Things get wyrmy in chapter 8 of As the Wyrm Tyrns

Reality can surprise you. You, me, everyone. With the possible exception of Bathsheba Kingsley, Calpurnia’s middle daughter, who seems to be surprised by nothing. Not even her mother having her foot almost burnt off by a fire-breathing wyrm. One must wonder just what kind of world Bathsheba thinks she lives in that this does not seem abnormal to her.

OK, so this giant cat is loose in Japan. This is from a Lotte gum commercial. No, I don't understand it, either.

OK, so this giant cat is loose in Japan. This is from a Lotte gum commercial. No, I don’t understand it, either.

But Calpurnia isn’t so fortunate. And while Geoff seems to be dancing on the edge of danger, as he’s done so often in his life, Jacintha is finding out that Geoff’s scotch is not the worst thing she has to face this evening. It’s all in “Behind every mystery lies another mystery,” chapter eight of As the Wyrm Tyrns, my weekly serial about something other than a giant moggy loose in England.

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An apology: no chapter today (11/25/16)

For the first time ever, I’ve missed a scheduled post of a chapter in my serialized stories on this blog. I apologize to any readers who were disappointed.

It was a case of force majeure — I spent last night and this morning in a hospital. Not to worry, though: the hospital staff ran tests and eliminated all the serious likely causes. What was left over is a problem that doesn’t even require drugs to treat. Which in a way is a pity, because I keep hoping someday I’ll have a non-serious ailment that requires seriously fun drugs. Not this time, though.

As the Wyrm Tyrns will be back with a new chapter next Friday. If you haven’t already started reading it, you can start here.

Not what happened to me, just funny. Dr. Elisha Perkins used these metal tractors to treat the electrical fluid behind many diseases circa 1802

Not what happened to me, just funny. Dr. Elisha Perkins used these metal tractors to treat the electrical fluid behind many diseases circa 1802

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I get by with a little help from my friends in chapter 7 of As the Wyrm Tyrns

Geoffrey MacAlpine prepares to confront the wyrm with his unexpected partner, the American photographer Jacintha Lowell, while Calpurnia Kingsley fumes back at home with her diminished role as a researcher. They almost all got killed last time. But Geoff has a little surprise of his own, to Jacintha’s delight. And Calpurnia finds out that the benefits of having children are not always obvious. It’s all in chapter 7, “Unexpected help,” of As the Wyrm Tyrns, my weekly serial of a band of magicians trying to tackle a fire-breathing monster before it contributes to global warming by burning down a city.

Is this what the wyrm looks like? No, it's actually a sketch from 1832 of the common or weedy seadragon, which inhabits waters off Australia and reaches the whole of 18 inches in length!

Is this what the wyrm looks like? No, it’s actually a sketch from 1832 of the common or weedy seadragon, which inhabits waters off Australia and reaches the whole of 18 inches in length!

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It’s all talk in chapter six of As the Wyrm Tyrns

Burnside, sideburns, get it? Real U.S. Civil War general. Led his troops to disaster at Antietam, Fredricksburg, and "The Crater." His home state of Rhode Island rewarded his military incompetence by electing him as Governor and as a U.S. Senator. Americans sometimes do strange things like that.

Burnside, sideburns, get it? Real U.S. Civil War general. Led his troops to disaster at Antietam, Fredricksburg, and “The Crater.” His home state of Rhode Island rewarded his military incompetence by electing him as Governor and as a U.S. Senator. Americans sometimes do strange things like that.

Our intrepid band of magicians didn’t come out so well in their first encounter with the wyrm. Jacintha went brain-dead, Calpurnia got a hot foot, and Geoff is contending for the Ambrose Burnside Award for least competent leader. So it’s time for them to take stock and make plans for the future. Oh, and there’s an ominous development. Just in case you were wondering. It’s all in “Conversations,” chapter six of As the Wyrm Tyrns, my serialized story of magic and a dangerous undomesticated animal.

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Hunka hunka burnin’ somethin’ in chapter 5 of As the Wyrm Tyrns

It's not quite a dragon breathing fire on a woman, but it's William Blake, and I say it's close enough!

It’s not quite a dragon breathing fire on a woman, but it’s William Blake, and I say it’s close enough!

Looks like Jacintha and Calpurnia have both lost their first confrontations with the wyrm. And with wyrms, losing confrontations is usually fatal. So what can Geoff do? Get more help, of course! And some help he gets without even asking! Read what the wyrm’s devastation left behind in “New fires and old flames,’ chapter five of As the Wyrm Tyrns, my weekly serial about an oversized fire-breathing creature loose near an English beach resort. And if you’re new to the story, start with chapter one!

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My 2016 horror moldy oldie: Edward Page Mitchell, The Crystal Man

It’s time for the annual “moldy oldie” reading, when I dig up some generally forgotten writer’s horror stories to read for Halloween. This year, Paula Cappa,  an award-winning writer and blogger, introduced me to the stories of Edward Page Mitchell, so I read the groundbreaking 1973 collection of his stories by Sam Moskowitz, The Crystal Man. I thank her for doing so. For, while the collection is short on horrors, it’s a fascinating look at the nebulous borderline between fake news and fiction.

Edward Page Mitchell

Edward Page Mitchell

So who was Edward Page Mitchell (1852-1927)? According to Moskowitz, who must be given credit for rediscovering him, Mitchell was the missing link in American science fiction, the man who bridged the gap between Verne and Wells, and probably influenced the latter. Alas, while Moskowitz was a noted researcher of the roots of American science fiction, he let his enthusiasm run away with him at times. For example, crediting Mitchell’s “The Tachypomp” as the first story of faster-than-light travel overlooks the fact that it does not take into account relativistic effects, no surprise since the theory of special relativity wouldn’t be invented for another 31 years.

In 1835, the Moon was not a harsh mistress!

In 1835, the Moon was not a harsh mistress!

A better way of understanding Mitchell is to see him as a newspaper editor and writer of the late nineteenth century. Mitchell spent most of his life (1874-1926) at the New York Sun, the first successful penny newspaper in America when it was founded in 1833. In those days, newspapers had to entertain as well as inform. And one of the ways they entertained was to create what appeared to be news stories about strange events. Perhaps they were true, perhaps they weren’t. In fact, one of the Sun’s greatest successes was the famous Moon-man hoax of 1835, in which the real astronomer John Herschel was purported to have seen flying man-like creatures on the moon.

One can see this influence directly in some of Mitchell’s tales. “The Story of the Deluge” begins just like a genuine news story, only to switch to humor and political satire along the way. “The Soul Spectroscope” begins likewise, though the use of “Prof. Dummkopf” as its subject tips off the readers immediately. Not surprisingly, several of his stories develop an idea just a little bit and end abruptly, convenient to fill in some space in a newspaper, but unsatisfying as a tale. “The Tachypomp” is passed off as a dream, while “The Soul Spectroscope” implies at the end that its protagonist is a madman. And a few bits are didactic essays that remind me of Mark Twain, another journalist-turned-writer. I could imagine him writing “The Devil’s Funeral” instead of Mitchell.

Can't have a time-traveling clock without a clock-maker! (Source: Wikipedia/Wellcome Images)

Can’t have a time-traveling clock without a clock-maker!
(Source: Wikipedia/Wellcome Images)

And yet, Mitchell wrote some pieces that qualify as genuine, well-developed stories, and deserve much of Sam Moskowitz’s praise. “The Clock That Went Backward” really is an elegant story about time-travel paradoxes, even if the “science” behind it is left unexplained. And “The Crystal Man” is a decent invisible man story, in which an innovative technology leads to human tragedy. Better yet, while Mitchell was prone to using many of the hackneyed romantic tropes of his era, to the detriment of his stories, in “The Crystal Man,” he gives one of them a sharp twist that brings it to a startling conclusion.

So what of horror stories? To judge from this collection, Mitchell preferred his horror with a leavening of humor. “The Cave of the Spurgles” and “The Flying Weathercock” are stories which in other hands could have been good horror stories, but Mitchell’s design in the first case and his exposition in the second deprive either story of any frights. And appearances of Judas Iscariot are not as shocking to 21st century sensibilities as they were to the 19th, which lessens the impact of such stories as “The Devilish Rat.”

Yet there are stories which can give one the shivers. Mitchell tackled the subject of conjoined souls twice, and while his story of the Dow twins is marred at the end by his humor, that and the story of the Fancher twins are both eerie considerations of human nature. “The Facts in the Ratcliffe Case” begins innocently enough, and is slow to build up, but pays off in its concluding pages by revealing a human monster. And while “An Uncommon Sort of Spectre” is, despite its name, a common enough ghost story, I appreciate the twist Mitchell gives it.

What is more intriguing to me is that some of Mitchell’s stories have horrific implications that may not have been obvious to his readers, or even to himself. “The Ablest Man in the World” is meant to be a story about advanced technology and human nature, but on second thought can be read as a lesson on how human fears can frustrate noble goals. And “The Senator’s Daughter” has an awful lesson about race prejudice (expected) and sexism (unintentional) at its conclusion.

While it was short on horrors, The Crystal Man was an entertaining read. The British magazine The Fortean Times has been covering these borderline “news” stories for years as curiosities in journalism. It was illuminating to get another angle on late 19th century newspaper journalism, to see how “fake news” could so easily slide into science fiction and fantasy. So thanks, Paula!

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The wyrm takes center stage in chapter 4 of As the Wyrm Tyrns

It would be a pity if a story called As the Wyrm Tyrns did not have an appearance by the wyrm. And so, this week, the wyrm raises its head over Breydon Water. This bodes ill for our intrepid magicians: the scholarly Geoffrey MacAlpine, the recently rehabilitated Calpurnia Kingsley, and the American photographer Jacintha Lowell. And it’s not as if they don’t have other problems of their own! Check out “Enter the wyrm,” chapter four of As the Wyrm Tyrns, my weekly serialized story.

dobrynaNice image, eh? No, it’s not Calpurnia and Geoff looking over the dead wyrm. They wish! No, one of the fascinating things about writing this blog is finding out things I never knew before. This is an image of the legendary Russian knight, Dobrynya Nikitich, rescuing the princess Zabava Putyatishna from the three-headed dragon Gorynych, as drawn by Ivan Bilibin (1876 – 1942). It’s so gorgeous, I couldn’t help but include it here.

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