Tag: dying earth


Ghost Stations

Probably my first encounter with supernatural stories as as child was though Bruce Barrymore Halpenny’s Ghost Stations books. They were collections of ghost tales from around the old WWII airfields (many of the buildings no longer required after the wall), or general tales of military related hauntings. The stories were gently evocative; nothing too hideous or weird. There was something very British and restrained about them all. I can’t remember many of the stories now, but the general gist of the books seemed to be more about the author’s relentless powers of persuasion – he genuinely wanted children to believe in ghosts. There was even a strange diagram at the back of one book: you had to stare at this drawing of a face for about a minute, then look elsewhere; you’d immediately see the optic echo of the image as a crude attempt at being able to see ghosts for yourself.

These books were made all the more potent as, for a few years, I lived near R.A.F. Coningsby, which held the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, so we’d always have the famous Lancaster bomber and Spitfire flying over our house. (I remember the thunderous drone of the Lancaster as it would swoop over our back garden while we were playing football or cricket.) It constantly felt like living in the 1940s, even though it was the 1980s, and not that I knew what either was at the time. The landscape of the county was littered with things like Pill Boxes, crumbling or ruined former defence posts that were to be used should the country have been invaded. They’re still everywhere, these faded remnants of the war; I like to think they’re preserved by the British for sentimental reasons now.

Whatever the case, the landscape and these books certainly provided fertile ground for a kid’s imagination, an almost interactive set of stories – I could read about the ghosts and try to find them myself. I never did though, but it didn’t stop me trying.


Up Pompeii

It’s sad to see things are coming to this for Pompeii:

After a series of wall collapses at Italy’s ancient city of Pompeii, a team from UN cultural organisation Unesco has arrived to examine the site. One wall gave way on Tuesday and two more the next day, three weeks after the House of Gladiators crumbled. Officials blamed Wednesday’s wall collapses on heavy rain but Unesco says concerns have been raised about Pompeii’s state of preservation. The UN team will assess the World Heritage site for further problems.

I wonder how historical sites in general will fare during the imposed austerity measures that are happening across much of Europe? How much to cultures and governments value heritage? What would Lurcio have to say on the matter?

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9RrzMFIrFNE 500]

Adopt A Robot

There’s nothing like a good bit of recyclepunk. “I created the world’s first robot orphanage,” says designer Brian Marshall. “These parts refused to give up on life just because they were being discarded.”

More on his Flickr page.



More reports from the dying earth.

Prypiat was founded in 1970 to house the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant workers, officially proclaimed a city in 1979, and was abandoned in 1986 following the Chernobyl disaster. It was the ninth nuclear-city, “атомоград” (atomograd) in Russian, literally “atom city”. Its population had been around 50,000 before the accident.

The fallout:

The explosion on 26 April on the fourth reactor released 100 times the amount of radiation of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki put together…

The Chernobyl accident led directly to the deaths of 30 workers at the reactor site, caused the hospitalisation of hundreds of others and exposed about 6.7 million people to radiation fall-out, according to the World Health Organization. This led to a 10-fold increase in thyroid cancer among children in affected areas.

Photos taken from Flickr using a Creative Commons license.


Resurrecting The Dying Earth

Originally, this article appeared in slightly different formats on Speculative Horizons, and later on Jeff VanderMeer’s blog as a guest post. I’ve many more readers than I had last year, so wanted to share what is one of my favourite sub-genres of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

You can’t move in Hollywood for people clutching screenplays about the apocalypse. If you’re in a café out there there’s probably someone writing one next to you right now. These days there’s some kind of cinematographer’s fetish for destroying landmark buildings and tearing up natural monuments. So maybe because of this rise in the popularity of post-apocalyptic media, or because a younger genre audience might have little knowledge of the fictions of yesteryear, I wanted to write a little more about the Dying Earth genre.

There are plenty of stories about the Earth being gutted, but the Dying Earth is something quite different, and it deserves more attention. Although I’m not concerned with the business of genre taxonomy here, and nor do I want to pursue the aesthetics of an academic essay, there are a few things worth noting that sets the Dying Earth genre apart, and a few key texts to explore. So here are some initial observations for the uninitiated, and some Memory Lane fodder for the rest of you.

The setting for Dying Earth novels is consciously towards the end of time, not merely after any major event. In fact there’s a good chance several such events might have happened – we could be so far into the future we can’t possibly tell. The world as we know it is unrecognizable. As a result, there is perhaps a melancholy associated with the genre – a conscious reflection at how great things once were. There seems to be a sense of fatality that seems bound in writing about the far future. Dying Earth fictions are inherently fantastical. Call it science fantasy if you must, the genre certainly feels like more of a fantasy than it does science fiction. There’s a mix of technology in there, too – the fantasy isn’t merely limited to magic, and the magic is sometimes intended to have some kind of justification, often through a spurious science. Dying Earth settings are very much secondary worlds, and by that I mean there is less of a reliance on current realities for the infrastructure of the book. Gene Wolfe alludes to South America in his Book of the New Sun sequence (which I’ll mention later), but we know that his Urth is a different place entirely.

So, some key books.

People point towards H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine as one of the origin novels. Later, Clark Ashton Smith’s Zothique stories, set on Earth’s last continent, began crystallizing the genre. Published in the 1930s, they were some of the first works to explore the cycles of cultures moving forward into a deeply unrecognizable fantasy future.

But we most likely didn’t start recognising the genre as such until a certain Jack Vance (influenced by Smith) wrote his Tales of the Dying Earth.

Finally we had a name for this thing. Some of these earliest stories were first published in the 1950s, and upon first reading are a surreal and heady collection of images. Cugel’s Saga is often seen as the most popular of the later works, first published in 1983, but Vance’s wit and dynamic style proved intoxicating, and the stories became iconic. For more detail, check out The Wertzone’s review.

The power of Vance is very much apparent. Recently there was an anthology released called Songs of the Dying Earth, edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, which was a tribute to Vance’s novels. It gave a boost to the old master’s works, and plenty of Big Named Writers wanted to play in Vance’s toy box.

Gene Wolfe, influenced by Vance, wrote what is commonly thought to be one of the high points of Twentieth Century science fiction and fantasy – fuck that, of any literature. His original quartet was called The Book of the New Sun, and was laced with mythical and biblical imagery, and more symbols than you can shake at Aleister Crowley. The tales of Severian the torturer and his journey are established classics, and cannot be done any justice in a pithy paragraph.

Larry’s collection of in-depth postings on the series is one of the best studies of these books online.

Out of the Dying Earth subgenre, one of my favourites is M John Harrison’s Viriconium sequence. In fact, I made a conscious nod of the respect in my title to one of the books, Viriconium Nights / Nights of Villjamur. These stories are almost anti-fantasies. The city of Viriconium changes consciously (even its name to Uriconium), deliberately avoiding the ability to be mapped. The world possesses the technological litter from thousands of cultures previously. It is a bleak vision, but spellbindingly surreal and with a beautiful and complex prose, and there’s something very English underneath it all, which sets it apart. This is not a literature of comfort, and it requires more than a couple of readings to discover the treats within. These stories have been divisive amongst the SFF community, people either love them or loathe them. See the Westeros forum.

There are many other books and series that will fall under this category, and if anyone wants to add to my reading list, please feel free in the comments section. I merely wanted to outline a few of the major works. And maybe in writing this, a few readers might go and order some of these wonderful books.

Specifying what it is about these books that appeal to me as a writer proves rather difficult. Perhaps it’s their melancholy fatalism: these settings all possess a vastly different psychogeography from other fantasies. Perhaps it’s the fact that the setting opens up more options – that the literature has more freedoms, more potential for meaning than a setting that reflects backwards.

It’s worth adding that none of these books would likely be published as new novels in the modern era by conglomerates. Publishing tastes and sensibilities change by the year, of course, and commercial pressures are vastly different now than they were then – for better or worse.

This fan boy recognises this, probably wouldn’t have been published unless he did, but I’ve made scattered references to these stories throughout Villjamur, in a few structure names, or the colour of a cloak, all out of respect for what’s gone before.

In trying to help resurrect the Dying Earth subgenre, and put a distinctly modern spin on things, I may well be standing on the shoulders of giants, and that may well be ambitiously stupid. However it’s difficult to resist the allure, because the view at the end of time is amazing.


Kowloon Walled City

(Via DirJournal.) Here’s material for a novel. Kowloon Walled City, once a military installation in Hong Kong. After World War II, the Walled City descended into a tightly packed and ungoverned zone, a pirate enclave. It was demolished in 1994, and a park now exists in its place.

By the end of 1970s Walled City began to grow. Square buildings folded up into one another as thousands of modifications were made, virtually none by architects or engineers, until the entire City became monolithic. Labyrinthine corridors ran through the City, some former streets (at the ground level, and often clogged up with refuse), and some running through upper floors, through and between buildings. The streets were illuminated by fluorescent lights, as sunlight rarely reached the lower levels. There were only two rules for construction: electricity had to be provided to avoid fire, and the buildings could be no more than fourteen stories high, because of the nearby airport. Eight municipal pipes provided water to the entire structure (although more could have come from wells). By the early 1980s, Kowloon Walled City had an estimated population of 35,000. The City was notorious for its excess of brothels, casinos, opium dens, cocaine parlours, food courts serving dog meat, and secret factories.

More images here.


Sanzhi UFO Houses

From the Taipei Times:

“First of all, the site is definitely not haunted,” Lin said, in reference to oft-heard rumors that many people have seen ghosts near the complex or the high number of unexplained traffic accidents on the nearby road.

There were also rumors that more than 20,000 skeletons were discovered at the site when construction work began and that it was the scene of several murders.

Lin said that construction of the UFOs began in 1978.

“It is traditional in the construction business to pay your respects to any spirits at the site of a new project before you start work. It had nothing to do with the ghost stories,” Lin said.

Photo credit Noelas.