its song. So, it might be truly said, that everything in the Palace of the Ogre King serves the Golden Bird, as much as it can understand it to do so.

The King does not live like a King or look like a King. He is still near-naked, draped in faded finery, with matted hair, and his language-scarred skin still visible. The King has a throne in a room above the well-lit many-windowed parlours of the Skeleton Aristocracy, but he is rarely there. Instead, he creeps about his own Palace, investigating it, trying to understand its workings. He creeps like a thief and no-one in the palace can predict where he will be. He roams the halls, hiding and waiting. Sometimes he hides his golden bird in some safe and secret place, but then, worrying about it, goes back to it to take it up, but then, fearing for it, finds some new place to hide it.

And so it would be hard enough to find and steal the Golden Bird, even if it were not for the Twin.


There are two palaces, linked only by the silver bridge and the dungeon of the worm. The Ogre King rules both and all must obey his unspoken commands, but the King only occupies one palace. The other is rule more fiercely by his twin.

The Ogres Twin is physically exactly like the Ogre King, but its behaviour is utterly different. While the King slinks through his palace silently, investigating, waiting, tying to understand, the Twin rules like a verbose tyrant.

The King himself can speak, but rarely does in the language of men, talking mainly to the Golden Bird, perhaps in the language he invented in the pit. The Twin however will not shut the fuck up. He even murmurs in his sleep. (He rarely sleeps.) The Twin talks and talks and talks, and the mirrored skeletons that serve him in his palace also talk and talk and talk. He talks enough to drive you mad, describing, dissecting, boasting, threatening, lying, persuading, whining, playing on words and making puns. He says some wise things, but they are drowned out in the torrent of words. Its as if his life was just a puppet to the words he speaks.

He rules his mirrored skeleton aristocracy like a tyrant and regularly sends them on mad missions in the palace or embroils them in strange conflicts. They have picked up from him his verbosity and argue with each other constantly, racing about the place on one mission or another. Many intrigue against him, thinking that if they depose him, they might rule in his place. He finds this hilarious.

The Twin wears a glorious wig to hide his scarred head, and has a golden crown on the wig. It's always about to slip off so he has a Rhesus monkey up there to keep it continually straight. The monkey falls off when he moves quickly and has to race back up to catch the crown. He wears glorious clothes and a glorious embroidered coat and wonderful silk shoes that wear out after half a day, and stockings around his huge thick legs.

The Twin is clever, snide, reductionist and wrathful. He hates being told things he does not already know and can only accept new information through a kind of invisible osmosis in which he persuades himself he always knew it, or was about to deduce it from what he did know. He loves novels though and has the Apes write him twenty a day which he reads voraciously.

It is a curious aspect of the Twin that he does not know he is, and has, a twin. He does not know that there are two palaces, that there are two Ogres, he does not know that he is not the King.

You can explain it to him, point out the other palace over the bridge and tell him about his brother, you can prove it to him, but he will rationalise it away with one of his endless lexical-spumes. Even if you can bring him to understand, even for a moment, he will quickly forget, and so will his skeletons.


In the Kings side, the Skeletons are not mirrored, or very talkative. They are calmer, more aware, more silent and perceptive. The animals are calmer too, that whole side of the Palace is very quiet.


The animals won't become aggressive right away, they don't really understand that you are not an animal like them. In fact, you seem to be some kind of ape.  They will try to incorporate you into the work of the Palace, only if you resist or if a Skeleton notices you will they attack. Of course, the Twin will ferociously oppose anything that threatens him, but is insanely egocentric and easily flattered, at least until his mood changes.

The King will simply hide and run, protecting his Golden Bird. Even if caught, he has a final power. The Ogre King can, at any time, in the blink of an eye switch positions with his Twin.

This means to catch the Ogre King, you must also catch, or kill, his twin.


Of course there is a trick and of course there are two reasons that the Mad Thief League has sent you here. If you succeed and retrive the golden bird, the Ogre King will die of a broken heart and the Twin will take over both palaces and rule ever-more insanely until the building collapses and a passing hero takes him out.

If you fight in the palace, if you kill animals, if you shatter skeletons, every piece of damage you do will be reflected in your own mind.

That's how Mad Thieves became mad. If you kill a skeleton you may become schizophrenic or autistic, if you kill an ape you may lose the power to perceive colour or shape, if you kill a mammal you lose memory or access to memory, or fine motor skills, if a lizard then you may lose basic motor skills. If you kill the worm your heart will stop.

The plan of the Mad Thieves is that, even if you fail, you will simply add to their number and allow them to send a better hero next time. (Assuming they have a plan.)

Monday, 4 July 2016

The Ice

(This is going to be an imperfect melange of a review but it's late and I'm tired and a little drunk, its been a while since I read this thing and I want this writing out the door.)

'The Ice' is a book about Antarctica by Stephen Pyne. He mainly writes about fire. This time, for one book, he did ice. Earth, Air and Water have been covered by others in depth.

Its a book about nothing. Or more precisely, its a book about what it means that there is nothing. It's a classical book about modernism, like the worlds best review of a blank page.

The Ice, referred to like that, with capital letters inside the text of the book itself, is the ice on Antarctica pressing it down so deep into the substance of the earth that if it melted the continent would bounce back and the planet would become a bit more of a ball.

We start at the edge and work in. Pyne has a neat eye for literary and scientific organisation. In 'Fire on the Rim' he turned decades at the Grand Canyon into one long year of fire, with the years of his life splintered throughout but the organic nature of the environment reasserted and retained. The Ice has a simpler schema, which is fitting since the core of the book and the core of the ice are both about insane, overwhelming, annihilating simplicity.

A chapter on bergs, which are like dying jewels in which the hidden history of the ice is briefly exhibited like a travelling show before decaying into nothing, then one on the shelf where bergs calve off, then the glaciers, more like vast rivers of splintered ice running out to the sea, then the fountain heads of the glaciers, and then beyond them, the core at the still centre of the pole, a plain so flat and dry that the ice accumulates through delicate crystallization, building a continent through licks of paint until the layered weight forms its own frozen geology. A place haloed by storms and aurora, that winds flow from but rarely to.

The chapters on ice lay out its nature and synthesise its scholarship into near-poetry. I showed you some of this in Pynes section or light, I'll re-quote a little here;

"Refraction inspires other, more geometric effects; halos - 22-degree, 46-degree, and circumscribed; arcs - Parry, Lowitz, upper-tangent, circumzenithal, circumhorizontal, superlateral, infralateral, and contact, a parahelia - colloquially known as sun dogs or false suns (or paraselenae, if the light source is the Moon). ... A spectacular, abstract art results: vertical streaks of light, sun pillars; concentrations of light into subsuns; partial arcs and circles, parhelic circles, subsun dogs (22-degree subparahelia), subparahelic circles, 120-degree parahelia and paraselenae; and, in a direction opposite the light source, anthelic arcs, anthelic pillars, and anthelions. Thus a single atmospheric display may combine several patterns of reflection and refraction into a compendium of light geometry."



1. Aurora people. Ether-Men, living beings made from interactions between the earths magnetic field and the wind from the sun, descend, having fallen briefly in love with a party member. 
2. Sun Dogs + Moon Dogs fighting over who best occupies the sky, they ask a PC to settle things. 
3. A caravan of the dead journeying to be translated into light, a standing army stripped to skeletons of refractive bone-pale light.
4. Radical refugee light elementals, finally released from defining the shape and colour of things, attack the PCs in a rage, crying that they refuse to be messengers of the material world.
5. Sparks flicker between the glimmering lights of low-orbit Lichjammers and skeletons begin to rain from the sky.
6. A radial palace of the Light Elementals is besieged by Aurora-men, the battle hinges on a single point and both sides appeal to the PC's for aid, offering them dutchies in the sky if they respond.


Writers tend to either euphony or exactness. Having both at once is rare, both combined with knowledge, and the sheer stubborn borderline-stupidity required to fuck about writing a book about Antarctica for years, is near-unique. We can put Pyne up on a narrow pedestal with Rebecca West as someone who wrote a supremely brilliant and fucking long books about a subject that almost no-one is interested in.

Like Meiville we advance by sandwich, creeping to a pale end. He was heading for a whale, interspersing his old-testament adventure story with layers of pure and almost-abstract knowledge. Pyne does a similar thing. In between these chapters purely about Ice are sandwiched others with more prosaic information. In fact pretty much *all* the prosaic information. Wildlife, exploration, Geology and Politics all show up, art and literature too (Lovecraft gets a mention), the fact that you can probably reference everything that anyone has written about Antarctica in one book tells you its own story. The renaissance has taken its time getting there, slowly closing in with ships and sleds.

It's almost impossible to get to the Antarctic coast with anything less than an industrial level of technology, and its probably impossible to get to the pole with anything less than an near-modern level of technology, or at least a near-modern understanding of the world. Because, simply, there is nothing there but light and ice. It is the end of nature and the cosmic anteroom and pre-modern societies have their own ways of dealing with those things. Only we can go there and only we need to go there. We go there becasue its the end of the earth and until we do we don't know what the earth is, or what we are. It is a boundary to us and we must test it out to know ourselves.

Its a new continent, and not in a columbian exchange plague-and-slaughter there's-people-here-already way. Antarctica is one of the few places on earth that Europeans can claim reasonably to absolutely, totally, full-on discovered on their own, and they seem to have done a lot of their best work there. (Not even the Polynesians seem to have got there, and if they did they probably died.)

It's in Antarctica that we see the last breath of imperialism freezing on its lips and becoming something almost noble in the process. With no-one to dominate or kill, with nothing to steal or own, with nothing to conquer except the environment and the self, the drive and will of the explorers of the heroic age of Antarctic exploration was cut loose from most of what poisoned it. They were pure heroes. Almost pointless heroes. Horribly horribly tragic in a clean and simple way that few other explorers could manage. The flies of humanity banging against the invisible plate glass of the cosmos. At their best they found a way to transmute nationalism and driving ambition and pride into a calm, reasonable empathy, often dying in the process.



"The Worst Journey is a massive book, dense with information and anglo-saxon monosyllables. The vocabulary, and the temperament it conveys, has more in common with the lyric poetry of A.E. Houseman than with the literature of naturalism, with which the story might have been instinctively allied. The incredible concentation of detail, the lengthy verbatim passages lifted from diaries, and the steady attention to chronological narrative all belong with the realist fiction of Arnold Bennet. A principal purpose of the book, after all, is documentary. "It was like this," Cherry-Garrard says again and again, then proceeds to list temperatures, food supplied, the character of snow surfaces - a litany of detail which, by its sheer bulk, evokes a mood. The author's assessment of the expedition is similarly stated in direct language, filled with tangibles like the quantity of oil, the character and quantity of rations, storm patterns, and the perils of sledge dogs.

But Cherry-Garrard was not by training or temperament a scientist. It was he who urged the Tennyson inscription from "Ulysses" for Scotts memorial cross. His book has its share of lyric poems, and while it never loses its dedication to Science, Nature and Art, its purpose is a moral interrogation. Ultimately, the book becomes a disquisition on character, less a report on what Antarctica is than how one responds to it. By that standard Scott, the expedition, and Cherry-Garrard measure up. Antarctica reduces people, no less than scenery, to their essences and Cherry-Garrard conveys this sense with a vastly simplified vocabulary and syntax. In the tenor and point of view of the book, there is little of the modernist syndrome. The author of the Worst Journey refuses to disguise the horror of the multiple tragedies of the expedition: he just wants to see these tragedies turned to good effects. There is nothing heroic, in the romantic sense, about the winter journey that Cherry-Garrard made with Wilson and Bowers to collect a penguin egg from Cape Crozier. But there is nothing false or ridiculous about it either. There is no irony to the voice, nothing of the mockery of lytton Strachey's Eminent Victorians. The expedition wanted to live up to the memories of its ancestors, not lampoon them."

Ending each chapter on ice is a sub-chapter on the esthetics of the ice. Simply, what it looks like, what it feels like to be there, and what it might mean that it feels like that.

It's very important that these sections be there. Pyne is writing about meaning and using the throbbing absence of the ice to pin-prick the image of what meaning is and how we make it up. Art, and feeling and perception are parts of this



1. An invisible archipelago of friction bubbles beneath the sheet, villages there farming pockets of green cryobacteria in the hazy twilight.
2. Access to 'the inside of the world' - actually an alternate past/future or a far distant dyson sphere. linked to this one via parallel causality, an inside-out world from the inside-out verse.
3. Buried geography, a saline riverway following buried valleys and compression crack whirlpools.
4. Caves in the crust of the sunken continent. Pale people coming out of the dark to explode the fracture zones between the sheet and the earth.
5. An ice mine where thousands of frozen skeletons toil for a dead Emperor to reach scattered particles of ancient magic, relics of parallel causality shifts that could reveal the true nature of the cosmos.
6. Iron fragments of dead gods embedded in ellipsis in the ice.



Pynes conception of the Ice as a modernist space is deep. It's a place you almost can't look at honesty in a representative way (although the existence of Pynes book is a kind of a disapproval or strike against a large part of what's in the book, he is not a modernist, he believes in facts and beauty and real things and we do not find out about his moods or the contents of his soul except for those parts that the existence, organisation and contents of the book imply).

The light eats art. The deeper in you get, the less there is to see. No horizon, no perspective, no depth, no shadows, no living things, no objects, no highlights and eventually not even any feelings to leak out and stain the page, those too numbed by the emptiness and the cold. The Ice isn't even abstract, it isn't even anything.

"Glacial action has shaped or scratched rock surfaces into Earthly pictographs. Detrial surfaces are organized into patterened ground, regolith counterparts to the atmospheric optics that geometrize the sky. When the sea ice that fronts the mouth of the Taylor Valley breaks up, it does so in polygonal blocks. Ice and soil pattern the ground; ice and water pattern the sea; ice and light pattern the sky. Cirque glaciers drip down the valley sides like white and blue stucco, and valley glaciers spill into the valley floor like daubs of ice on a rack palette. Lakes splotch blues, whites and greens across a brown and yellow drabness. High translucent clouds screen the sky: fluffy cumuli, pumped with moisture from the open Ross Sea, pile up above peak and glacier. Angular mountains mingle with soft clouds, tangible rock with abstract snow.

It is an impressive display of near-alpine esthetics. It's colours, warmth, intricite perspectives, and endless shapes make this environment instinctively attractive. yet the scene palls and ultimatrely dissapoints.....The reductionism of The Ice is incomplete and indirect; it does not lead to a new kind of scene so much as to an impoverishment of more familiar landscapes."



Kingdoms cascading like winds out of the cold core, storms of polities. Predatory kingdoms  reaving over the ice as wave fronts of hungry potentiality, building themselves frantically in the blink of an eye, feeding off whatever has meaning to you, whatever drives you, whatever gives you joy, whatever makes you afraid. Meaning-seeking kingdoms of white crystals pulling meaning out of your mind. Empires that drain the self, leaving meaningless people behind.



Antarctica stands in the annals of global politics as an example of how reasonably nation states can interact when there is no strong reason to kill each other and nothing much to do except investigate the cosmos.

"Ice placers are a stunningly rich source of information about The Ice and about the solar system. Antarctica has not only significantly swollen the population of collected meteorites and in some instances added uniquely to it, but it has preserved those specimens in a relatively unaltered state. Among the rare specimens are a diamond-bearing iron meteorite, in which the diamond results from impact shock waves; ureilites, achondrites in which small diamonds have formed by collisions in space; diogenities, achondrites in which minute inclusions contain liquid water and water vapour; and the enigmatic shergottites and carbonaceous chondrites. Shergottites are achondrites that are anomalous in their petrology, complex chemistry of rare-earth elements and youthful age. Two from Antarctica (which doubled the worlds population) indicate an origin about 1.8 billion years from laval parent rock, altered by impact, which preserves a distinct boundary between two petrological zones and included trapped rare gasses that intimate a martian origin. Other achondrites possibly have a lunar origin. The carbonaceous chondrites, rich in carbon and water, have a more ancient lineage. Some are filled with high-temperature inclusions of anomalous composition, suggesting an origin outside the solar system altogether. these rocky shards date from the genesis of the galaxy."

No-one has yet been willing to put forth the staggering effort that would be required to actually actively kill people in Antarctica. There, in the absence of projected lethal force, the world is ruled by calm scientific bureaucracy. There are flags and there are bases but the major empires got tired taking down each others placards of ownership and even the Nazis only managed to drop iron poles embossed with swastikas. Peace reigns, for now, and governments have been forced to grapple with and legally conceptualise the existence of an extra-national continent.



Pyne characterises The Ice not only as a conceptual end of the world, but as a final fragment of knowledge or jigsaw piece in the understanding of the earth environment. As if the climate was a vast and complex machine attached to a gigantic beam, and at the far end, distant from the active parts, yet maintaining them in equilibrium and ultimately governing their movements, is The Ice, the worlds cold sink, the Ice which decides sea levels and global currents and glaciation and even the shape of the world.

"Even more elementary, there is little consensus on the causes of the ice ages, their baffling apparent periodicity, or their sudden termination. A host of known and suspected contributing causes is recognized: plate movement, which transports continents to polar regions and favourably distributes land-sea patterns; mountain-building, which creates glacial traps, potential source regions for ice; atmospheric changes, especially changes in the earths albedo or carbon-dioxide content that can influence global temperature; oceanographic changes, such as the deflection of the Gulf Stream, the creation of bottom water, or the establishment of the Antarctic circumpolar current; periodic magnetic reversals, which may alter insolation and temperatures; astronomical variations such as the Milankovitch cycles, which influence the amount of solar insolation; and glaciological properties, such as the massive instability of the west sheet and the positive feedback that ice has on the creation of more ice. No single cause appears to be adequate to control glaciation. Instead many factors, eac with its own rhythm or secular variation, compound with one another to produce effects on a necessary scale. Even here, feedback mechanisms are necessary to amplify small changes into global ones. Here the properties of ice qua ice become significant. Ice is such a wonderful instrument of positive feedback that glaciation encourages further glaciation; but equally, there are often inherent instabilities in the geography and glaciology of large ice masses, so that the masses may contain the dynamics of their own collapse, a historical dialectic of ice."

In this paradox the ultimate symbol of stasis becomes a kind of climatic amplifier, making the world more dynamic, unpredictable and extreme, though even this apparent extremity may feed into a greater meta-stability overall.

The concept of meta-stability, interacting elements which are active and seemingly violent or opposed but ultimaately necessary and balancing, is an important one to the book. The impression left is one of the earth as a grand orrery of meta-stable interactions, expanding and interacting across scale, distance and time, hiding dynamism in stability and finding calm through a network of storms.



The idea of Antarctica as a gateway to, or testing ground for, the cosmos, is hinted at and circled around but never stated outright. Pyne mentions that the centre of Antarctica is as close as we can get to Mars on earth, so it's environmental training, but much more than that, Antarctica is esthetic, intellectual, philosophical and spiritual training for the overwhelming emptiness of the cosmos.

As we find out more and more about the galaxy, we discover, locally, beautiful but lifeless worlds hanging in the air like toxic jewels, and beyond them, the incomprehensible vastness of space.

We have no training in this vastness and no way to really begin thinking about it. Pynes argument is that in order to divine or discover meaning in apparent nothingness, you must bring to it a deep and complex culture. The ice absorbs, annihilates and reduces everything and you have to import meaning to it, and ways of creating meaning.

I remember once reading someone say; "Americans don't solve problems, they overwhelm them*", and for all its cleverness and beauty and subtlety, Pynes argument is still the essential American argument = MORE. Bring more, do more, know more, think more and understand more. The answer to nothing is you attack the nothing with art and science and possibly bits of religion and you make it not-nothing.

Antarctica in this analysis becomes not the end of the world but the beginning of the cosmos.


"The de Kooning episode is even more instructive. the incident occurred at a time when de Kooning was a reigning guru of abstract expressionism, a movement that imagined itself as the apex of western art. Rauschenberg decided to erase a de kooning drawing. This was not vandalism but a creative and symbolic act. Accordingly, it required the participation of de Kooning, who eventually agreed. Rauschenberg laboriously erased the entire picture and framed the result.

The picture itself is nothing but a white paper with a frame and a title. Without the story behind its creation, it is meaningless, at most a joke, or an exercise in guerrilla theatre. The success of the picture depends on what the viewer beings to it. The "painting" is a negation, and its significance varies with the magnitude of the negation. the more associations one brings to the surface, the more intense its negation and the richer its meaning. It is much the same with Antactica. Inexorably, The Ice erases all the normal expectations of a landscape. What remains is so sparse, so stripped of sensory impressions, that it can hardly be witnessed as a landscape at all. Only someone, or some civilisation, that approaches it with a complex tradition of landscapes and art can invest enough in the scene to generate information out of it. There must be a confirmation before there can be a negation. The polar plateau becomes a great negation of landscape - actively erasing the normal lines of information and passively reflecting back the shadows of its observer."


The rare cores are the true magical currency of the Ice, each one can be read for a distinct history of magic & reality alteration(The annihilation of parallel worlds) every major reality shift leaves cascades of intangible half-life microparticles which quickly decay but which are preserved in the relentlessly static ice. These particles can be read to release their specific energies. Meta magicians can read the patterning of the cores to understand the 'history of histories' that defines the Uncertain Worlds. By doing to they hope to perceive and penetrate beyond the shifting realities that imprison them and so perceive the minds of the gods themselves.


What we bring to the ice is what we must bring to the cosmos, improved and deepened selves and a wiser more subtle culture that can find meaning in the vastness and the poisoned gems.

[Edit - I found it here.]