ecosophia: JMG in lecture mode (Default)
One of the plot engines in my about-to-be-released novel The Weird of Hali: Chorazin is a folk song, "The Sleeper in the Hill," that includes certain clues that the characters have to follow to make sense of the mystery hidden beneath Elk Hill in far western New York State. I had no trouble hearing the words and the melody of the song, but my musical chops fall short when it comes to finding the chords. It's a modal melody, and I'm pretty sure it begins and ends with an A minor chord, but beyond that I have no idea. Help from my musically literate readers would be greatly appreciated. Here are the dots: 
The Sleeper in the Hill
Thanks to anyone who can help! 
ecosophia: JMG in lecture mode (Default)
shoggothBy reader request, I'm posting a paper on shoggoths I drew up for a reader who's doing a roleplaying game based on my fantasy series The Weird of Hali. These are not your common or garden variety Lovecraftian shoggoths, of course, nor are they the shoggothoid things that feature these days in anime and manga; they're the shoggoths found as a minor presence in The Weird of Hali and at center stage in my as-yet-unpublished novel The Shoggoth Concerto and its as-yet-unfinished sequel The Nyogtha Variations

Yes, that's a picture of a small shoggoth; yes, I drew it; and yes, that's a coffee cup in its pseudopod. Shoggoths generally don't like coffee -- they dislike strong bitter flavors -- but hot chocolate is quite another matter.  With that said...

Shoggoths

 Originally created in Paleozoic times by the Elder Things as a slave species, shoggoths are masses of living protoplasm that can take any shape they desire. They are currently found on every continent of earth, dwelling underground and rarely appearing on the surface.

 

Description and Biology

At first glance a shoggoth resembles a heap of iridescent black soap bubbles dotted with pale greenish eyes, which appear and disappear at intervals. Closer examination reveals an outer layer, the mantle, which looks gelatinous but is actually cool and dry to the touch, surrounding the black organules within. Shoggoths can reshape themselves at will and produce specialized organs as needed from their organules; they breathe through pores in the mantle, and are equally comfortable living on land or in water.  They produce small mouthlike orifices to communicate, and can feed on any organic matter, which they engulf whole.

Shoggoths were created by the Elder Things in various sizes for different purposes. The largest, found only in Antarctica at present, were created for heavy construction projects and are around fifteen feet in diameter when contracted into a sphere. The most common variety in North America, created for ordinary labor, ranges from eight to ten feet in diameter, but there are also North American populations of small shoggoths, averaging four feet in diameter, which were created as household slaves.

Shoggoths reproduce asexually by budding.(1)  Depending on the available food supply and certain other environmental factors, from one to eight broodlings will bud at a time from a single shoggoth. All shoggoths are potentially fertile from the time of full maturity into advanced old age, though most have one or two broods over the course of their lifespan. Because shoggoths do not have the concept of number, estimates of their lifespan are uncertain at best; Deep One records suggest that a lifespan of something like one century is not unusual.

Broodmates—those shoggoths who bud at the same time from the same broodmother—form close emotional bonds, and have some degree of telepathic contact: for example, if one shoggoth learns to recognize the scent of another being, all its broodmates will be able to do so at once. While shoggoths do not have sex, there are certain forms of intimacy among them that involve an exchange of fluids, and these intimacies are only socially acceptable between broodmates. While it does occasionally happen that shoggoths not of the same budding have such a relationship, it’s considered shameful and not something to be discussed in front of broodlings.

Scent in shoggoths plays much the same role that facial expression does in human beings, as an indicator of emotional state. A scent like Brie cheese indicates ordinary calm; a scent like freshly washed mushrooms indicates happiness, and a scent like bread fresh from the oven indicates affection. On the other side of the spectrum, an acrid smell indicates fear, a sharp bitter scent indicates grief, and an ammonia scent tells of illness. A fetid, choking stench is the “moisture-of-war,” a toxic secretion used in combat situations, and also indicates anger.

Because shoggoths reproduce asexually, and each broodling is literally a separated portion of the flesh of its broodmother, there is no crossbreeding among them and the characteristics of each lineage remain unchanged over geological time spans. Each of the shoggoth kinds, from the huge shoggoths of Antarctica to the small shoggoths of the New Jersey hills, thus has its own distinctive character and traditions.

 

History and Society

As mentioned above, shoggoths were created by the Elder Things as a slave species. They were treated badly enough by their masters that they rebelled during the global troubles at the end of the Permian era, and for more than six thousand years fought an unsuccessful war for freedom. Hundreds of millions of shoggoths were slaughtered during the suppression of the rebellion, using molecular disintegrators and other high-tech weaponry, and the treatment of the survivors was brutal in the extreme.

During the Triassic era that followed, the Elder Things set out to counter the growing influence of Cthulhu and his octopoid spawn by creating a slave-being of roughly the same power as a Great Old One. Their labors succeeded, and they created Nyogtha. Their treatment of Nyogtha was no better than their treatment of the shoggoths, however, and Nyogtha also rebelled against them; the struggle between Nyogtha and the Elder Things brought about the extinction crisis between the Triassic and Jurassic eras. Nyogtha was defeated but he could not be destroyed or forced back to subservience, and he took refuge in the deep places of the earth. The Elder Things, appalled by their own creation, called Nyogtha The Thing That Should Not Be, and he took that title for his own as a sign of his contempt for his creators.

Craving vengeance, he made contact with the shoggoths, and he and they made a pact of mutual assistance. Under his guidance, the shoggoths carried out a campaign of subversion, sabotage, and poisoning against the Elder Things.  This campaign eventually succeeded in driving the Elder Things into extinction.(2) The pact between Nyogtha and the shoggoths is in effect the shoggoth religion; shoggoths perform certain rites that give Nyogtha life and strength, and in return Nyogtha protects the shoggoths against their enemies and advises them. Shoggoths are aware of the Great Old Ones and respect their power, but do not worship them.

Long before the last Elder Thing city in Antarctica was laid waste, shoggoths who escaped from Elder Thing control established colonies in various parts of the world. Shoggoth colonies are invariably underground, and comprise networks of caverns, the walls of which are carved with the bold abstract designs of shoggoth art.  Colonies tend to be located in areas where there are extensive deposits of brown coal, which shoggoths find quite palatable as food; organic matter from the surface is also a significant part of the diet in some colonies. Shoggoth colonies are governed by a loose collection of elders who interpret a body of traditional law.

Shoggoths are sociable by nature and normally live in large groups. Their sense of appropriate personal space involves close physical contact—in a shoggoth colony, those shoggoths not otherwise occupied can typically be found nestled together in a squirming communal heap abuzz with conversation. As a result, where you find one shoggoth, you are likely to find others.

 

Psychology and Culture

Shoggoths are roughly as intelligent as human beings, and thus, like us, fall toward the bottom end of the intelligence spectrum among sentient beings. Their language consists of whistled musical notes across a range of three or four octaves; this language (a simplified form of the language of the Elder Things) is genetically programmed into them, and broodlings can speak within weeks of budding. They can also learn to speak other languages, though this takes them about as much effort as it would take a human adult to learn a new language. Human beings can learn the shoggoth language without too much difficulty, as it is straightforward and logical in its structure; due to its musical nature, human musicians have a particularly easy time.

Shoggoths are literate, using the dot-syllabary of the Elder Things for written records and carvings. Their arts include music and poetry—these two are not distinguished, due to the musical nature of the shoggoth language—and a particular kind of sculpture: shoggoths like to carve long bands of abstract patterns along the walls of tunnels and caverns, borrowing a habit o the Elder Things and repurposing it for their own uses. These carvings are experienced and enjoyed by touch, not by sight; as a shoggoth slides past the carving, a pseudopod pressed against it feels the patterns as vibrations. The experience is apparently something like what humans experience when listening to instrumental music.

The most significant differences between shoggoth and human intelligence are threefold. First, shoggoths are much less fond of innovation than humans. So long as they have safe and comfortable places to live, an adequate food supply, and freedom from interference by other species, they see no need to change. As a result, shoggoth culture remains the same across tens of millions of years: epic songs about their struggle against the Elder Things, which were composed in the Mesozoic, are still taught to shoggoth broodlings as a central part of their education.

The second main difference is that shoggoths have no concept of mathematics, or even of numbers. A very few shoggoths, after long association with other beings, have picked up a basic facility with numbers, but this takes them roughly the same level of effort that you or I would need to understand Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Where we see numbers, they see patterns; a shoggoth artist can carve a precise pentagon on a wall, but could not tell you how many points it has. The pentagon to them is a shape, not a number of angles.

The third difference is a rather more flexible sense of personal identity. Shoggoths have names only when they are around other shoggoths, and take a new name every day—it’s a normal courtesy in shoggoth society to greet a newcomer with “My name today is Across the Cavern,” or whatever it happens to be that day. Shoggoths who are acquainted with humans consider the human habit of having one name throughout one’s life to be exceedingly strange, as strange as always eating through the same orifice or seeing through the same eyes.

 

Combat

Shoggoths are extremely strong and fast, far more so than most beings of equivalent size. Even the smallest variety of shoggoth can disarm, kill, and dismember a human being in a matter of seconds. Their usual method of attack is to seize the nearest available portion of an opponent’s body and tear it off.  They are effectively invulnerable to hand-to-hand weapons such as knives and clubs—they can stiffen their mantles to the consistency of armor plate—and bullets simply annoy them. Flamethrowers can be effective against small and midsized shoggoths, but it takes high explosives, incendiary bombs, or high-voltage electricity to kill them reliably.

Shoggoths in combat secrete a fluid they call “moisture-of-war,” which coats their bodies. It has a fetid, choking scent, and is toxic to most other beings, though not to shoggoths. Its effect on humans is comparable to tear gas; it is also extremely slippery, making attempts to seize even the smallest broodling an exercise in futility. (Attempting to seize a broodling is also foolhardy for another reason, as its broodmother will react the way a mother grizzly would respond to a threat to her cub. Humans who try this can expect to be dismembered quite literally joint by joint.)

Despite their effectiveness as fighters, shoggoths are not especially belligerent. They normally ignore human beings and other intelligent species, though some shoggoth colonies trade with humans, voormis, and Deep Ones. The usual pattern here involves gifts of food to the shoggoths; while shoggoths can feed on any organic matter, they have decided preferences, and so (for example) the colony of shoggoths under Sentinel Hill near Dunwich, MA provides iron ore for the Dunwich forge in exchange for specially desirable foodstuffs.(3)

There are two exceptions to their general policy of disinterest. The first is that shoggoths without exception honor the ancient pact with Nyogtha, their great ally in the long struggle for freedom. If Nyogtha, for his own subtle reasons, requests a shoggoth or a group of shoggoths to do something, they do it without question. Now and again that involves the slaughter of groups of humans who threaten Nyogtha’s human worshipers.

The second exception is commemorated more or less accurately in the pages of Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness. While the Elder Things are effectively extinct, small groups of them in suspended animation have occasionally been waked by other beings. When this happens it is the absolute duty of every shoggoth first to spread the word, and then to do whatever it takes to annihilate the Elder Things, no matter what the cost. Three hundred million years of enslavement and brutal treatment left deep scars on their collective psyche, and every shoggoth broodling learns by heart songs of the terrible battles of the late Permian, when the shoggoth war-cry Tekeli-li! was heard over the roar of the Elder Things’ molecular disintegrators.

One who harms shoggoths can expect sooner or later to suffer their formal vengeance. The body will be found decapitated and smeared with the moisture-of-war, and words of reckoning will be written nearby to explain why vengeance was taken. The dead Elder Things found under the city in Lovecraft’s tale were killed in his way. Had Dyer and Danforth been able to read the shoggoth script, they would have learned quite a bit from the writing left beside the Elder Things’ corpses.

Note 1: Shoggoths are thus technically parthenogenetic females. Try thinking of them as “she” rather than “it” and see what that does to your understanding of them.

Note 2: This happened in the late Cretaceous, around 72 million years ago. Lovecraft got his chronology wrong in At the Mountains of Madness.

Note 3: Shoggoths are especially fond of cheese. I have no idea why; they just are. Brown coal seasoned with cheese and molasses is considered fine dining by the Sentinel Hill shoggoths.

ecosophia: JMG in lecture mode (Default)
The Weird of Hali: InnsmouthI need to ask a little help from my readers.

Founders House Publishing, the publishers of The Weird of Hali (and quite a few of my other books), has helpfully provided me with a certain number of complimentary review copies of the e-book editions of the first two books in the series. I'd like to get those to podcasters and online reviewers who are likely to be interested in a quirky Lovevcraftian epic fantasy where Great Cthulhu and his cultists turn out to be the good guys after all.

The one challenge is that I don't happen to know which podcasters and online reviewers those might be. I've spent years doing the podcast-and-website thing with my occult books, on the one hand, and my peak oil books on the other; I've got a fairly good idea who's likely to be interested in that end of my work -- but tentacular fantasy novels? Not so much. 

The one thing that comes to mind is that my readers are an eccentric bunch and have astonishingly diverse interests. If you, dear readers, happen to know of suitable venues that might be interested in reviewing these books of mine, please let me know!

In saying this, I feel rather like the kid with the box full of kittens sitting out in front of the supermarket, hoping to find homes for them. Wouldn't you like to take home a cute little shoggoth broodling? It really will eat anything... ;-)


ecosophia: JMG in lecture mode (Default)
Vintage WorldsI'm delighted to announce that several fiction projects in which I've been involved to one degree or another are now available. First of all, Vintage Worlds -- an anthology of SF tales edited by me and the indefatigable Zendexor, set in the Old Solar System, the wholly imaginary but utterly entrancing realm of classic science fiction -- is now available in both print and e-book formats.

Think of it as space fantasy: tales of two- (or more-) fisted adventure set in a solar system that's chockfull of intelligent species, inhabitable worlds, and spaceships that look like something other than random collections of hardware -- yes, we're talking tail fins here. The mere fact that we turned out to inhabit a much less interesting solar system doesn't take anything away from the delight readers still get from the solar system tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Leigh Brackett, and the other great authors of science fiction's Golden Age, and there's no reason not to set new stories there -- after all, how many people quibble about the fact that Middle-earth and Narnia don't exist? 

This collection includes seventeen stories, including my "Out of the Chattering Planet," and amounts to 120,000 words of interplanetary adventure. You can pick up your copy here

There's also good news for readers of fantasy. The first two volumes of my epic fantasy with tentacles, The Weird of Hali, are heading into print in new paperback and e-book editions, with the others scheduled to follow over the course of the next year. The first volume, The Weird of Hali: Innsmouth, is already available in e-book format and can be purchased here, and the paperback edition is in press -- it can be preordered now (use the same link) and will be in print on December 17. The second volume, The Weird of Hali: Kingsport, will be released in print and e-book editions that same day; it can be preordered here

Kingsport coverThose of you who haven't been following this end of my writing may want to know that, while these novels use the tentacle-ridden horror fiction of H.P. Lovecraft as raw material, they're not horror fiction. Lovecraft was a brilliant fantasist as well as a capable horror writer, and I've long felt that the fantastic end of his work has been neglected for far too long; the worlds of his imagination are also just too tempting a venue for fantasy for me to pass up.

The twist, of course, is that we're not getting your standard tale of how tentacled horrors out to devour the world, with the aid of their sinister human cultists, get stopped at the last minute by some combination of square-jawed investigators and sheer dumb luck. (That's been done not merely to death but out the other side into a couple of further reincarnations.) Au contraire, there's always at least two sides to any story; these tales are from the point of view of those awful cultists -- the ordinary men and women, that is, who discover the forbidden truth about those tentacled horrors (aka the old gods of nature) and get drawn into the ancient and terrible struggle between archaic gods and their all too modern, efficient, and up-to-date adversaries. It's a conflict on which the fate of the world does indeed rest, but, ahem, it's not the old gods of nature who are seeking to turn the living Earth into a smoldering, lifeless waste strewn with plastic trash...

So here are the first two volumes -- the stories, to be precise, of how the two main characters of the series find their way into a wider and more eldritch world. The third volume, The Weird of Hali: Chorazin, which launches those characters and several others on a desperate quest to awaken a sleeping goddess, will be out early in the new year.  The others -- The Weird of Hali: Dreamlands, The Weird of Hali: Providence, The Weird of Hali: Red Hook, and The Weird of Hali: Arkham -- will be in print by the end of 2019. Stay tuned for more announcements! 
ecosophia: JMG in lecture mode (Default)
Rite of Spring DancersA couple of nights ago I ended up watching a YouTube version of the Joffrey Ballet's 1987 performance of The Rite of Spring -- the first one since the ballet first premiered that presented it as it was originally designed, choreographed, and produced. (Why was I watching The Rite of Spring? Long story, having to do with a novel I've got in process.)

It was enormously controversial when it first appeared. There was a bona fide riot in the audience on the opening night -- forty people had to be expelled from the theater, some in hysterics -- and the choreographer, Vaslav Nijinsky, went stark staring crazy afterwards and spent the rest of his life in an asylum gazing blankly at the wall. If this reminds any of my readers of the fictional play The King in Yellow, well, let's just say the similarity has been noticed. (Yes, that was a central part of why I was watching it; Brecken Kendall, the aspiring young retro-Baroque composer who's the viewpoint character of the novel in question, is writing a chamber opera based on The King in Yellow...) 

So I watched it.  Yes, I know, I don't usually spend time staring at jerky little colored shapes on glass screens, but I make exceptions at long intervals and this was one of them. 

Now here's the thing: I don't get ballet or modern dance. It's not that I don't like them; it's that they communicate nothing to me. Watching a ballet, for me, is like listening to a lecture in Swahili or trying to read a newspaper in Tagalog; it's clear to me that there's something going on that communicates to other people, but I don't speak the language. As a child I went dutifully to The Nutcracker over the winter holidays and took in several other ballets -- the district where I went to school used to take busloads of kids to the Seattle Center a couple of times a year to take in a play or a ballet or some other bit of culture -- so it's not a matter of unfamiliarity; whatever one is supposed to get from watching ballet dancers dance, I don't. I'd assumed for years that some aspect of my Aspergers syndrome left me with the equivalent of tone-deafness to dance performance. 

And then I watched The Rite of Spring, and it actually made sense to me. I opened up that Tagalog newspaper and all of a sudden was looking at a page in a language I could read. Not only that, it was a potent and moving aesthetic experience. 

I really have no idea what to make of this, other than to wonder what it says about me that the only dance performance that's ever made sense to me is one that put its choreographer in an insane asylum and caused a cultured and tolerant Parisian audience to go into total meltdown...
ecosophia: JMG in lecture mode (Default)
My current fiction project is The Shoggoth Concerto, a novel set in the same fictive world as my series The Weird of Hali but not part of the same story arc. One of the two main characters is a young mixed-race woman attending Partridgeville State University in Partridgeville, New Jersey -- fans of Frank Belknap Long stories will know already to expect reference to the occultist Halpin Chalmers and the terrifying Hounds of Tindalos -- who is taking her first steps toward becoming a neo-Baroque composer. (The other main character is a shoggoth, but that's another story.) To get the necessary background for the character, I've been reviewing most of the history of Western music, and ran into a very odd detail. 

There were a variety of significant shifts between Baroque music -- think Bach and Vivaldi -- and classical music -- think Beethoven and Brahms -- but one that really stands out is the role of the melody line. In most classical music, as in popular music since then, there's a single melody line over the top of the bass line, and the "harmonic middle" between them -- the other voices that give the music richness. In Baroque music, there were very often multiple melody lines, with the interplay between them creating the harmony. 

The change from Baroque to classical happened right about the time the industrial revolution took off. So at the same moment that our civilization committed itself to the trajectory of industrialism, with its myth of linear progress and its dependence on a straight-line movement of resources to waste, the musical expressions of our civilization shifted from forms that embraced many melodies at the same time, to forms that permitted only one. Blake's comments about single vision seem even more trenchant...

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ecosophia: JMG in lecture mode (Default)John Michael Greer

February 2019

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