Showing posts with label Dark Roasted Blend. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dark Roasted Blend. Show all posts

Friday, November 16, 2012

Hashima Island ... and Skyfall?!

(from M.Christian's Meine Kleine Fabrik)

skyfall island
In Skyfall, the Japanese island of Hashima serves as the secret headquarters of Raoul Silva, the well-coiffed Bond villain played by Javier Bardem. In reality, it serves as a sobering reminder of the pitfalls of industrialization, and the human toll it can exact. Late last month, Messy Nessy Chic published a detailed history of the island, which, at the turn of the 20th century, was a bustling coal-mining town owned by the Mitsubishi Corporation. 
Things took a turn for the sinister at the dawn of World War II, when the Japanese turned the island into a bona fide labor camp for Chinese and Korean prisoners. By 1959, the island boasted the highest population density on Earth (139,100 per square kilometer), and living conditions soon...  
Continue reading… (from The Verge)

Well, now I HAVE to get out there and watch Skyfall ... as I wrote about the glorious ruins of Hashima island for Dark Roasted Blend, and - naturally - the same article is in my book, Welcome to Weirdsville:

Crumbling plaster, broken and splintered lath, cracked cement, fractured concrete, gap-toothed brick walls, rusting iron, daggers of shattered glass … no argument about it: there's something hypnotically alluring, darkly fascinating, about a truly great ruin.

What's now decay and rot once was bright and brilliantly full of hope: Who lived here? What were their lives like? What happened? How did it all come apart? How did it all crumble to almost nothing?

In the case of Hashima Island, or Battleship Island as it's often called, hope and optimism became dust and decay because one black resource was replaced by a cheaper black resource. Populated first in 1887, the island – which is 15 kilometers from Nagasaki – only began to really, and phenomenally, become populated much later, in 1959.

Hashima is, for many ruin fans, the rotting and collapsing grail, the benchmark all other crumbling structures are measured against – and seeing pictures of the place it's easy to see why. Not only is Hashima frighteningly preserved in some places, as if the residents had just stepped out as few minutes before, but it is also, contrarily, spectacularly falling down. Beyond its current awe-inspiring state of decay, the island's dramatic isolation and its bizarre history make it the ruin of ruins.

Before that day when coal, the old black resource, was replaced by oil, another black resource, Hashima was the most densely populated area – ever. On that tiny island, crammed into what are now decaying tenements, were thousands of miners, their families (including children), support staff, administration, and everything necessary to make their lives at least tolerable. It's hard to imagine when looking at the empty doorways, ghostly apartments, and hauntingly vacant corridors what the lives of those people might have been like.

Unlike the post-apocalyptic drama of Hashima, we can very easily imagine what the lives of the residents of the famous Walled City of Kowloon were like – in fact we can ask them, as their city was torn down in 1993. The reason why the Walled City gets so frequently mentioned as a ruin is, while it was there, it was as if the people who lived in it were living their lives in the guts of some great, monstrous, maze.

To say that the city had a long history is an understatement, as its roots go back to the Song Dynasty (960 AD, if you need to know the date). The city was a curiosity for a very long time – a strange bit of legal knotting making it Chinese and not British -- but the labyrinth didn't start to grow appreciably until after the second world war when it became a haven for … well, people without a state: refugees, squatters, thieves, drug-dealers, and much more (and much worse). Neither Great Britain nor China refused to have anything to do with the immense warren of walkways, apartments, workshops, factories, brothels, gambling dens, and opium dens.

The Triad, who represented most of the criminal element, were pretty much forced out in the 70s – by a police attack some 30,000 strong, no less -- but the city remained as a kind of anarchist warren, a world-unto-itself where the residents built and maintained pretty much everything. Looking at pictures of the city today, it looks like some kind of ramshackle prison, a cyberpunk nightmare of florescent lights, spectrally flickering televisions, and mazes of perpetually damp hallways and trash-strewn alleyways. Yet, for many people living there, it was simply home.

Alas, the end of the living ruin that was the Walled City came to an end in the 90s when the residents were evacuated and their fantastic city-within-a-city was torn down. Interestingly, the Walled City has a strong connection to Hashima as, at its height, the Walled City had a population density almost rivaling that Japanese island. Before the bulldozers came, it had a staggering population of 50,000 people, all living in an area the size of a few city blocks.

But if you're talking ruins you have to talk about the ruin FROM THE FUTURE .. or at least a ruin that looks like it came from there.

If you travel to Taiwan, up north to be specific, you will find yourself in a what looks like the fantastic set from some kind of big-budget science fiction epic: the resort of San Zhi. Built in the 1980s, the resort was supposed to be, planned to be, a vacation spot from the next century .. BUT TODAY!

Unfortunately, the dreams of the developers stayed just that and, beyond a few remarkably-well-preserved, sections, San Zhi never materialized. But what they did build, and that's still there in all it's ruinous glory, is amazing: crumbling residential pods on a bleak and blasted landscape, a mini-sprawl of the future falling apart BUT TODAY!

Decaying, rotting, crumbling, collapsing – ruins are the remains of what was, of the lives of the people who lived in them. In the case of Hashima Island, what remains teases us with thoughts of what it must have been like to live in the most densely populated area in the world, ever; with the Walled City of Kowloon, we instead dream of what it must have been like to a resident of a labyrinthine living, breathing ruin; and then there is the painful folly of San Zhi – a ruin not from the past but strangely, wonderfully, from a tomorrow that might have been.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Welcome to Weirdsville: Upside Down & Other Weird Houses

(from Meine Kleine Fabrik)

This is very, very cool: the wonderful Dark Roasted Blend just published a brand new piece of mine, about Upside Down and Other Weird Houses, and gave me a very nice plug for my book of od and unusual stuff - many previously published on Dark Roasted Blend!
M. Christian is also the author of "Welcome to Weirdsville": a wonderful compendium of interesting subjects and fascinating topics. This is a highly recommended book for all lovers of weird & wonderful this side of the Universe; order the Kindle edition here.
Here's a taste - for the rest just click over to Dark Roasted Blend

Upside Down and Other Weird Houses

"- And He Built a Crooked House -"

Emily Dickinson said it perfectly: "Where thou art, that is home." But some very creative people, have taken that idea to wonderful extremes by building homes that aren't just places to hang their hats but instead are wildly whimsical, fantastically fanciful, amazingly awesome, and occasionally brilliantly bizarre.

Tilted and Flipped!

As any artist knows, inspiration can come from anywhere and a few these unique builders and architects have been inspired by some very... tilted ideas. Take, for example, Daniel Czapiewski's home in the Polish town of Szymbark. No, you don’t need to turn your monitor upside down: Daniel's home is, indeed, topsy-turvy:

(images via 12)

But Daniel is not the only builder with a unique perspective. In the German town of Trassenheide there's another home with a stand-on-your-head view:

This furniture does not seem to be very functional -

(images via 1)

Are we detecting a theme here? Billed as an "Amusement Park For The Mind," WonderWorks have flipped models of the White House, adding a new dimension to the currently weird political landscape, at various locations around the country:


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Those Mysterious Mima Mounds

The wonderful Bill Mills and the fantastic Jean Marie Stine of Renaissance/PageTurner Editions have just created a brand new Did You Know? in their video series promoting my new book, Welcome To Weirdsville!

And here, straight from the book, is the original article - a slightly different version than the one that originally appeared on the always-wonderful Dark Roasted Blend. Enjoy!


Scientists love a mystery.  Biologists used to have the human genome, but now they have the structure of protein.  Physics used to have cosmic rays, but now they have the God particle.  Astronomers used to have black holes, but now they have dark matter. 
And then there's the puzzle, the enigma, the joyous mystery that dots the world over: the riddle of what's commonly called Mima Mounds. 
What's an extra added bonus about these cryptic 'whatevertheyares' is that they aren't as miniscule as a protein sequence, aren't as subatomic as the elusive God particle, and certainly not as shadowy as dark matter.  Found in such exotic locales as Kenya, Mexico, Canada, Australia, China and in similarly off-the-beaten path locations as California, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, and especially Washington state, the mounds first appear to be just that: mounds of earth.
The first thing that's odd about the mounds is the similarity, regardless of location. With few differences, the mounds in Kenya are like the mounds in Mexico which are like the mounds in Canada which are like the ... well, you get the point.  All the mounds aer heaps of soil from three to six feet tall, often laid out in what appear to be evenly spaced rows.  Not quite geometric but almost.  What's especially disturbing is that geologists, anthropologists, professors, and doctors of all kinds – plus a few well-intentioned self-appointed "experts" – can't figure out what they are, where they came from, or what caused them.
One of the leading theories is that they are man-made, probably by indigenous people.  Sounds reasonable, no?  Folks in loincloths hauling dirt in woven baskets, meticulously making mound after mound after ... but wait a minute.  For one thing it would have been a huge amount of work, especially for a culture that was living hand-to-mouth.  Then there's the fact that, as far as can be determined, there's nothing in the mounds themselves.  Sure they aren't exactly the same as the nearby ground, but they certainly don't contain grain, pot shards, relics, mummies, arrowheads, or anything that really speaks of civilization.  They are just dirt. And if they are man-made, how did the people in Kenya, Mexico, Canada, Australia, China, California, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, and especially Washington state all coordinate their efforts so closely as to produce virtually identical mounds?  That's either one huge tribe or a lot of little ones who somehow could send smoke signals thousands of miles. 
Not very likely.
Next on the list of explanations is that somehow the mounds were created either by wind and rain or by geologic ups and downs – that there's some kind of bizarre earthy effect that has caused them to pop up.  Again, it sounds reasonable, right?  After all, there are all kinds of weird natural things out there: rogue waves, singing sand, exploding lakes, rains of fish and frogs – so why shouldn't mother nature create field after field of neat little mounds? 
The "natural" theory of nature being responsible for the Majorly Mysterious Mima Mounds starts to crumble upon further investigation.  Sure there's plenty of things we don't yet understand about how our native world behaves scientists do know enough to be able to say what it can't do – and it's looking pretty certain it can't be as precise, orderly, or meticulous as the mounds.
But still more theories persist.  For many who believe in ley lines, that crop circles are some form of manifestation of our collective unconscious, in ghosts being energy impressions left in stone and brick, the mounds are the same, or at least similar: the result of an interaction between forces we as yet do not understand, or never will, and our spaceship earth.
Others, those who prefer their granola slightly less crunchy or wear their tinfoil hats a little less tightly, have suggested what I – in my own ill-educated opinion – consider to be perhaps the best theory to date.  Some, naturally, have dismissed this concept out-of-hand, suggesting that the whole idea is too ludicrous even to be the subject of a dinner party, let alone deserving the attention and respect of serious research.
But I think this attitude shows not only lack of respect but a lack of imagination.  After all, was it not so long ago that the idea of shifting continents was considered outrageous?  And wasn't it only a few years ago that people simply accepted the fact that the sun revolved around the earth?  I simply ask that this theory be considered in all fairness and not dismissed without the same serious consideration these now well-respected theories have received.
After all, giant gophers could very well be responsible for the Majorly Mysterious Mima Mounds

Saturday, June 23, 2012


Since the wonderful Bill Mills and the fantastic Jean Marie Stine of Renaissance/PageTurner Editions were so wonderful to create the Did You Know? video series to promote my new book, Welcome To Weirdsville, I thought the least I could do was share my article about the Hellfire Club from the book ... so here it is. Enjoy!


History has not been kind to them.  If you can even find references to their Brotherhood it's usually shaded with Christian hysteria, whispered tales loaded with the usual Catholic shockers of Satanism, sacrifice, the black mass, rituals – you name it.  They say that the winners write the history books – well, I consider it a bad sign that it takes a lot of digging to uncover the truth: while they haven't won they certainly have a good enough foothold to pretty badly taint the memory of the Amorous Knights of Wycombe.
Even if you travel to their later meeting place, the sleepy little hamlet of West Wycombe, the locals spout the nonsense – telling tales laced with those Christian bogeymen images: hooded figures droning a litany of forbidden words while a naked offering is laid out on cold granite, awaiting the ritual blade in the hands of a Satanic Priest. 
While the truth about the membership of the Monks of Medmenham, and later the Amorous Knights of Wycombe, isn't as – well – Hammer Films material, the tale of its founding, membership, and rites is fascinating.
Oh, to be in England in the 1760s.  The Colonies were behaving themselves, the Great British Empire was just that, and everyone – so it seemed – belonged to a club.  There was one for just about every class, interest, or occupation: The Lying Club, where the truth was banned; the Ugly Club where the qualifications for membership were unhandsome, at best; the Golden Fleece where members took on such names as Sir Boozy Prate-All, Sir Whore-Hunter, and Sir Ollie-Mollie. 
Then there was the Monks of Medmenham Abbey.  Meeting clandestinely on a spot of land somewhere along the Thames near London, this circle of Gentlemen came to typify the age, the era of the Great English Clubs. 
Sir Francis Dashwood is one of my heroes – roguish, yet always the stalwart Gentleman; a prankster and jape, yet the author of the Book of Common Prayer – Sir Francis was the center and guiding force behind the very special club, the one later to be known by the misnomer, the Hellfire Club. 
Born in 1708, and an indirect descendent of Milton ("tis better to rule in Hell, than serve in Heaven"), Sir Francis was a great supporter of reforms as well as artistic advances.  His estate at West Wycombe became an example progressive architectural design and intelligent land management.  He was elected an MP 1762, in appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer the following year – and then the year after that elevated to the House of Lords.  To add to these wonderful accomplishments, in 1766 (under Pitt) Dashwood was appointed Postmaster-General.  Sir Francis, you see, was a man of accomplishment, of intelligence, ability, and – most certainly – wit.
Oh yes, for while Sir Francis was elevating his way through Parliament, he also created, and pretty much single-handedly maintained, his own special club.  Unlike those other eccentric clubs of the time the Monks of Medmenham Abbey was a special organization – one dedicated to japing the Papists, providing a place where a gentleman of wit and sophistication might find a place to meet, drink, and – in general – raise a little hell.
The Monks certainly did that.  First at their hidden little island, set inside a false ruin of an old Abbey, they met – clandestine greetings across the cool waters of the Thames, lanterns and torches lighting the way, the Monk-robed members gathering together to eat, drink, share amusing anecdotes and fuck like bunnies.
While there were definitely intellectual intercourse at those meetings of the Monks of Medmenham Abbey, it was rather plain-old-simple intercourse that kept them coming back.  After 1763, when the cloaked and torch-bearing Monks had attracted some undue attention, they moved local to Dashwood's own estate in West Wycombe – where the Lord de Despencer had constructed a veritable erotic, playful interpretation of Hades on – and under – Earth.
The hills around West Wycombe are soft chalk, ideal for tunneling – and that's just what Sir Francis did.  With his artistic and architectural eye he created a veritable maze of tunnels, underground rivers, chambers and gardens on his property, decorated with elaborate erotic sculptures, teasing portraits of the Knights of Wycombe (such as depicting Sir Francis with halo), and many small chambers for intercourse of both kinds.  It was at Wycombe that the real Hellfire club began, a festive playground where the political, artistic, and intellectual elite of England met – engaging in dalliances with some of the most famous of London prostitutes.  My favorite little jape of the society is that while it is pretty much incontrovertible that Ladies-of-Rentable-Virtue were present, it is also believed that – since both 'Monks' and 'Nuns' wore veils or masks, and identities kept very secret – lovers, wives, sisters, and daughters of other members were also there.
Now before you imagine (you filthy creature you!), English artists and intellectuals running around in a white-wig version of Porky's, let me reassure you that while Eros was a major focus of the Knights, it was handled with grace and dignity – the Nuns could refuse any offer, or accept any offer, as they saw fit.  It was a place of playful perversity, where free-thinkers could gather together to titter and mock the oppressive Jacobites and their domineering Pope.  Rituals were held, yes, but with all the seriousness of rowdy jesters. 
And what jesters they were – and this is what elevated the Amorous Knights of Wycombe to memorable heights.  I've told you of Sir Francis, peer by day, Monk by night, but the other members – particularly the inner circle – shine with their own randy double-lives.  Just listen to this litany of the famous and infamous who all took part in the elaborate games and fanciful parties in and under West Wycombe hill: The Earl of Sandwich (for whom the food was named), First Lord of the Admiralty; Thomas Potter, Paymaster-General, Treasurer for Ireland and son of the Archbishop of Canterbury; John Wilkes, MP, and Lord Mayor of London; Frederick, the Prince of Wales; Horace Walpole, Politician and author; Edmund Duffield and Timothy Shaw, the Vicars of Medmenham; Chevalier D'Eon de Beaumont, French diplomat; and – even possibly – our own bawdy intellectual, Benjamin Franklin.  In addition to these noteworthies, West Wycombe also admitted the well-spoken rake or two, and some famous artists such as Giuseppe Borgnis, and Robert Lloyd.
Alas, nothing is forever – the tide turned, and when the now-Papal friendly popular opinion discovered the existence of our festive Monks, the scandal almost brought down the government with them.  Even its own sense of nasty jape seem to have had a hand in the club's fading.  During one particularly intense mock black mass, ever-the-rogue John Wilkes took an ape, affixed it with a devil mask and released it during the service.  The outrage was wonderfully hysterical – though telling that the Earl of Sandwich (said by many to be very ugly, and very ugly tempered) was said to have fallen to his knees and said, "Spare me, gracious devil.  I am as yet but half a sinner.  I never have been so wicked as I pretended!"
The last meeting took place in 1762, shaken by scandal, internal conflicts, the Monks simply fell apart.  The caves fell into disrepair after the death of Dashwood, and soon the horror stories of the evil rites held there had hidden the truth; that it was once the festive and mocking domain of the Amorous Knights.
On a closing note, I have to relate one of my favorite events during the later part of the society.  In a bitter hypocrisy after the foundering of the club, that disreputable Earl of Sandwich had the notorious wit John Wilkes on the stand – in no doubt an act of revenge.  Proving himself beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was completely, utterly wicked, Sandwich belabored his previous fellow-monk until, in a fit of frustration at Wilke's calm and witty rejoinders proclaimed, "Sir, you will either die on the gallows, or by the pox!"
To which, in a perfect closing to this tale of elegant mischief, Wilkes responded, without batting an eye: "That depends, Sir, on whether I embrace your principals – or your mistress."

Friday, June 22, 2012

Weirdsville Love -

I can't ever say it enough: I have some truly incredible friends: just check out this post by dear friend, Ralph Greco, Jr., over at the Von Gutenberg site about my new book Welcome to Weirdsville:

Well-known writer, part-time rapscallion and full-time great friend of us all here at Von Gutenberg, M. Christian sees not only the release of his new Welcome To Weirdsville from Renaissance E Books/PageTurner Editions but also a five part video series connected with it called Did You Know? (see it here) written Renaissance publisher Jean Marie Stine and produced by media master, Bill Mills. 
Prolific scribe that he is (the guy has 400 stories published in anthologies alone!) we know M. Christian’s ability to not only turn a phrase but to unearth some of the most interesting tidbits on a subject, as he does in the non-fiction pieces he has penned for us and in WTW you’ll find more of the same as we learn about a noble Word War 1 German pirate, the City of Fire, the giggling genius of Brian G. Hughes, The Antikythera Device and much much more. 
Knowing the diabolical naughty mind of M. Christian as we do there are also quite a few forays into things kinky in this book (read his excerpt about the Hellfire Club here) 
Welcome To Weirdsville is a must for any student, devotes or those of us with a passing interest in marquis weirdness written about with unmatched aplomb. 
You can check M. Christian out here: and get the book here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Did You Know? Weird Facts #1: The Hellfire Club

I am ... speechless. This is just so damned cool: as a very special celebration of the release of my book Welcome to Weirdsville, Renaissance E Books/PageTurner Editions presenting a five part series Did You Know? written by our publisher Jean Marie Stine and produced by by our resident magnificent media master, and great guy, Bill Mills.

The first one, on the Hellfire Club, which I wrote about here, just went up.

"A wonderful compendium of interesting subjects and fascinating topics. Will keep you reading just to found out what's going to be covered next. Highly recommended for all lovers of weird & wonderful this side of the Universe." -Avi Abrams, Dark Roasted Blend.  
Peek under the rugs, open more than a few drawers, peek in the back shelves and you'll find that ... well, Lord Byron himself said it best: "Truth is always strange, stranger than fiction." Lakes that explode, parasites that can literally change your mind, The New Motor, a noble Word War 1 German pirate, the odd nature of ducks, the War Magician, the City of Fire, men and their too big guns, a few misplaces nuclear weapons, an iceberg aircraft carrier, the sad death of Big Mary, the all-consuming hunger of the Bucklands, the giggling genius of Brian G. Hughes, the Kashasha laughter epidemic.... Ponder that in a world that holds things like kudzu, ophiocordyceps unilateralis, The Antikythera Device, The Yellow Kid, Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, Alfred Jarry, Joseph Pujol, and suicide-bombing ants ... who knows what other kinds of wonders as well as horrors may be out there?
Welcome to Weirdsville 
M. Christian
PageTurner Editions
183 Pages
Available where all ebooks are found 

Friday, June 08, 2012

Welcome to Weirdsville: The Benevolent Sea-Devil

Here's an rollicking sample article from my new collection of what Avi Abrams of Dark Roasted Blend called "A wonderful compendium of interesting subjects and fascinating topics:"  Welcome to Weirdsville

Peek under the rugs, open more than a few drawers, peek in the back shelves and you'll find that ... well, Lord Byron himself said it best: "Truth is always strange, stranger than fiction." Lakes that explode, parasites that can literally change your mind, The New Motor, a noble Word War 1 German pirate, the odd nature of ducks, the War Magician, the City of Fire, men and their too big guns, a few misplaced nuclear weapons, an iceberg aircraft carrier, the sad death of Big Mary, the all-consuming hunger of the Bucklands, the giggling genius of Brian G. Hughes, the Kashasha laughter epidemic.... Ponder that in a world that holds things like kudzu, ophiocordyceps unilateralis, The Antikythera Device, The Yellow Kid, Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, Alfred Jarry, Joseph Pujol, and suicide-bombing ants ... who knows what other kinds of wonders as well as horrors may be out there?

The Benevolent Sea-Devil

The year: 1917, the height of the War To End All Wars, sadly now referred to as World War 1.  The Place: The Atlantic Ocean.  You: the captain of an allied merchant ship carrying coal from Cardiff to Buenos Aires. 
Then, like a ghost from the distant past, a ship appears: a beautiful three mastered windjammer flying a Norwegian flag.  Staggered by this hauntingly lovely anachronism you think nothing of it coming alongside – it was common, after all, for friendly ships to want to synchronize their chronometers – until, that is, the ship's Norwegian flag is quickly replaced by the German eagle and the captain, in amazingly polite terms, backed up by guns that have mysteriously appeared in the windjammer's gunwales, explains that your ship is now his.
And so you have been captured by the Seeadler ("Sea Eagle" in German), captained by Felix von Luckner, or, as he was known by both enemies as all as allies, the Benevolent Sea-Devil.
Some people's lives are so broad, so wild, so amazing that they simply don't seem real.  The stuff of Saturday Matinees?  Sure.  But real, authentic, true?  Never!  But if even half of Felix von Luckner's life is true – and there's no reason to really doubt any of it – then he was truly a broad, wild, and utterly amazing fellow.
Born in 1881, in Dresden, Felix ran away from home at 13.  Stowing away on a Russian trawler, he fell overboard – rescued, so the story goes, by grabbing hold of an albatross, the bird's flapping wings acting as a signal to a rescue party. 
Making his way to Australia, Felix tried a number of – to put it politely – odd jobs: boxer, circus acrobat, bartender, fisherman, lighthouse keeper (until discovered with the daughter of a hotel owner), railway worker, kangaroo hunter, and even had a stint in the Mexican army.  During all this Felix also became a notable magician and a favorite entertainer to no less than Kaiser Wilhelm himself.
Making his way back to Germany he passed his navigation exams and served aboard a steamer before getting called to serve in the Navy on the SMS Panther. 
Which brings us to that War That Was Supposedly The End To All Wars.  Even though it was fought with steel and oil, the German's outfitted a number of older ships as raiders – hidden guns, more powerful engines and the like – and sent them out to harass allied shipping.  Most of them were, to put it politely, a failure.  But then there was the Seeadler, under the command of Felix von Luckner.
During the course of the war Felix sank or captured no less that 16 ships – a staggering amount.  What's even more staggering is how Felix did it, and that he did it with grace, honor, and even a certain kindness.  You see, while the Seeadler took out those ships it, during its entire campaign, did it at the cost of only single human life.  Most of the time the scenario went just as it did with your merchant ship carrying coal from Cardiff to Buenos Aries: the Seeadler would approach a target, raise its German eagle and that would be that: the crew and cargo would be captured and the ship scuttled.  Sometimes she'd fire a shot to two to get her pint across that she was serious, but it wasn't until the British ship, Horngarth, that anyone had actually been killed.  Tricked into thinking they were investigating a stricken ship – Felix had actually used a smoke generator – the captured Horngarth had refused to stop broadcasting a distress signal.  A single shot took out the radio but unfortunately killed the operator.  Felix von Luckner, though, gave the man a full military funeral at sea and even went as far as to write the poor man's family telling them that he had died with honor.
To give you even more evidence that Felix von Luckner more than deserved the "benevolent" in his "Benevolent Sea-Devil" nickname he treated everyone he captured with dignity and respect: captured sailors were paid for their time while on his ship and officers ate with him at his captain's table.  When the Seeadler got too packed with prisoners, by this time more than 300, Felix captured the Cambronne, a little French ship, cut down her masts and let all his prisoners go with the understanding that if they happened to get picked up before making land they wouldn't tell where the Seeadler was going.  Respecting Felix's honor they didn't.
Alas, the Seeadler's rule of the Atlantic had to end sometime – but even that just adds to the broad, wild, and utterly amazing life of Felix von Luckner.  With the British – and now the Americans – hot on her tail, Felix decided to take a quick barnacle-scraping break from piracy by putting the Seeadler into a bay on Mopelia, a tiny coral atoll.  Now stories here conflict a bit – Felix always claimed that a rogue tsunami was to blame – but I think the more-standard explanation that the crew and prisoners of the Sealer were simply having a picnic on the island when their windjammer drifted aground.
Taking a few of his men in some long boats, Felix sailed off towards Fiji intending to steal a ship and come back for the Seeadler.  Through a series of incredible adventures – including claiming to be Dutch-Americans crossing the Atlantic on a bet – the Sea-Devil was himself tricked into surrendering by the Fijian police who threatened, after becoming suspicious of one of Felix's stories, to sink his boat with an actually-unarmed ferry.  By the way, the remaining crew and prisoners of the Seeadler had their own adventures, leading eventually to the escape of the prisoners and the capturing of the Seeadler's crew.
But even a Chilean prison camp wasn't the end for Felix, or not quite the end.  Using the cover of putting on a Christmas play, he and several other prisoners managed to steal the warden's motorboat and then seize a merchant ship.  Alas, Felix's luck ran out when they were captured again and spent the rest of the war being moved from one camp to another.
But rest assured the story doesn't end there.  Far from it: after writing a book about his various adventures, Felix von Luckner toured the world entertaining audiences about the Seeadler – as well as demonstrating his strength by tearing phone books in half and bending coins between thumb and forefinger. 
While, with the rise of Hitler, some people thought of Felix as an apologist, the captain had no love for the Nazi's – especially since the German government had frozen his assets when he refused to renounce the honorary citizenships and honors he'd received during his travels.
But the story of Felix von Luckner still isn't over.  Retiring to the German town of Halle, he was asked by the mayor to negotiate the town's surrender to the Americans.  While he did this, earning not only the respect of the Americans and the gratitude of the citizens, his reward from the Nazi's was to be sentenced to death.  Luckily, Felix managed to flee to Sweden where he lived until passing away at the age of 84.
War is horror, war is pointless death, and war is needless suffering.  But because of men like Felix von Luckner, war can also show the good, noble side of man – and that some men can remarkably earn the respect of friend and enemy alike.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Welcome to Weirdsville: The Book!

As some of you may know, I've written a whole bunch of short weird history, weird art, weird science and just plain ... well, weird pieces over the years for sites like the late-lamented Bonetree, The Cud, and - especially - Dark Roasted Blend.  

Well, I am very excited to be able to announce the publication of a whole collection of these pieces - and more! - in Welcome to Weirdsville by the fabulous Renaissance E Books/Pageturner Books!

As part of publicity for this fun project I'm also going to be posting some of the articles here and on Meine Kleine Fabrik (both the Blogger and the Tumblr version).

Avi, by the way, just posted a delightful announcement about the book on Dark Roasted Blend.  Thanks so much, Avi!

"A wonderful compendium of interesting subjects and fascinating topics. Will keep you reading just to found out what's going to be covered next. Highly recommended for all lovers of weird & wonderful this side of the Universe." -Avi Abrams, Dark Roasted Blend.  
Sure, you may know M. Christian as an erotica master - or even as a respected author of science fiction (see his Love Without Gun Control for example) but did you know that he is also the author of this brand-new book of historical - and humorous - essays and tidbits?  Read Welcome to Weirdsville and we'll promise you'll never look at the world the same way again! 
Peek under the rugs, open more than a few drawers, peek in the back shelves and you'll find that ... well, Lord Byron himself said it best: "Truth is always strange, stranger than fiction." Lakes that explode, parasites that can literally change your mind, The New Motor, a noble Word War 1 German pirate, the odd nature of ducks, the War Magician, the City of Fire, men and their too big guns, a few misplaced nuclear weapons, an iceberg aircraft carrier, the sad death of Big Mary, the all-consuming hunger of the Bucklands, the giggling genius of Brian G. Hughes, the Kashasha laughter epidemic.... Ponder that in a world that holds things like kudzu, ophiocordyceps unilateralis, The Antikythera Device, The Yellow Kid, Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, Alfred Jarry, Joseph Pujol, and suicide-bombing ants ... who knows what other kinds of wonders as well as horrors may be out there?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Dark Roasted M.Christian

Check it out: a brand new Dark Roasted Blend piece I did just went up: Exploring the Ruins of Gary, Indiana

"Professor" Harold Hill, the charming yet totally dubious traveling salesman in The Music Man, waxes poetic about this town.  But the song he sings is laced with sarcasm: each note nothing but a needle-prick of scorn.

But Gary, Indiana, used to be more than just the subject of a con man's contempt.  For a long time, it was a city bright with prospect, bustling with commerce, bubbling with the laughter of prosperity.  Sure, even at its heights, the town was never as sleepless as New York, flavorful as San Francisco, or sultry as New Orleans.  But Gary was still a place apparently built on a sturdy foundation, reinforced by the seemingly never-ending need for steel.  Boring?  Yes.  So "Professor" Harold Hill put his tongue in his cheek and sang a song of the wonders of the place.

But Gary, back then, was still a good place, a productive place.  Founded in 1906, it was a gleaming city built of, and because of, steel.  Quite literally, in fact; while other cities may have been at the intersections of trails or roads, rivers and rivers, or where sea met land, Gary was built by and for U.S. Steel and even christened for that corporation's founder.

For decades, Gary was as tough and resilient as the metals it produced.  It survived the Great Depression, it fought off the war years, and it forged and pressed through the 1950s.  But during the 1960s, its gleaming life's blood—steel—proved to be its undoing when the industry began to wane, then almost totally collapse, due to cheaper manufacturing overseas.

Now, though, Gary, Indiana has become a visual accompaniment of Hill's song. What he sang in playful mocking has now become a sad ballad of municipal failure, a once-proud and productive American city abandoned to cracks and collapse, ruin and rust, and decay and destruction.  Gary, Indiana, has become its own urban tombstone, with each house, building, and factory an epitaph practically bearing the inscription WHAT USED TO BE.

But even in collapse, ruin, and decay, there is still something oddly special, weirdly beautiful, poignantly lovely about the city of Gary, Indiana.

David Tribby, a truly remarkable artist whose medium is light and film, has pointed his skilled lenses at this city and has captured not just what this formerly great American city has become in its failure and decomposition but also the ghostly after-images of what it used to be. The images show the sadness of its fall from being full of bustling life to whispering ruins.

Here, in these astonishing images, Tribby makes us hold our breaths in reverent silence.  The golden light still streaming through the windows of a church where songs used to be sung.

The windows, some broken, others intact, that used to look out on a lively coming-and-going city, that have become nothing but mirrors reflecting on what used to be.

Yet, while Tribby's photographs may seem like a tour through the depressing landscape of a world falling apart, crumbling away, fading into nothing, there is still something magical about the city he captures.  The American metropolis of Gary, Indiana, is all but gone now, but in its destruction, there is also a strange kind of beauty, a haunting elegance to its failure, that Tribby has exposed through his talented eye.

Within these images, the song from The Music Man perhaps echoing in the background, is a kind of shuddering reminder of our own urban mortality.  Gary, after all, is not far away, not foreign, not exotic: it is our own next-door neighbor, and our own possible future.  The dark beauty of Tribby's work says to all of us that while the ruins are in their own way astonishing, they are also evidence of what could happen anywhere, even, as Hill sings, in our own home town: the "one place that can light my face."

Yes, Hill sings his song of Gary with clear sarcasm and bile, but when he sang that it was the town that "knew me when," he could very well be seeing the city as it is now: the Gary, Indiana, that Tribby has frozen in place.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Dark Roasted M.Christian

Check it out: a brand new Dark Roasted Blend piece I did just went up: this time on nuclear ... well, EVERYTHING

Fans of the old, but still wonderful, Road Runner cartoons might remember Wile E. Coyote's favorite one-stop-shop for mayhem: The Acme Company.  A clever person – not one of us, alas – once said that Acme's slogan should be "We Add Rockets To Everything."

This, in a kind of round-about way, gets us to the 1950s and the near-obsession that certain engineers had back then with a certain power source.  To put it another way, their slogan should have been: "We Add Nuclear Power To Everything."

In all fairness, reactors have proven – for the most part – to be pretty reliable.  Submarines, commercial power plants, and even monstrous icebreakers have proven that nuclear power can be handy if not essential.  But back just a few decades ago there were plans, and even a few terrifying prototypes, that would have made the Coyote green with envy – and the rest of us shudder in terror.

Both the US and the Soviet Union had engineers with lofty plans to keep bombers in the air indefinitely by using nuclear power.  Most folks, with even a very basic knowledge of how reactors work, would think that was a bit (ahem) risky, but what's even scarier is how far along some of those plans got.

Take, for example, the various projects the US undertook.  In one case, arguably the most advanced, they made plans to power a Convair B-36 bomber with a reactor.  Scary?  Sure, but what's even more so is that they actually flew the plane, with an operational reactor, a total of 47 times.

While that the reactor never actually powered the plane itself, and that there were huge problems to overcome, didn’t stop the engineers from drawing up plans for a whole plethora of atomic planes:

But what was perhaps even crazier than just powered a plane with a nuclear reactor was the idea to use that power source as a weapon.  Here, for example, is a beautiful representation of the Douglas 1186 system, which was supposed to use a parasite fighter to guide the warhead to the target – and keep the poor pilot from engine's radiation.

But the craziest of the crazy was the "Flying Crowbar."  Not only was the Supersonic Low Altitude Missile (to be formal), aka SLAM (to be short), supposed to be a nuclear bomb deployment system but was also to use a nuclear ramjet drive as a weapon: roasting the ground under it to a Geiger-clicking nightmare while leaving a mushroom-cloud parade of bombs behind it.  Shuddering, by the way, would be a perfectly appropriate response.  Luckily, the Crowbar never got off the drawing board.

Leaving the air to the birds, other engineers had different nuclear dreams: In 1958 the Ford Motor Car Company, not satisfied with the success of the Edsel, put forth the idea of bringing radiation into the American home ... or, at least, the garage, with the Nucleon: a family car with an on-board reactor.

While some engineers played with the highways, a few looked to the rails.  Though neither the United States of the Soviet Union got very far with powering a locomotive with a reactor, the USSR at least looked far enough ahead to draw up some plans:

The Soviets, in a literally sky-high dream, even envisioned a new approach to flying their reactors: use a Zeppelin!  Here's a nice little propaganda piece on their ideas for an atomic airship:
Still other inventive types, determined to find a new use for the atom, scratched their heads and came up with quite a few interesting, if not dubious, ways of playing with nukes – but this time of the explosive variety.  Plowshare is one of the most commonly quoted of those operations intended to put a smiley face in a mushroom cloud.  A few of their suggested uses include what they called the Pan-Atomic Canal: in other words, using atomic bombs to widen the Panama Canal.  They also suggested using nukes for mining operations, though never really solved the problem of dealing with then-radioactive ore.

It's ironic that -- what with the need to urgently replace our finite and global-warming fossil fuels – that many are suggesting a new look at the power of the atom.  We can only hope that we, today, can be as imaginative about it as they used to be back in the 1950s ... and a lot more responsible.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Dark Roasted M.Christian

Check it out: a brand new Dark Roasted Blend piece I did just went up: this time about the screw-drive machines

Ever since Mr. Bronze Age had the inspired thought that led to the wheel humans have been trying to think of new ways to get from point A to point B.  Several thousand years after Mr. Bronze Age's inspired invention, in the 1770s to be rather inexact, British inventor Richard Lovell Edgeworth, created the ancestor of what would eventually become the continuous track method of locomotion.  Don't recognize the term?  You'll certainly know it when you see it in operation on many tractors or, where it's head-smackingly obvious, on every tank that's been on every battlefield since the British first used it in World War One.

But in 1868 the American inventor Jacob Morath had a truly inspired idea: a screw-propelled vehicle.  Don’t recognize that term either?  That's not surprising because, even though many people today will celebrate its virtues, it's not exactly a common sight.

The basic idea of a screw-propelled vehicle is simple enough: instead of wheels or tracks, you build a vehicle with a pair of, as Wikipedia puts it "auger-like cylinders fitted with a helical flange."  To make that a bit easier to understand, think of a machine that literally crawls along the ground on a pair of giant screws.  To turn you use the same method a tank does: one screw either gets locked in place while the other one doesn't or, to make a 360 turn, turn one screw one way and the other ... well, the other way.

In 1907, James and Ira Peavey, were quite literally driven to create a practical screw-propelled machine to help their lumbering in Maine.  The machine proved very useful since the screw-propulsion could move whatever you wanted moved through snow and mud and all kinds of nasty conditions.  You also didn't need to worry about anything getting caught in the tracks, like with a caterpillar, and since they had much fewer moving parts they were easier to maintain.

Quite a few screw machines were built afterwards, though they remained less than popular.  But when World War Two loomed, the idea of a screw-propelled war machine intrigued the eccentric genius Geoffrey Pyke -- who you no doubt remember as the inventor of the iceberg aircraft carrier.  Alas, Pyke's concept of a very small, very fast, attack machine got (ahem) shot down and his idea was eventually whittled down to the very-rarely known Weasel.  Unfortunately, the Weasel was whittled down even more and the screw propulsion was dropped in favor of standard caterpillar tracks.

Another benefit screws have over caterpillars is the possibility of being amphibious.  There's no reason, for instance, that the screws couldn't be hollow and so could also act as floats.  During the Vietnam war, for example, Chrysler experimented with a screw-propelled machine.  Unfortunately, their take on the technology didn't exactly wow the US military and the project was dropped.

The Soviets, in the meantime, had a machine specifically designed to go where no man ever wanted to go -- in their case to retrieve cosmonauts from remote landing sites: the poetically named ZIL-2906.

One of the most amazing uses of screw propulsion has to be Joseph Jean de Bakker's.  In the 1960s the Dutch inventor created the Amphirol, a machine designed to take anyone pretty much anywhere. What made Joseph Jean de Bakker machine better than other versions of screwing yourself across the landscape was its performance.  Not only could his Amphirol go across marshes and over other sticky situations but it was also amphibious.  That wasn't the end of its wow factor, though, because the Amphirol could do all that and also crawl sideways.  Try doing that with four wheels or with caterpillar tracks.

While still rare, the idea of screw-propulsion is still out there: the concept appearing in all kinds of civilian and military proposals.  While watching one in action, though, William Cowper's quote comes immediately to mind: it "moves in a mysterious way."

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Dark Roasted M.Christian

Check it out: a brand new Dark Roasted Blend piece I did just went up: this time about wild world of slot cars.

Be it jewel or toy, not the prize gives the joy, but the striving to win the prize.

- Robert Bulwer-Lytton

1912 was a rather eventful year: New Mexico and Arizona became states, The RMS Titanic hit a iceberg and sank, The Girl Scouts were founded, the Boston Red Sox defeated the New York Giants, and Lionel toys produced and sold the very first slot car set.

While the present generation has thoroughly moved into the digital age, for millions of people before them slot cars were a cherished feature of childhood. For a few wonderfully eccentric hobbyists, they are still the next best thing to climbing into turbo-charged reality, smashing the gas pedal down, and roaring into the thrill of the race.

I am an artist the track is my canvas and my car is my brush.

- Graham Hill

For those unfortunate few who never had the bliss of assembling the track, picking just the right car, and squeezing the little plastic control and sending that same perfect car flying out of control across the rec room carpeting, slot cars are mechanically very simple: the track – which is modular, allowing an almost infinite number of configurations, from the Monaco Grand Prix to Germany's Nürburgring – has two power strips and the cars have fickle brushes to pick up the power, and a neat little electric motor to make the wheels go 'round.

But it's what those already-mentioned eccentric hobbyists have done with that simple concept that is truly staggering: from cars that are exquisitely detailed and painstakingly reproduced from high-performance reality to tracks that run from exact scale copies of legendary circuits to totally insane fantasy, slot cars have become the medium for an dazzling amount of creativity.

Anything happens in Grand Prix racing, and it usually does.

- Murray Walker

If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough.

- Mario Andretti

Why does a track have to be just loops and hammerheads and all that? Here's a really fun and unique approach to racing: a hill climb!

When you talk about brilliant track designs, though, you have to talk about the beautiful, and commonly considered most impressive, slot car track in the world: James-Michael Gregory Harlan's White Lake Formula 1 track. Taking over 3 years to complete, the track is the ultimate racing circuit in a very convenient smaller scale. 


It is amazing how may drivers, even at the Formula One Level, think that the brakes are for slowing the car down.
- Mario Andretti

Even though they may be small in stature, that doesn't mean the slot cars can’t be ... well, 'immense' doesn't quite fit but you have to admit the track that was created by journalist, and Top Gear presenter, James May for his wonderful BBC series Toy Stories, has a huge amount of WOW power: ladies and gentlemen, auto enthusiasts of all scales, the world's longest slot car track!

If you don’t know James May and his Toy Stories show you really should: determined to reintroduce 21st century kids to his own beloved childhood hobbies, he – with the help of the great British public – created and assembled a full-size model Spitfire, a Meccano bridge strong enough to support a man, a Lego house big enough to actually live in, an entire garden made out of Plasticine (and enter it into the Chelsea garden show), then a ten mile long model train track.

But the episode we're interested in is the one done as a celebration of Scalextric (the British slot car manufacturer) as well as the legendary Brooklands racetrack. Using planning that rivaled putting on a full-scale Grand Prix, James created a 2.75 mile long track that followed the original race course. When it was finished, the flag was dropped and two teams – one made of slot car enthusiasts and one of just local folks – blasted at scale speeds towards the finish line. But since it wasn't possible to power the entire length of the track a relay system had to be used, so as the car passed from one section of track to the other someone new had to take control. 

James May(life size) posing with Scalextric cars (smaller scale).

And if you think that all this is a bit too whimsical -- that slot cars are fine and dandy for crazy stunts or seriously dedicated hobbyists -- then take a look at the following designs for public transportation systems, all of them using the same basic idea of our beloved childhood toy. The slot car is not just racing in miniature, a venue for art and eccentricity, but it's actually become a plan for the future of transpiration.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Dark Roasted M.Christian

Check it out: a brand new Dark Roasted Blend piece I did just went up: this time about artists who work with the earth itself.

Go to a museum and look at the paintings, or the sculpture.  Go to a bookstore and read the novels, or the stories, or the poems.  Go to a concert and listen to the music.

Look out the window ... and see art?  Some artists use oils, charcoal, watercolors, words, or notes but others use the earth itself, sometimes on a scale that, to appreciate it, means stepping far away from it: very far away.

Travel to Catron County, New Mexico, for instance and you'll see a work that is immediately, and quite literally, striking.  Created by Walter De Maria, The Lightning Field is 400 steel poles set in a grid covering one mile by one kilometer portion of desert land.  The Lightning Field is impressive, a haunting visa of steel spears against the dramatic landscape of the Southwest, but what gives it that literal striking beauty is that De Maria plan for his work involves those poles interacting with one of the most beautiful signs in the desert: lightning.  Given the right set of circumstances, nature itself paints itself in brilliant illuminations of forked electricity, shaped and sculpted by De Maria's metal rods.

Not that far away, in Rozel Point, Utah, you'll see an installation that, because of the on-again, off-again nature of the material it's made of actually vanished for close than 30 years.  Created by Robert Smithson using natural rock, Spiral Jetty is exactly that: a coiling formation of stone that, when it was first created in 1970, was harshly black but as it aged its become more and more pink and white because of the its home in the Great Salt Lake.  As with The Lightning Field, Spiral Jetty works with the earth itself, not just in appearance, meaning color, but also as in appearing and disappearing: when the water rose in the lake the work it did it's already-mentioned disappearing act, only to reappear again recently.

While not as large in scale as Smithson or De Maria, there's an artist whose work has been known to bring tears to even the most jaded of eyes. Andy Goldsworthy works with nature, and nothing else, to create some truly unique, and absolutely beautiful, art.

 No glue, no supports, no paint ... nothing but grass, stone, ice, and the earth: Goldsworthy creates wonders with just the at hand wonder of the natural world.

Still existing on the earth, the art of Jim Denevan, is so large, so staggering, that to appreciate them you have to step away from it all: from the ground and even, in some cases, the earth itself.  Created, like Goldsworthy, with nature itself, one of Denevan's creations is acknowledged as the largest artwork created.  Ever.

At over nine miles across, this Denevan's creation in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, is the one for the record books ... that is, until Denevan or another artist likes him, goes for something even larger:

Another earth artist is Michael Heizer's work-in-progress called City, in Nevada.  Almost as big as it's namesake at one and a quarter miles long, Heizer's creation, however, is not steel and cement but stone and other natural materials.

James Turrell, too, uses the earth itself for his work but unlike some other environmental artists he uses not just the ground but also the sky above.  His Roden Crater, which is considered on the list of immense artworks with Denevan's creations, is an ongoing work that will, eventually, transform a natural crater in Flagstaff, Arizona, into an open air observatory where the earth will provide a naturally framed view of the sky above.

But if we have to talk about the earth and art, as well as art so big it can only be appreciated by being far above it, we have to travel to Peru, and back several thousand years into the past.

A favorite of ancient astronaut believers, the fact is that the Nazca lines were created by men and women who may have been working with simple tools but utilizing their very intelligent minds.  Created by removing the native gravel to expose the different-colored ground under, the lines depict a wide variety of shapes and forms, some purely geometric, but others representing the animals the Nazca natives were most familiar with: spiders, fish, llamas, lizards, hummingbirds and others.

While the execution is phenomenal, a low whistle is absolutely needed when that level of skill of coupled with the size of the lines.  The largest of the forms stretches almost across 900 feet across and pretty much all of them are all but invisible ... unless you happen to be high above the earth they were carved into.

Jack Clifton, author of The Eye of the Artist, said, "Man's reaction to his earth expressed by means of a medium is art."  In the case of these wonderful artists, the ground beneath our feet and the sky above our heads their art is the earth itself, a celebration of the world literally all around us.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Dark Roasted M.Christian

Check it out: a brand new Dark Roasted Blend piece I did just went up: this time about building REALLY big things ... and I mean REALLY big things ....

As you remember in our last show we talked about how to add extra storage space to your continent by turning mountain ranges into bookcases, turning lakes into bath tubs, and continental shelfs into decks.  Well, in this special episode of This Old World we're going to be taking the same approach but ramping it up a bit because, let's face it, even the best planet can only hold so many people.  One day – though probably not anytime soon – all of us are going to need to do some serious expanding.

Back in the 1920s Herman Sörgel had the right idea, though on a pretty small scale. Herman's plan was to do a bit of tinkering with a rather tiny, almost insignificant, part of the earth: the Mediterranean Sea.   Using readily available materials – though a lot of them – and technology he drew up plans to put a dam across the Straights of Gibraltar, and then to drain a large portion of the sea.  The dam, he said, would provide power, and the radically lowered Mediterranean would give Europe and Africa a bountiful new spread of fertile land.  Alas, Herman's Atlantropa never got off his drawing board but you have to admire his creativity – even if he didn't think big enough.

Christian Waldvogel, though, realized that if you're going to do some serious structural work it's better to overdo it than underdo it.  Let's face it, if you’re going to tear down an old classic like the Earth you might as well get as much from it as you can. Waldvogel's idea was to take the planet, every bit of it, and reform it into what he called Globus Cassus: a massive hollow shell that humanity would live inside of, sunlight coming in through continent-sized windows.  Since Globus Cassus would use all that wasted matter that otherwise is doing nothing but giving our little world gravity it would be much bigger, and with much more surface and living area than what we have now: imagine being on the inside of something the size of Jupiter.  Since there'd be no gravity the people living inside would be held in place by inertia – what used to be called centrifugal force -- by giving the structure an appropriate amount of spin.

The obvious question is that if you're going to be a doing a bit of fixing-upping then why just stick with the Earth?  There are plenty of other worlds in the solar system that are just sitting there, taking up space.  Adding their mass to your plan opens up whole new opportunities to add some serious dimensions to your expansion.

One of the smallest of these is Larry Niven's legendary ringworld.  The idea of rather simple: take most of the planets in the solar system, chew them up, and then turn them into a ring as long as Earth's orbit, as wide as the planet, with 1000 mile high edges to keep the air in.  A ringworld would certainly give you lots of extra space – something on the order of three million earths – and, like Globus Cassus, it would be spun to make fake gravity.  You could even make parts of it higher off the surface if you like your air a bit thinner, and if missed days and nights then you could put a row of black squares in an inner orbit to cast shadows.

No insult to Larry and his ringworld, though, it is on the smaller end of what you can do with a solar system if you really put your mind to it. Dan Alderson thought a bit bigger with his disc idea.  Once again, all you need to do to create one is take every speck of matter in the solar system but instead of creating a ring you make a disc.  Think a CD as thick as the earth's diameter – to make gravity – and with our sun in the center.  If you like it warm you can get closer to that center and if you like it colder then step back a bit.  If you miss the sunrises and sunsets then just bob the sun up and do so the folks on one side will get a bright day while the folks on the other will get a cooler night.  And since the disc is as thick as the earth you don't need to worry about needing to fake gravity.

But, once again, we just aren't thinking big enough.  Ponder the sun for a sec: isn't a lot of it being wasted on both a ringworld and a disc?  Why not simply put a sphere around a sun to catch every little photon and, as a huge bonus, give you a lot of real estate to play with.

The also-legendary Freeman Dyson had the very same thought, thus the structure that bears his name: a Dyson Sphere.  The only problem with a Dyson Sphere, aside from certain logistical headaches, is one of gravity as you can't do the same trick with a disc that you can do with a sphere.  But that doesn't mean you couldn't just spin the sphere, giving folks on the inside an illusion of it – though if you walked too far up or down the inside there might be some very odd effects.  If you really want to be ambitious, though, why not simply make the sphere as thick as the earth and have your population live on the outside?  Light could be provided by a parade of fake suns powered by the real sun trapped inside the sphere under their feet.

Next week we'll discus how to add some serious space to your solar system by taking the idea of the Dyson sphere and ramping it up a bit. After all, if you can cage a star why not do the same to a solar system or even a galaxy?

The sky -- to dismiss the cliché -- is not the limit when it comes to planetary engineering.