The Rime of the Postmodern Mariner

More ramblings of Rhys Hughes.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Cry Me An Illogical River

"Cry me a river!" urged Julie London in the famous song from 1955. Let us consider the mechanics of complying with her suggestion...

The largest river in the world, the Amazon, is 2976 miles long with a drainage of 219,000 cubic metres per second, while the smallest is the Roe in Montana, 201 feet in length with a drainage of 156,000,000 gallons per day. A gallon is 4.546 litres and a litre is one cubic decimetre, so we can work out that the Amazon is seventy-eight thousand times as long as the Roe and discharges two hundred and seventy times as much water every single second.

Clearly a “river” is a fairly vague concept. To be on the safe side, let us take the average of these two extremes and consider the result to be the archetypal river of the song. This hypothetical river will be 1489 miles long and drain 109,000 cubic metres of water per second.

How is it possible for a human being to cry such an amount of liquid? A human being is approximately 60% water, so that a man weighing 70 kilograms will contain about 40 litres, or twenty seven thousand times less than the amount drained by our hypothetical river every second. In order to cry a river, a human eye would have to be scaled up until it was 685 metres in diameter!

Julie London was asking for the impossible!

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Earliest Photographed Smile

Years ago I read somewhere that people only started smiling for the camera after film replaced photographic plates. The first practical film was developed by George Eastman in 1884. In early photography, sitters were required to pose for a long time in front of the camera and it was difficult to hold a smile for such a lengthy period: hence 'solemn' expressions were normal.

One of my minor obsessions (I have lots of these but they really are very minor) has been to try and unearth the earliest example of a smile caught on camera. This has proved to be rather difficult. I have examined many photographs from the early and mid 19th Century and there are plenty of 'enigmatic' expressions that may or may not be smiles. I just can't decide.

So far these are the two earliest I have found, but they are dubious cases. See what you think. The first dates from 1846 and is a photograph of 'The Porthole' at Edinburgh Castle. The photograph is attributed to David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson. Is the soldier on the left smiling or not? I think he is and yet...

The next example is possibly even earlier but even more dubious. Taken by an unknown photographer sometime in the 1840s (the date is no more precise than this) it is a photo entitled 'Odalisque' and is French in origin. Is the model in the photo smiling? I really don't know.

Anyone who can solve this mystery for me -- the mystery of the first photographed smile ever -- will earn my gratitude, of course!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Merry Xmas Everyone!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Book of Forthcoming Tribute Stories

I have just put together a collection of 'tribute' stories to a handful of authors I admire. I have written many such stories over the years; I have gathered together 20 of them into one volume that will be called The Senile Pagodas.

This title is taken from an imaginary book in one of the 'H. Bustos Domecq' stories that were co-authored by Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares in the 1940s and which were in themselves tributes to the detective fiction writers they both so admired.

A senile person tends to be indifferent to the present and prefers to live in the past; my tribute stories are directly inspired by authors from the past (though there are one or two contemporary names among the others); a pagoda is one of the most elegant structures ever devised by mankind. Therefore the title seems triply apt!

Here is a complete list of the authors who inspired a tribute story in this book:

* Franz Kafka
* Edgar Allan Poe
* H.P. Lovecraft
* Donald Barthelme
* Clark Ashton Smith
* Gustav Meyrink
* Lord Dunsany
* Bruno Schulz
* Jorge Luis Borges
* Maurice Richardson
* Frederic Brown
* Stanislaw Lem
* John Sladek
* Michael Moorcock
* Philip Jose Farmer
* Michael Bishop
* Italo Calvino
* William Hope Hodgson
* Mikhail Bulgakov
* Robert E. Howard

With luck the book will be out in early 2013.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Pre-order Stringent Strange!

My new novel, The Abnormalities of Stringent Strange, is now available to pre-order! Here is a 'buy now' button if you want to pre-order it; and if you do you'll get a mention in the book itself as one of the audience members in the extended gladiatorial battle scenes!
Ship to:
Personally I think this is my best novel; it's like Twisthorn Bellow but wilder... Anyway, thanks for listening!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Teapot Crowley

This morning I finished writing my 666th story. To celebrate this occasion I decided to dress in a manner similar to that of the great Aleister Crowley, who was intimately associated with this magickal number.

I am pleased to report that I am now exactly 2/3rds of the way through my life's work. It has taken 23 years. The whole Pandora's Bluff project should therefore be wrapped up in the year 2023. We'll see!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Strange Auction: Day Three

The charity auction has now raised £396 for Animal Aid. I'm rather pleased with this sum and wish to extend my gratitude to those who have made bids so far!

But remember: you don't have to bid a sum higher than those already bid. A minimum bid of $25 will secure you a copy of the book and a place as a gladiator in the novel, provided nobody else comes along and trumps your bid. Only the six highest bids will become gladiators; if you are seventh you won't be a gladiator but you won't lose any money.

And if you have already pre-ordered the book, the sum you spent on buying it will be deducted from your bid, so you won't lose out!

Click on this link to Meteor House to get involved...

Today's style of gladiator is called the "existentialist". It's good at fighting itself. Here you can see me giving myself some stick. But the guy on the left is so busy posing for the camera that he doesn't realise he's about to be clocked by the guy on the right! No matter. Even if I lose, I win! Conversely, if I win, I also lose! That's life.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Strange Auction: Day Two

So the auction got off to a hopping start: a hopping start is like a flying start but further back in the history of evolution...

So far four people have bid for the right to be gladiators... One of them is the publisher himself. Perhaps he mistakenly thinks it's an orc-shun (i.e. the avoidance of orcs) rather than an auction?

This means there is room for two more gladiators... But of course the more bids the better; the more money raised for Animal Aid the happier a bunny I'll be. But that's nothing compared to how happy the real bunnies will be!

To bid for the right to be a gladiator please click on this link to the Meteor House website.

In the photo you can see me demonstrating a style of gladiator known as the "dustup". The previous photograph shows me dressed as a "charladdie". There are many other kinds...

Monday, September 10, 2012

Strange Auction: Day One

Today is the first day of the STRINGENT STRANGE charity auction! If you want to be a gladiator in my new novel (due out soon from Meteor House) then why not bid for the chance?

The auction will continue until September 16th and the six highest bidders will appear in the book fighting a famous writer to the death (you may choose which writer you want to fight!)...

The monies raised from this auction will go to Animal Aid, so your fictional death will help to safeguard real life. For more details and the chance to make a bid please click on this link to the publisher's website.

In this photo you can see me dressed as a typical gladiator. With bin bag tunic; orange frisbee shield; bucket helmet; and mop lance... Total cost of outfit: about £3.50


Thursday, June 28, 2012

This Hermetic Legislature

Dan Ghetu of Ex Occidente Press in Romania has excelled himself this time with a tribute volume to the magnificent Bruno Schulz. Of the three major tribute anthologies that Ex Occidente have released in the past few years, this one is the most aesthetically delightful.

More information about this anthology can be found on the relevant Ex Occidente webpage. Needless to say, I'm proud to be a part of this book. My story 'The Messiah of the Mannequins' appears here together with tales from George Berguno, Mark Valentine, Reggie Oliver, the wonderful Michael Cisco, Colin Insole, Mark Samuels, Karim Ghahwagi, John Howard and many others...

Friday, June 22, 2012

Desperate Straights

It recently occurred to me that all masturbation is gay. Let's consider it from a male perspective first. Masturbation involves a male hand on a male organ. Male+Male=Gay. A male hand is giving pleasure to a male organ. By no stretch of the imagination can that be considered a heterosexual act. Even if the images in the mind of the masturbator are straight, his hand isn't straight, not if it is willingly manipulating a male organ, which in fact is what it is doing. The same holds true for female masturbation. A female hand on a female organ for the purpose of sexual pleasure is a lesbian act.

So all masturbation is gay, that much is clear. But in fact, if we consider the matter more closely, we will soon discover that all sex is gay too, even straight sex, especially straight sex. When a man has sex with a woman, what organ is giving him pleasure? Is it the woman's organ that is giving him pleasure? No, it's his own organ, a male organ. When a man has sex with a woman, he is getting pleasure from a male organ. That is plainly a gay act. So straight sex is gay.

The only way that a straight man having sex with a woman could not be a gay act would be if it was the woman's organ that was giving him the pleasure, rather than his own organ. If he feels the pleasure of the woman's organ directly, then he could be said to be enjoying straight sex. But he would have to remain a man while experiencing this pleasure. And yet, the only way he could feel the pleasure of the woman's organ directly would be if he became that woman through some sort of mind or identity transference. And then he would no longer be a man experiencing pleasure directly from a woman's organ, but a woman experiencing pleasure directly from a woman's organ. If other words, he would be a lesbian. And lesbians are gay.

There seems to be no logical way around this. As I have proved above, a man who enjoys sex with a woman is experiencing gay sex. To remain straight he would have to not enjoy sex with a woman. Only then could he be said to be not gay. But a man who doesn't enjoy sex with a woman isn't straight, because (as we all know) straight men enjoy sex with women. Therefore he is gay. All straight sex is gay sex. To make the symmetry nice, I will now proceed to construct an argument proving that all gay sex is straight. I thank you for your time.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dadaoism (an anthology)

Dadaoism is the new anthology (the first anthology if we're going to be picky; and why shouldn't we be?) from the soon-to-be-legendary Chômu Press. I took my bicycle to the depot to pick up my copies, for yes, as it happens, I have a story in this book, and it is customary for contributing authors to receive free complimentary copies of the anthologies they appear in. This anthology was very complimentary. All the way home it mumbled, "Nice cycling technique!" from the depths of my rucksack, where I had stored it in order to facilitate its conveyance home. Old joke!

There's nothing old or corny about the design or contents of Dadaoism. I have only read about one quarter of the book so far, jumping randomly between stories, but I feel confident the entire package is going to prove to be something special. I began at the front of the book with Reggie Oliver's story 'Portrait of a Chair', a quirky absurdist sketch that combines uneasy nostalgia with comfortable oddness. Then I went immediately to Michael Cisco's 'Visiting Maze'. Cisco is one of my favourite modern writers and this three-page tale is so dense with strangeness and excellence and Ciscoisms that it might prove to be a superb entry-point to this most rewarding and yet rather 'difficult' writer...

By all logic I should then have moved on to the story by Brendan Connell (another of my most favourite contemporary writers) but random page flipping ended up getting me intrigued by the title of the Jimmy Grist story, 'Jimmy Breaks Up With His Imaginary Girlfriend'. I love offbeat titles. They suck me right in; and I suspect that I've read a lot of weak stories with leftfield titles and missed a lot of good stories with bland simplistic titles in my reading life; but this one wasn't weak. It's a funny and clever and well-written piece that has put Grist on my Radar (or is it on my Mill? "Grist for your Mill" is the saying, isn't it?)

So I was in a mood for more offbeat titles. That's what led me to 'Romance, With Mice' by Sonia Orin Lyris, a fantastic story and another writer previously unknown to me who I clearly need to watch out for and seek out. Ditto 'The Lobster Kaleidoscope' by Julie Sokolow (recommended to me personally by the inestimable Des Lewis) which is an utterly marvellous and engaging romp through language; a story that relies more on the logic of word association than the logic of everyday events. And to think: only the other day I was complaining that not enough writers use alternative logics in their fiction!

Before I proceed with reading the rest of this anthology, however, I feel obliged to single out for special praise the longest (or possibly second longest; I haven't checked) story in the book, a magnificient funk-based absurdist inner-space caper that reads like a cross between William Burroughs, a Mighty Boosh script and a presidential address by George Clinton... The author responsible is some fellow called Justin Isis and the story I'm referring to is entitled 'M-Funk Vs Tha Futureregions of Inverse Funkativity'. Funny, ecstatic, obscure, daft, brilliant, curious, weird, inventive, flippant and moving!

Thursday, May 03, 2012

What My Publishers Look Like

People often ask me, "What do your publishers look like?"

I find it hard to answer that. My publishers are difficult to describe. But I feel obliged to satisfy the curiosity of my readers in this regard, so I decided to make the attempt at drawing a selection of my recent publishers.

Despite my extreme lack of artistic ability the result has turned out to be extremely accurate, without any distortion of feature or basic physiology!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A New Microfiction

Here's a new microfiction for you. It's only 169 words long. I enjoy writing microfictions, flash fiction and mini-sagas and I've produced a lot of them over the past twenty years. A selection of 101 are featured in my ebook Flash in the Pantheon, available from Smashwords for $2.99. Anyway...

                    THE VICIOUS CIRCLE
               Or The War Amongst the Angles

“Ouch! Someone kicked me!” cried 135°
     “It was just a reflex,” said 28°
     “That’s right, it was me,” snarled 246° “Are you obtuse or something?”
     “As a matter of fact, I am,” said 135°
     “I don’t like the look of you and that’s why I kicked you,” growled 246°
     “You swine!” roared 135°
     “You angle with a dirty face!” retorted 246°
     “Calm down everyone!” pleaded 28°
     “Why should I?” snapped 246° “I have a bad feeling about this one and when it comes to my feelings I’m always right.”
     “There’s only one right angle around here,” interjected a new voice, “and that’s me.” It was 90° who had spoken.
     “Bah, I’m twice the angle you are!” hissed 180°
     “Brother angles, please!” wailed 28°
     “Don’t be so soft. Let’s have a fight!” bellowed 246°
     “But what will the radius say when he finds out?” gasped 28° in acute anxiety.
     “Without us, he’s nothing!” spat 135°
     “Fight! Fight! Fight!” chanted 90°, 180° and 270°
     Soon the entire circle was in uproar…

Incidentally, my microfictions aren't included in my 'official canon' of tales because if they were, reaching my ultimate target number of 1000 stories would be too easy...

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Complete Stories of Rudy Rucker

I've just noticed that the brilliant writer Rudy Rucker has released an ebook of his complete short stories. It's available from Amazon here. Rucker is one of the best and cleverest living writers. In fact he's one of the best and cleverest writers in the history of humanity. He's an authentic genius, a genuine ideas writer (quite a rare thing these days) with a comprehensive and profound understanding of mathematics, metaphysics, futurology, artificial intelligence and the paradoxes of space, time and geometry.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Ready, Steady, Fables!

The book of Rhysop's Fables is ready at last!

Tired of being given good advice in fables and parables by wise men, sages and gurus? Why not try Rhysop's Fables instead, a set of 150 amoral and irresponsible fables? There are no messages here telling you how best to live your life. That kind of thing is entirely up to you! The philosophy of Rhysop's Fables is that there are no answers to life because life is not a question...

Join a cast of crows, clouds, aardvarks, snails, robots, foxes, dinosaurs, ghosts, pickle jars and many other beings and things in the great quest to fail to unravel the mysteries of existence! You won't regret it; and even if you do, you won't regret your regret!

To buy this book from Amazon, click on this link: Rhysop's Fables.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The International Punfest

I have been writing fables recently, lots and lots of them. In fact I've just completed 150 of the blighters and soon I'll put them all in a collection of their own. One of these fables was inspired by a game of pun-tennis that I played with Bob Lock a few weeks ago. It's right to give him credit for the original inspiration of what follows. In fact, he planted the "Uzbekistan" seed from which the rest developed...

A suburban bungalow somewhere in England. A comfortable lounge with a sofa and a man sat upon it. A woman at a desk in a corner was spinning a globe of planet Earth and frowning at the countries that flew past. Then she opened her mouth to speak.
     “Uzbekistan,” said Anna.
     “I don’t know. Who is she?” replied Stan.
     “Turkey,” added Anna.
     “Well, if you already knew that Becky is a turkey, why did you ask me who she was?” grumbled Stan.
     “Chile,” said Anna.
     “Maybe she needs a blanket?”
     “And a bowl of soup.”
     “She’s a turkey, you said. But that’s more of a lifestyle than an actual career. Anyway, I don’t think it’s important. I am more concerned about my own career and lack of income.”
     “Why should I? He used to be my best friend. There must be better ways of getting money than that. Maybe your friend Caroline has some financial advice for me?”
     “Please do. She’s very knowledgeable about many things. I don’t like her cooking very much, though.”
     “Too much. She fries every meal. But I’m no better and what’s good for the goose is good for the—”
     “No, I’m not the gander. I’m the goose!”
     “Far out! Groovy baby!”
     “Not really. I regret only the depression.”

¶ Travel doesn’t always broaden the mind, especially armchair travel.

Many thanks again to pun-master, Bob Lock!

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Hogwash and Bum Note

My minor story-cycle of extreme exploratory daftness is now complete. Six tales featuring the two most inept and inelegant members of the Eldritch Explorers' Club... Thrill with Hogwash and Bum Note as they venture into the jungles of Yuckystan, tangle with Tarka the Rotter, flee from giant ducks, meet the monkey with too many cheeks, attempt to pluck notefruit from the Melody Tree, and finally go in search of the Infamous Anteater in order to get his autograph!

Hogwash and Bum Note are my version of Sapphire and Steel. Sort of. Their adventures can be read for a limited time for free by clicking on this link! Enjoy! Or don't enjoy! At your discretion!!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

My Proposed BFS Reforms

Recently I filled in an online questionnaire about suggested improvements to the awards procedure of the BFS (British Fantasy Society). Why I was asked to do this is a mystery, as I'm not a BFS member or a member of any society. I'm a contrarian-libertarian-individualist, but we'll let that pass for the moment. Maybe the questionnaire was sent to me because of a simple clerical error? I filled it in anyway.

I imagine that my responses will be ignored, as the proposals in this blog post will probably be ignored; but as an enthusiast of the literature of the imagination I have as much right as any other enthusiast to express my thoughts on the matter. Whether these thoughts are ignored or not is a moot point. So I intend to keep expressing them. For anyone who isn't in this particular loop, the BFS is a long-established society that (among other things) holds an annual ceremony in which anthologies, novels, short stories, etc, can win an award. The procedure followed is conventional: a longlist, a shortlist, a result!

However, concerns have recently been raised as to the integrity of the system. Dark mutterings have been on many lips: the entire procedure is corrupt, they say! And yes it is, and it has been for a long time, doubtless since the inception of the society. Most societies are corrupt, aren't they? All of them are, probably. In a bid to clean up the BFS act from inside, a fellow of integrity and talent (the decent and honourable Graham Joyce) has finally been given a mandate to reform the entire awards protocols. He is asking for suggestions. Here are mine:

(1). Disband the BFS. Don't have a society at all. Writers should be independent mavericks. The existence of literary societies encourages the formation of cliques, of mutual back-patting, of mob psychology, of unfairness. Dismantle the BFS and sell off the jowls and egotism. That's my preferred solution, but it's never going to happen. And so:

(2). Keep the society but don't have an awards ceremony. The whole concept is ludicrous. For instance, are we really supposed to believe that Stephen King's The Dark Tower VII was the best fantasy novel published in the entire world in the year 2005? Better than Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore? Better than Salman Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown? Better than Ismail Kadare's The Successor? Better than Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake? Better than Jose Saramago's The Double? I could go on and on, but I'm sure you get the point. The BFS 'best novel' award can never represent the best novel out there. How can it? The task is impossible. The scrapping of all awards ceremonies seems the only logical course of action to me.

(3). However, scrapping the awards ceremonies will never happen because there are too many vested interests involved; there is too much desire on the part of business insiders to keep the awards going. So then. The best that can be done is to try to keep the system as pure, independent and uncorrupted as possible. One of the main weaknesses of the BFS voting system (any voting system really) is canvassing. It's not merely that canvassing is open to abuse but that canvassing itself is unfair. It gives an unreasonable advantage to those who can canvass and disempowers those who won't or cannot. Ten years ago I received an email from a writer who had a book on the BFS longlist. His scheme was to form a voting cartel that would take it in turns to vote for each of its members. He asked people to vote for him that year, promising that he would vote for them the following year. A good definition of corruption. My solution to this is simple: anyone caught canvassing at all for votes should be instantly struck off the longlist (or shortlist, if they have reached that far).

(4). An option should be available to strip previous winners of awards retroactively if evidence emerges that they used dishonourable methods to increase their chances. If an author is caught cheating, all his or her awards should be stripped. This should be a deterrent to many potential cheaters. So the writer who sent the email mentioned above would lose any awards he previously (or in point of fact subsequently) won.

(5). Some sort of provision should be made to make sure that writers who are by nature outsiders aren't neglected or overlooked because of the political workings of the system. For instance, a writer who prefers not to network and socialise, who perhaps alienates other writers by his disarmingly honest attitudes, shouldn't be punished as a consequence. I therefore propose an extra award: 'Best Outsider', to be decided by an independent judge or judges and not by 'popular' vote. How else will talented outsiders receive the recognition due to them? It must always be remembered that it's the work that is being rated, not the worker.

(6). Democracy is often praised in our culture as the highest form of political evolution. But the objections Plato raised to it 2400 years ago still haven't been properly answered. Democracy often empowers the ignorant and encourages populist posing. To maintain the purity and independence of the awards ceremonies, the longlists, shortlists and eventual winners should be decided only by competent, widely-read judges and not by ordinary proles. These judges should be drawn only from a pool of expert writers, scholars or readers who agree to forever sign away their own eligibility to win an award. A few years ago I got talking to a writer of very little talent who had spent years attempting to further his career through networking; he attended every convention he could and promoted himself with all the energy and drive that he failed to put into his actual writing. Having managed to secure himself a position as a BFS committee member, he lamented the fact that he wasn't eligible to use his position to help one of his own books get onto the shortlist. The fact that this was an unethical aspiration didn't seem to bother him. The BFS really doesn't need administrators of his calibre.

On a more general level, I would like to object to the fact that the BFS (British Fantasy Society) often seems to function more as a BHS (Not British Home Stores but British Horror Society). When I raised this point recently, an engaging and erudite chap, Stephen Theaker, who is a BFS insider, replied that the awards longlists are often dominated by horror titles but that the guests of honour at the conventions are drawn from a far broader spectrum. This seems to be true. I was delighted to note that Brian Aldiss, the greatest living British writer, was a guest of honour at the 2011 event. However, the fact that the awards longlists are still dominated by horror titles is a real problem. The membership is clearly dominated by horror fans and these horror fans can be pressed into service by horror writers. The horror scene tends to be small and tribal. I'm not saying that the horror fans' votes can necessarily be bought by direct bribes from the horror writers, but friends do tend to vote for each other despite the actual merit of the work in question. Maybe there should be a separate category for 'Best Horror Novel' to help filter the muddy waters?

Finally, I think it's very important to remember that fantasy literature isn't a speciality of Western writers. The finest fantasy novel of the past decade, in my view, is The Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong'o. Some of the best fantasy writers out there aren't British or American. Why are they so poorly represented in the BFS awards procedures? This needs to be addressed.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Small Horses Galore!

Unlike humans, animals are refreshingly non-judgmental. Not one of these tiny ponies seemed bothered by the fact that I resembled a bumbling buffoon as I tramped the fields and hills. But shabby clothes are so much more comfortable than smart ones. That's my defence. Besides, I passed over so many stiles on my way to this field that I can be forgiven for passing over style too...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Gloomy Seahorse

Many years ago I told myself that if I ever started my own publishing company it would be called Gloomy Seahorse Press. Not for any particular reason, you understand, but simply because I liked the name. However, I never had enough capital to fund the business... But with the growing popularity of ebooks it now seems to me there's an opportunity to realise my ambition in a slightly different manner. And so I have launched Gloomy Seahorse Press as a whimsical and imaginary imprint. How many books it will ever produce is open to question: I have absolutely no idea.

All I can say at this stage is that the first title is ready to be downloaded and read by anyone who owns a Kindle or one of those other newfangled digital book reading devices... And that first title is The Tellmenow Isitsöornot, a collection of exactly 100 of my stories, most of them from the early days of my writing career and many of them unpublished before now. Think of this book as a minor Decameron... And at the low price of $4.99, it works out as less than 5 cents per story (that's 3 pence in British money).

If you wish to buy it, simply click on this link... You'll be helping me out a lot if you do (but if you don't buy one, that's fine too, of course!)