Check it out: a brand new Amazingly Enough: Lost And Found column just went live at Amazing Stories ... about a town that may, nor may not, exist!
Friday, April 10, 2015
Check it out: a brand new Amazingly Enough: Lost And Found column just went live at Amazing Stories ... about a town that may, nor may not, exist!
Thursday, January 22, 2015
Cool! Check out this brand new installment of my on-going series for Amazing Stories - this time on the tragic submergence of Mologa:
The tale of Mologa is singularly odd … as well as tragic … even in the always odd and periodically tragic domain of the lost.
Thursday, December 04, 2014
Check it out: a new kick-ass (if I say so myself) installment of my Amazing Stories column, Amazingly Enough, just went live!
LOST: Many novels, lots of paintings, quite a few films … and even a few cities…
Heartbreaking cat or dog stories get to some, others get teary when they think about passed loved ones … oh, sure, a sad lost kitten tale will get to me and there are far too many people who are no longer in my life (and are sorely missed) but what gets the waterworks really flowing is thinking about the movies, books, places, paintings, and music that are just … gone.
It’s becoming harder and harder to fathom the idea of anything really being totally missing: this is, after all, the age of the Internet and we are all far-too familiar with the maxim “the web never forgets.” But even a cursory glance at history will bring tears to the eyes of even the most cold-hearted.
For instance, you’ll never watch Lucien Hubbard’s The Mysterious Island; visit Itjtawy, an ancient Egyptian capital; or experience the legendary Amber Room…
Oh, sure, there’s still a chance that some of these treasures – and the thousands of others – might someday reappear, but for now they’ve just disappeared, vanished … gone.
Even cutting down the sob-story list of the missing to just films and a few special books – because, let’s face it, the catalog of paintings and music that can’t be found is simply staggering – leaves a pretty depressing catalog of absent features and tomes.
A few are not just absent but also damned alluring. Sure, more than few of the missing films were very small budget affairs (like some of Andy Warhol and Kenneth Anger’s) but more than a few of them were pretty lavish affairs.
And one is just plain weird. Most of you know kaiju (Japanese big monster movies, for the nerd-impaired). True aficionados of the genre gloat in knowing not just the first kaiji is the legendary Gojira but that it was made in 1954.
Thursday, October 17, 2013
This is very cool: the great Avi of the extra-great Dark Roasted Blend just reprinted our article on the Deadliest Creatures (that are Easiest to Miss) - which is also in my book Welcome To Weirdsville as "Fear Itself."
Check out this tease below - or click though to read the whole thing ... or buy the book:
Real terror lurks in quiet darkness
The deadliest (and easiest to miss) critters lurk in dark silence, ready to strike with either the barest of warnings or none at all - and with absolutely fatal venom.
Some you've heard about, and so sit there and scoff. Yeah, big deal: rattlesnake, cobra, black widow -- either you can hear them coming, avoid going to India, or simply not stick your hands into dark places. They are nothing but annoyances: fatal only to the truly stupid, or very sick... But there are others, nasty little things as vicious and deadly as they are quiet and unassuming.
1. The Cone Snail: can kill you in less than 4 minutes
Say, for instance, you are happily walking through the low surf merrily picking up and discarding shells, looking for just the right one to decorate your desk back at the office.
With no warning at all, however, you feel a sharp sting from one of those pretty shells -- a sting that quickly flares into a crawling agony. With that quick sting, the cone snail's barbed spear has insidiously injected you with one of the most potent neurotoxins in existence.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Here's something very, very fun: a brand new Welcome To Weirdsville piece I wrote on the infamous "Project Acoustic Kitty" just went up on the delightful Aussie Cud site.
Here's a tease:
"Good morning, Mister Phelps. Your mission, if you decide to accept it, is to read the following without either shaking your head in absolute wonder or collapsing to the floor in hysterics. As always, should you or any of your IM force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions. Good luck, Jim. This tape will self-destruct in five seconds..."
I mean, come on: it's bad enough that fun and weird history writers like myself can't just relax when people bring up ghosts or UFOs, ridiculous, conspiracy theories, or astrology without collapsing into hysterical giggles, gasping for air trying to get out, "You think that's strange? Wait until you hear this--" without that same bizarre universe throwing out yet another example of how truly, honestly, and totally surreal the planet really can be.
Okay, to be honest, the 1960s were a total benchmark for the odd ... especially in the world of already-far-too-odd world of espionage. It was, after all, when the CIA was drawing up plans to make Fidel Castro's beard fall out with hormone-tainted cigars or blow him up with booby-trapped seashells as they were dosing unsuspecting US citizens with acid – while on the other side of the world their opposite numbers were killing people with poisoned umbrellas and (by plan or their own stupidity) convincing the US that psychic remote viewing actually worked.
It should come as no surprise then that somewhere in this fuming cauldron of bizarre, someone, somewhere in Langley – the Directorate of Science And Technology to be precise – began to dream of a totally new information gathering technique.
What put this technique into the surreal, if not utterly insane, column were the recruits for this project. To be fair, animals had been used quite successfully by covert, as well as overt, operations for hundreds of years: horses have been used in combat since human beings first climbed on the back of one, birds – carrier pigeons to be precise – have been used for a very long time to get information from remote locations back to base, dogs have been trained for both combat as well as stealth assassinations, and -- adding to the crazy of the crazy the 1960s – trained dolphins were first imagined as Flipper with a suicide pill.
Thursday, July 18, 2013
Thursday, June 27, 2013
This is very, very cool: a brand new Welcome To Weirsville piece I wrote just went up on the excellent The Cud site.
Here's a tease below - and, of course, if you want to read more pieces about fun and odd and strange and (yep) weird history check out my book Welcome To Weirdsville
Almost all absurdity of conduct arises from the imitation of those who we cannot resemble. –Samuel Johnson
"Stop fidgeting, everyone ... Jimmy, that'd better not be gum in your mouth! No, Betty you can't go to the bathroom – you should have thought of that before we started ... now you'll just have to wait for the break. Okay, class, today we're going to be discussing possibly one of – if not the -- most important literary figures of the twentieth century: a woman who pretty much single handedly created what we consider to be modern literature..."
But, believe me, do some digging and there's juice a plenty in those dusty heroes – and while many of them certainly deserve to be on their lofty pedestals you'll quickly learn that more than a few of them might be wonderfully, delightfully, fun ... if not totally nuts.
Sarah Bernhardt, for instance, the legendary light of the stage, not only had a wooden leg, liked to sleep in her coffin, but also had quite a few ... involvements, shall we say, with people such as Victor Hugo and Gustavo Doré; Tycho Brahe, one of the brightest stars in astronomy not only had a fake metal nose (having lost his original in a duel) but kept an on-staff dwarf for the entertainment of his guests as well as himself; Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize to his name, was an notorious humorist and prankster -- as well as quite the established cracksman, even claiming to have once easily got into the safe containing the plans for the first atomic bomb; Georges Simenon, the master French mystery author, not wrote over 200 novels but also claimed to have made love to 10,000 women; and let's not even get started on what M.Christian likes to do with balloon animals...
Which takes us to 1910, back when Britain quite literally ruled the waves: the time of what has been called by many to be the date of the greatest prank in all of history ... and the literary light who had a major part in it.
Now pranks were nothing new, especially for students of Cambridge, but this one – orchestrated by the infamously witty Horace de Vere Cole – set the bar. Horace tried afterward to top himself several times afterward, including infamously dumping horse ... leavings in the canals in Venice (to confuse the non-horse city residents), or arranging a group of bald men to sit in strategic places at the theater so that their domes, when viewed from the balcony, would spell out a rather (ahem) rude word, but his crowning achievement involved the pride of the British Navy, a few of his close friends, some costuming skills, the flag of Zanzibar, and a brilliant degree of planning – all of which rocked the world and nearly got one of them a sentence of ten of the best with a cane.
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Very cool: the fantastic Dark Roasted Blend just posted by article on the theft of the Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo (the Mona Lisa to you and I).
This, and other fun articles can, of course, be found in my fun book, Welcome to Weirdsville - out now from Renaissance E Books/PageTurner Editions.
If it had been done in this age of iphones, ipads, and the rest of our high tech ilives, the movie would have had Clooney or Willis dangling upside down over a pick-up-sticks weave of alarm lasers while a geeky cohort (maybe Steve Buscemi or Alan Cumming), face green from the digital overload bouncing up from a laptop, rattles off a second-by-second update on the imminent wee-oo-wee-oo arrival of the stern-jawed Groupe d'Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale.
But while the lady did vanish – a very, very special lady – the means of her vanishing, while maybe a tad less dramatic, is no less fascinating. While you'll no doubt immediately recognize the lady in question, you may not know her full name, or some of the more interesting details of her portrait. Begun by a certain well-known artist back in 1503, the likeness of Lisa del Giocondo wasn't finished until some years later, around 1519. After the death of this rather well known artist, the painting was purchased by King François I, and then, after a certain amount of time and other kings, it finally ended up in the Louvre. An interesting note, by the way, is that – while not a King – the painting was borrowed from the Louvre by Napoleon to hang in his private quarters, and was returned to that famous French museum when the Emperor became ... well, not the Emperor.
Its official title is Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo but the smile says it all, and in 1911 it was stolen – and wasn't returned until 1913.
While much of the theft is still a mystery, what is known is that on August 22, 1912, Louis Béroud, a painter and fan of the legendary Mona Lisa, came into the Louvre early one morning to study the famous work of Leonardo da Vinci, instead finding a bare wall. In a pure Inspector Clouseau bit of history, the museum staff didn't immediately put bare wall and missing painting together and instead thought the painting had been taken to be photographed. It took
Béroud, checking with the photographers themselves, to bring it to the attention of the guards that the painting had been stolen.
Suspects were many and varied: a curious one was Guillaume Apollinaire, the critic and surrealist, who, because he can once called for the Louvre to be burnt to the ground, was actually arrested. While no-doubt annoying, he was eventually cleared and released, but not before trying to finger, unsuccessfully, a friend of his for the theft, another rather well known painter by the name of Pablo Picasso.
Alas, the actual thief and the method of the robbery are almost painfully plain, though the man and the means weren't discovered until much later. In 1913, Vincenzo Peruggia, a Louvre employee, was nabbed when he contacted Alfredo Geri, who ran a gallery in Florence, Italy, about the stolen painting.
The story that emerged after his arrest was that on August 20th, 1912, had Peruggia hid in the museum overnight. On the morning of Sunday, the 21st, he emerged from hiding, put on one of the smocks used by employees and, with ridiculous ease, simply took what is arguably the most famous painting in the world and put it under his coat and walked out the door with it. When the gendarmes later knocked on Peruggia's door they'd simply accepted his excuse that he'd been working somewhere else the day of the theft, while the painting was hidden under his bed.
What isn't plain, though, was Peruggia's motivation for the theft.
Monday, April 01, 2013
In honor of the 1st of April here's a fun little piece from The Cud - that's now, of course, in my new book, Welcome To Weirdsville, about one of my all-time favorite pranksters: the legendary Brian G. Hughes!
"A Priest, A Rabbi, and A Minister Walk Into a Bar–"
What? You've heard that one? How about: "There once was a man from Nantucket–"
That one too? What about: "Yer Momma is so–"
Well, here's one who probably haven't ever heard, the one that starts: "There was this guy, named Brian G. Hughes..."
There was this guy, named Brian G. Hughes. He was an Einstein, a Salk, a Beethoven, a da Vinci – but he wasn't a physicist, a doctor, a composer, or a painter. He was, according to the society pages, a rather wealthy box manufacturer and a banker. But his genus wasn't in cardboard or playing the market.
New York around the turn of the previous century was a pretty dull berg, full of overly stuffed shirts and far-too-puffed-out egos. It was a dull place, a humorless place, a terribly stiff place – a city, and a society, that Brian G. Hughes saw as needing to be seriously goosed.
And goose it he did: with a flare and a flamboyance that shook New York from Battery Park to Queens. Take for instance the time he donated a plot of valuable Brooklyn real estate to the city, to be made into a public park. Great gesture, right? Fine civic spirit, correct? That's what the Board of Aldermen thought – until they actually took the time to check it out. See, the plot of land Brian G. Hughes had donated was only a two-by-six foot plot. Hey, he never said it would make a big park ...
Then there was the time he donated a mansion to a few well-respectable historical societies, one he claimed the Marquis de Lafayette had lived in during the War of Independence. "Wow" went the Ladies of those Historical Societies, "What a find." Until they checked out the real estate and discovered the mansion was actually a dilapidated flophouse in the Bronx. Seriously lacking in the giggle department, the ladies tried to have him committed. Now there was a hearing worth attending.
But real estate wasn't the only thing Hughes used in his pranks. For instance, he would routinely hang out in front of Tiffany's and drop boxes of fake jewels – just to watch people scramble to snatch up the supposed treasures. Another time he left a set of burglar tools out in front of a building. Nothing special in that, right? Well, the building was the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which prompted the – no doubt humorless – curator to close the entire landmark to frantically search for any missing paintings.
Love cats? Well, Mr. Hughes did – though he hated the pomposity of cat shows. One time he entered what he claimed was a spectacularly rare species. The whole of New York was buzzing about this feline masterpiece, and it even won a ribbon, though later on it was revealed that the cat, "Nicodemus, by Broomstick out of Dustpan by Sweeper, the last of the exotic Brindle breed," had actually been a common stray bought from a hobo.
Love horses? Well, Mr. Hughes ... I think you know where this might be going. His "Orphan Puldeca, out of Metropolitan by Electricity" thoroughly impressed the horse show crowd, until one sharper-than-average person figured out that "Orphan Puldeca" meant "Often Pulled the Car" and Hughes admitted that his entry was a noble example of a simple trolley horse.
Say you happened to be in a downtown establishment during, alas, a totally unexpected downpour. Why, look over there: a lovely – and apparently unclaimed – umbrella. It wouldn't be theft, you argue with yourself. You'll bring it right back, you conclude. Except that the instant you opened the umbrella, one of hundreds placed around the city, a banner would unfurl proclaiming that the bumbershoot had been STOLEN FROM BRIAN G. HUGHES.
While Mr. Hughes was, no doubt, a charming person to know it was best not to accept tickets from him as he was known to (tee-hee-hee) print up hundreds different ones to all kinds of events – which never existed.
Then, perhaps the capper to a wonderfully colorful career keeping the too-well-heeled on their toes and putting pepper up the noses of the upper-crusts, he announced that he – at considerable expense and at tremendous personal risk – would embark on an expedition to deepest and no-doubt darkest South American in pursuit of the elusive reetsa.
For weeks New York was on the edge of its manicured toes, gasping in excitement into its perfumed handkerchiefs, as word of the Hughes expedition was leaked out until, just as high society feared they could take no more, it was announced that Hughes would be returning to the island – with a living, breathing resets!
The city was aghast, the city was amazed, the city was riveted. By the thousands they came down to the docks to watch Hughes return, triumphant, from his perilous journey. Then, those crowds frozen in suspense, the ship arrived and Hughes made his triumphant appearance – with is captured reetsa...
There was this guy, named Brian G. Hughes, who convinced all of New York City that he'd traveled to South America to capture the mysterious reetsa – that turned out to be a simple farm animal, which he led down the gangplank backwards. Reetsa, naturally being "a steer" spelled backwards.
Here’s to you, Brian G. Hughes: the man who made an island laugh, a whole city giggle, who brought practical jokes to a whole new, and gloriously special, level: truly the last of a very special exotic brindle breed.
Saturday, March 23, 2013
This is exceptionally cool: a brand new piece I wrote for Dark Roasted Blend - on Some of the Biggest Spills And Accidents - just went up. Check out the teaser below - and for the full thing just click here.
And, don't forget, I have an entire book of this stuff available right now: Welcome To Weirdsville!
"Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes." -Oscar Wilde
What makes this quick look at ten big-time spills, accidents, and boo-boos especially scary is that they far too often involve stuff that you’d think we'd be taking extra-extra-extra special care with: industrial waste, nuclear weapons, molasses, and - more shocking than anything else - beer.
Even though evolution has graced us homo sapiens with two of them, the briefest glances at the history of extremely large scale accidents is more than enough to make us wonder if we should be sporting nothing but thumbs.
10. The Demon Core
It seems as soon as mankind started splitting them, we've been letting atoms slip through our fingers. Even putting aside the sad irony of Marie Sklodowska-Curie dying by her own discovery of radioactivity, our earliest attempts to harness the power of atomic energy are filled with shuddering tales of glow-in-the-dark slip-ups.
Back in 1945, when the scientists of the Manhattan Project were first banging blocks of uranium together, there was a nightmarishly series of accidents involving what - very aptly - came to be called The Demon Core.
Basically just a little-less-then 15 pound ball of plutonium, in August 21, the core went first went demonic when Harry Daghlian accidentally dropped a brick of tungsten carbide into it. Heroically, Harry managed to pull the brick out - avoiding a supercritical reaction - but died shortly thereafter from radiation poisoning.
A few months later, on May 21st, Louis Slotin tried to – and if this doesn't make you shiver then nothing will - "tickle the dragon's tail' by basically pushing the core as far as they could ... his only safety feature being a carefully inserted screwdriver.
All it took was for that well thought-out safety feature to slip and the core went momentarily supercritical: as with Daghlian, Slotin managed to prevent a chain reaction, but fatally dosed himself - and exposed eight other people nearby with enough radiation to seriously shorten their lifespans.
9. The Kyshtym Disaster
American scientists weren't the only ones fumbling and bumbling with nuclear power. On the other side of the world, the Soviets were racing with mad abandon to catch up with their counterparts ... emphasis on the phrase "mad abandon."
In the closed science city of Ozyorsk, they built the vast plutonium manufacturing plant of Mayak. Unfortunately, they were more-than-a-bit fumbling in the dark when it came to nuclear power, and on September 29th, 1957 a radioactive waste tank exploded. While the blast itself was impressive - it tossed the tank's 160 ton lid completely off - the release of toxic materials contaminated the region, resulting in an estimated 8,000 deaths.
What's particularly surreal about the The Kyshtym Disaster is that it didn't officially exist: the Soviets simply erased not just the accent but the town itself. The name "Kyshtym Disaster" is used because Ozyorsk and Mayak were erased from all subsequent maps and Kyshtym just happened to be the closest landmark.
If that makes you shake your head, keep shaking: there are reports that while the Soviets made Ozyorsk and Mayak "go away" the CIA knew of the disaster but kept the information secret to protect the US's own nuclear power industry.
Sunday, February 17, 2013
Here's a treat: the article that (that originally appeared on Dark Roasted Blend) about those Majorly Mysterious Mima Mounds - that's now in my book. Welcome To Weirdsville - and thatthe subject of a very cool video by the great folks at Renaissance E Books/PageTurner Editions ... and the brilliant Bill Mills!
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.
Friday, November 16, 2012
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.
Saturday, September 15, 2012
For most of us BOOM, KABLAM, KABLOOIE mean a mushroom cloud and a cute little animated turtle talking about ducking and covering – as well as the possible End Of All Life As We Know It.
But, unfortunately, not every monstrous explosion began with J. Robert Oppenheimer saying "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." Even putting aside natural blasts such as the eruption of Krakatoa, which was so massive the sound of it was heard as far away as London, the earth has still to be rocked by more than its fair share of man-made, non-atomic BOOMs, KABLAMs, and KABLOOIEs.
One of the more terrifying non-nuclear explosions ever to occur was in 1917 up in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Back in December of that year the Mont-Blanc plowed into another ship, the Imo, starting a ferocious fire. Ten minutes later the Mont-Blanc went up, creating what is commonly considered to be one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in earth history.
The Mont-Blanc was a big ship carrying a lot of extremely dangerous cargo – almost 3,000 tons of munitions bound for the war that was then tearing Europe apart. What happened that morning, which lead to the blast and the nightmarish loss of life, reads like a textbook example of whatever could go wrong, did. To avoid being torpedoed, the Mont-Blanc wasn't flying any dangerous cargo flags, so no one except for her crew knew her cargo was so dangerous. When the fire got out of control, the Mont-Blanc's crew tried to warn as many people as possible – but they only spoke French and the language of Halifax was English. Not realizing the danger, crowds began to form to watch the blaze. The Mont-Blanc, on fire, also began to drift toward a nearby pier ... that was also packed with munitions bound for the war.
When everything finally came together – the criminal negligence, the miscommunication, and worst of all the fire and the explosives – the blast was roughly equal to 3 kilotons of TNT. The fireball roared up above the town and the shockwave utterly destroyed the town and everything within one mile of the epicenter. Metal and wreckage fell as far away as 80 miles from the blast and the sound of the detonation was heard more than 225 miles away. The explosion was so huge it generated a tsunami that roared away from the epicenter and then back into the harbor again, adding to the death and destruction.
It wasn't until days later that the true horror of what had happened was realized: Halifax was completely gone, erased from the face of the earth, along with every ship in the harbor and most of the nearby town of Dartmouth. Approximately 2,000 people died from the explosion and another 9,000 were injured.
Unfortunately Halifax wasn't the first such explosives-related accident in 1917. Unbelievably, before the Mont-Blanc destroyed the town, 73 people were killed in the explosion of a munitions factory in Silvertown in West Ham, Essex. The sound was heard as far away as 100 miles. A year earlier, the Johnson Barge No.17 went up Jersey City. Although only a few people were killed, the explosion managed to damage not only Ellis Island but also the Statue of Liberty. There were many other blasts as well, but these are only a few of the more dreadful highlights.
You'd think after these nightmarish explosions, caution about things that go BOOM would have sunk in a bit, but the second world war also saw more than its fair share of explosive accidents. In 1944, for instance, the SS Fort Stikine went up while docked in Bombay, India. When her cargo went up, the blast killed 800 men and injured 3,000. The fire that followed took more than three days to control.
Also in 1944, the UK experienced what is commonly considered the largest blast ever to occur on British soil when 3,700 tons of high explosives were accidentally detonated in an underground munitions store in Fauld, Staffordshire. The explosion was so massive it formed a crater 3⁄4 of a mile across and more than 400 feet deep – and destroyed not only the base but a nearby reservoir (and all the water in it).
But one of the biggest blasts – aside from the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan – was also one of the largest in human history, and one of the most tragic.
Once again in 1944, on July 17 to be specific, munitions being loaded onto a ship in Port Chicago, California, (very close to San Francisco) detonated. No one knows what exactly caused the blast, but the damage was biblical. All in all, more than 5,000 tons of high explosives, plus whatever else was in the stores on the base and on any ships docked, was involved. The explosion was so massive it was felt as far away as Las Vegas (500 miles distant) and people were injured all over the Bay Area when windows were shattered by the immense pressure wave.
320 were killed immediately and almost 400 were seriously injured, but that's not the real tragedy. Most of these men were African American and this single disaster accounted for almost 15% of African American casualties during that war.
Still fearing for their safety, the remaining men, who had just spent three weeks pulling the bodies of their fellow sailors from the wreckage, refused to load any further munitions. The Army, in a characteristic show of support, considered this an act of mutiny and court-martialed 208 sailors, sending an additional 50 to jail for 8 to 15 years.
Fortunately, the 'mutineers' were given clemency after Thurgood Marshall fought for them, though the final member only received justice in 1999 in the form of a Presidential pardon by President Bill Clinton.
Today in Port Chicago there's a marker on the spot and it states that the event was a step toward "racial justice and equality."
And all it took was one of the largest non-nuclear, man-made, blasts in the history of the world – and the deaths of 320 sailors.
Tuesday, July 03, 2012
So what I've done is set up two brand new blogs and tweaked my prime blog here and at meine kleine fabrik to focus a bit more specifically on what I do - in the future my plans are to still post pretty much everything here on M.Christian but then put the appropriate content (plus new and surprising stuff) on the new blogs.
Click here for M.Christian's Meine Kleine Fabrik: A Blog Dedicated To My Non-Fiction ... and Other Fun Things
... and, of course, Frequently Felt is still around: my - a lobcock of erotic trivialities, oddities, and miscellanea transcribed with jaundiced talent for naught but a boxing Jesuit indulgence by a disreputable posse mobilitatis
Friday, November 07, 2008
But I do try to put interesting stuff up on my other blogs every day:
Meine Kleine Fabrik is where my brother, s.a., and I share the weird, wild, wonderful stuff we've come across. If you like unusual history, great movies and books, or just the generally bizarre it's the place to go.
Frequently Felt is where I post fun - and very often twisted - erotic strangeness ... and it's the place for you if you write erotica: just send me something fun and I'll post it.
Monday, October 06, 2008
If you love classic pulp artists - and I certainly do - check out my new article on Dark Roasted Blend:
Grand Old Times … In The Future
The polished humanism of Star Trek; the grungy mythology of Star Wars; the uncomplicated flesh versus machine of Battlestar Galactica, the Terminator flicks, and the Matrix movies –- the future is all around us. Bitter, sweet, dark, light: You just have to pick your flavor for what you want tomorrow to be.
But step back just a few decades and recall how looking at tomorrow was solely for newsstands and tawdry bookstores, which presented a loudly lurid universe of glistening glass tubes, gleaming chrome starships, and frantically faced diabolical scientists of the very-mad and very-bad variety. Amazing Stories, Weird Tales, Wonder Stories, Astounding Science Fiction, Planet Stories, and the rest of their pulpy kin were secret sins, magazines smuggled home to be read under the covers by the dying batteries of a Boy Scout flashlight.
At the time, the artists working for the pulps weren’t considered anything but cheap creatives providing cheap entertainment for cheap minds. But now we know what they were: visions of wonder, amazing vistas of the imagination, daring dreams of possibility, magnificent views of What Could Be -- but most of all we look back at what they did and recognize it for being truly magnificent art.
Unfortunately there isn’t enough time or space to touch on all of the artists who worked for the pulps that were printed between (roughly) 1920 (something) and 1950 (something), but here’s a quick guide to some of my own personal favorites, the artists who created a world of tomorrow when today was the only thing people could see.
You have no choice but to be amazed by Frank R. Paul’s Amazing Stories covers. While the world was coughing and spitting behind the wooden wheels of Model T Fords or barely getting off the ground in biplanes, Paul created wonderful scientific dreams for a wonderful array of magazines. His visions might have been built from the stuff of those early days –- tubes, wires, electrodes, sprawling cities –- but Paul had a bravery of scope: steamships flew through the sky, tidal waves cracked skyscrapers in half, dozens of alien vistas sparked the imagination, and scientists peered into the vastness of space with telescopes the size of mountains. But whatever the size of his scope, Paul also filled his images with incredible detail, giving each one a reality that made his work like a functional blueprint for the future and not just an enticement to drop a nickel for an afternoon’s amusement.
Although he’s also legendary for his covers, praise for Virgil Finlay has mostly been –- rightfully -- given out for his black and white interior work. Sure he also had scope, drama, crazy dreams, and pulp outrageousness but to see a Finlay illustration is to be hushed into silence by its beauty, subtlety, and sensuality. It's easy to picture his images from Weird Tales hanging in the great galleries of the world. The fact that much of his early work was for neglected and belittled pulps like Weird Tales is nothing short of infuriating.
Hannes Bok has to be on this stage of artistic magnificence as well. Like Finlay, his style is refined and elegant, so much more than the pulps he worked for. But he also brought a playful madness to his illustrations: a twisted kind of beauty to his figures and environments. Looking at a Bok cover, you didn’t know whether what you were looking at was a dream or a nightmare, but you always felt that it was rich, glowing with passion, perfectly composed, and absolutely brilliant.
Another inspired illustrator, one that jumped from the pulps to pretty much every kind of illustration, is was the legendary Wally Wood. It would take a book, hardly a short article, to just begin to touch on Wally’s scope: Weird Science comics, romance comics, Tales From The Crypt, trading cards, Mad Magazine and even some hilarious smut, including the legendary Disney orgy poster. Wood wasn’t just prolific or insanely flexible: whatever he did, and he did a lot, he brought with him a precise touch, a winking sense of whimsy, but also a carefully balanced sense of drama. You always knew you were looking at something Wood had done, and you were always amazed by it.
When you mention Frank Kelly Freas many people immediately think of his iconic cover for Astounding Science Fiction, the one that Freas also did for Queen’s album. But when I think of Freas I prefer to think of the delightfully winking cover he did, also for Astounding, for Frederick Brown’s Martians, Go Home. That, for me, is Freas: there is perfect technique, marvelous color, ideal drama and composition, but there’s also his marvelous sense of whimsy, a kind of bright and sparkling joy you can see in whatever Freas did, and what makes his work always compelling.
There are too many fantastic artists who worked in the pulps to touch on them all on this little space, but I can’t go without at least mentioning Chesley Bonestell. Even though you can’t really call Bonestell a ‘pulp’ artist, he deserves a bit of space for what he did for … well, ‘space.’ Considered by many to be the father of modern space illustration, Bonestell was the man who realized the scientific projections of Willey Ley and Wernher von Braun and the motion picture dreams of George Pal. His paintings –- elegant, quiet, and magnificent -- were, for many people, not what the future could be, but what the future would be: a world of rockets and starships and men looking back at the earth from the distant moon.
That’s all for now but if there’s a lesson to be learned it’s that even though we might live in a world right next door to the future, there’s still a lot the past can teach us. Like, that real treasures and fantastic art can be found in places we might stupidly dismiss as simple, cheap, or pulpish.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
As the archetypal bumper-sticker proclaims: "Being Paranoid Doesn't Mean That They Aren't Out To Get You."
In the world of the paranoiac, the world is nothing but a teetering rockslide: impending destruction always hovering just a moment away. Their world is one full of traps, deception, plots, conspiracies, and death where everyone is literally out to get you. Some have suggested that a daily tablespoon full of this viewpoint can actually be a survival trait: In our capricious and elaborate world a certain degree of suspicion and caution will allow us to live to be frightened another day. Others suggest that this view is nothing less than narcissism stretched to a penultimate degree — that we are so special, so unique, that the universe and it's all-present Men in Black (replete with Black Helicopter and Satellite Brain-Ray Beam gift set) have no choice but to squish us flat. But the real terror is lurking just beyond that. As anyone who has studied nature can attest, the world and all its creatures (great as well as small) really are out to get us. Some of their attacks are easy to defend. Into daily battle we go, armed to the teeth with antibiotics and the unshakable knowledge that:
— If we cross against DON'T WALK we'll be turned into chunky salsa — Milk the consistency of raw cement is not good — Playing on the freeway is bad — Sticking our fingers into electrical sockets is definitely a once-in-a lifetime thrill
With those bits of arcane law filling our grey matter, we are equipped to know how to survive to see tomorrow. Yet there are creatures on this globe that can snuff us out like a cheap candle in a stiff wind.
I don't mean the cartoon ferocity of the lion, tiger, or bear that proclaim their dangerous potential with a growl, roar, or screech. No, the critters I’m talking about lurk in dark silence, ready to strike with either the barest of warnings or none at all, and with absolutely fatal venom.
Some you've undoubtedly already heard about, and will prompt little more than a dismissive scoff. Yeah, big deal: rattlesnakes, cobras, black widows — either you can hear them coming, avoid going to India, or simply not stick your hands into dark places. "Ha!" is my response to your smug, assumed knowledge of nasty things. "Ha!" I offer up against your ignorance of the real terrors that are lurking out there, ready to strike. The truth is, rattlesnakes, cobras, and black widows are nothing but mere annoyances: fatal only to the truly stupid or very sick. Dangerous, sure, but usually deadly only to Darwin Award winners.
But there are other, nasty little things out there that are as vicious and deadly as they are quiet and unassuming. Say, for instance, you happen to be happily walking through the low surf merrily picking up and discarding shells, looking for just the right one to decorate your desk back at the office. With no warning at all, however, you feel a sharp sting from one of those pretty shells, a sting that quickly flares into a crawling agony. With that quick sting, the cone snail's barbed spear has insidiously injected you with one of the most potent neurotoxins in existence. Nerves short-circuited by this infinitesimally small amount of juice, in seconds the agony of where the stinger struck has faded into a heavy numbness. A relief, perhaps, but then it spreads and moments later the paralysis has seized the entire limb. Then the breathing troubles start … and then, simply, your heart stops beating. Yes, there are anti venoms available, but, frankly, with something that can kill in less than four minutes you'd have to carry it in your back pocket to survive. It wasn't just a fondness for these pretty shells that lead the CIA to develop a weapon using this venom to dispatch enemies.
We'll be back to the ocean in a moment, but for the next dangerous denizen we have to visit the steaming Amazon. Now I know what you're thinking, "Gee, what would I be doing out there in the jungle primeval?" To that I say that you're not paying attention to the lesson: it isn't so much that these things are where they are, but that they exist to begin with, and carry their lethality in such innocent packages.
That frog over there, for instance, that tiny, brilliantly colored tree frog. Doesn't he look like some kind of Faberge ornament, there against that shocking vermilion leaf? Wouldn't such a natural jewel look just gorgeous in a terrarium back home?
Pick him and you could be dead in a matter of minutes. One second frolicking in the undergrowth, the next spasming and foaming on the jungle floor. No stinger, no bite, and no venom: just the shimmering slime covering his brilliant body. The natives in these here parts capture these poison arrow frogs (carefully) and coat their blowgun darts with that slime — and knock full grown monkeys out of the trees with a single strike.
Back in the windswept sea, sharks announce their presence with a steady da-dum, da-dum, da-dum of background music, rattlesnakes, well, they rattle, while lions, and tigers, and bears (oh, my) as I’ve said, roar and bellow. These dangers are loud, almost comical. They parade their danger. But as paranoiacs know, these are nothing but part of the grand deception — they make us believe that everything fatal comes with sirens of intent, or brilliant warning labels. The real monsters are more devious than that; they lurk on the other side of invisibility, never make a sound, and kill you faster than the sound of that first note in John William’s Jaws theme.
Cone shells can be avoided, and brilliant frogs warn of their fatality, but there’s one last terror I’m eager to mention that doesn’t roar or display its danger at all. Let's take one final swim, shall we, this time off the coast of Australia? Incredible blue waters, shimmering sandy beaches, shrimps on the barbie … Skin divers rave about the Australian coast … those, that is, who never let their guard down for an instant.
Paddling in the crystal sea, enjoying the cool waters, the warm sun, it's easy to miss this monster, especially as it's almost as clear as the ocean. Chironex fleckeri doesn't sound so terrifying, does it? Chironex fleckeri: a tiny jellyfish found off the coast of Australia and southeastern Asia. Only about sixteen inches long, this jelly's tentacles carry thousands of nematocysts, microscopic stingers activated not by ill-will but by a simple brush against shell, or skin. Make contact and they’ll fire, injecting anyone and anything with the most powerful neurotoxin known to man. Stories abound of swimmers leaping from the cool Australian seas, skin blistered and torn from thousands of these tiny stingers, the venom scalding their bodies and plunging them into agonizing shock. The sting of a chironex fleckeri — also called the box jellyfish or sea wasp — is described by the experts to be a most horrifying torment.
Luckily it doesn't last long. Take that to heart dear, innocent reader, as you dog paddle through the ocean, walk on the beach, or trek through the forest, safe in your ignorance that the world doesn't hide terrifying, hideous deaths. The hideous agony of the box jellyfish’s sting doesn't last long.
Not long at all. In fact, the burning pain is over in just about the time it will take you to read this last paragraph (and you don't have to be a phenomenally slow reader), not even enough time to reach shore and call for help. Maybe as the venom works itself into your system, causing your nervous system to collapse, you'll realize that paranoiacs are right: that there really are dangerous things out there, things that'll kill you by pure reflex, just by crossing their paths. Thirty seconds isn't a long time, not long at all. But sometimes life, and death, lessons can come in very short periods.
M.Christian (www.mchristian.com) has written 300+ short stories, edited 20 anthologies, is the author of five collections and five novels.