Kickstarter: Miskatonic West

It's been 77 years since H. P. Lovecraft passed away, and yet his influence on pop culture has only continued to grow; like some ancient alien virus spreading through our collective mind, triggering in all of us the kind of terrifying clarity that comes, when we are forced to pierce through the frail veneer of Reality... and look into the Void within...

A group of artists are intent of following in the footsteps of Dagon's favorite conjurer, by bringing to you Miskatonic West: A web series inspired by the Lovecraftian lore.

n the world of HP Lovecraft; the creaking of a door, a shadow passing in your periphery or a bizarre siting at sea could mean any number of things, natural or supernatural. The massive sea god, Dagon, may have really existed in a primordial age. Whole civilizations of alien beings may have coursed across the Earth hundreds of millions of years ago. The ability to reanimate the dead may actually be possible. Lovecraft wrote about these possibilities at the turn of the 20th century. They thought he was a fiction writer. He wasn’t. Everything he wrote about exists, and now Lovecraft’s distinguished Miskatonic University has a Southern California location.

Miskatonic West follows the exploits of Sousaku Kaos, the head of Miskatonic's biology department, and his band of intrepid students as they pull the curtain back on a world of monsters, magic and mystery inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Helping the LAPD with “cases of interest,” Kaos and his students must uncover a plot to awaken Dagon, the ancient ocean god, by the Esoteric Cult of Dagon, before it and an army of deep ones invade the West Coast.

In making Miskatonic West, the creators hope to bring the same verisimilitude and realism that Lovecraft brought to his writings of close encounters with the monstrous and supernatural. With an eye towards cinematic integrity, we want to bring the world of Lovecraft into an emotionally honest light and capture what it would be like to encounter things that should not be and the toll it might take on one's sanity.

If you are a Lovecraft fan, a fan of monsters, mystery, suspense and human drama join us in making this web series a reality. Thank you.

The Kickstarter campaign to crowdfund this project finishes on November 3rd, so make sure you appease the Old Ones with a tribute in cash --lest they force you to pay it in blood instead >:)

News Briefs 28-10-2014

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Quote of the Day:

You were born an original. Don’t die a copy.

John Mason

Review - 'Constantine' pilot

There’s a scene in the ill-regarded 2009 movie X-Men Origins: Wolverine, where Hugh Jackman, acknowledged to be generally perfect in this role, gets to deliver the character’s most representative quote: “I’m the best there is at what I do - and what I do ain’t very nice”  - and you just don’t believe him. Despite all Jackman’s aptness in the role, the line just doesn’t land.

There’s a similar moment in the pilot for the TV show Constantine, where Matt Ryan delivers a key quote for the title character - “I’m a nasty piece of work - ask anyone”.

I believed him. But... 


John Constantine has existed as a character (and, according to creator Alan Moore, possibly something more) since 1985. From his first appearance in Moore & Steve Bissette’s Saga Of The Swamp Thing, then his own comic Hellblazer (written at various points by the cream of British comic scribes) and finally the current New 52 reboot series Constantine, he’s been in print constantly (heh) for nearly thirty years. (For more deep background, this recent piece by Abraham Reisman at Vulture is excellent.)

Until now, he’s been adapted for the screen just once, with varied results. The 2005 film Constantine got mixed reviews, with fans of the character scathing in their response to the casting of Keanu Reeves in the lead.  Worse - instead of the character as shown in the comics, a blond working class magician born in Liverpool and matured in London, we got Keanu as a middle-class suburban Angeleno psychic with spooky tatts in a script that stripped away everything about the character that mattered, other than him being a smoker and a bastard. The film is basically an OK supernatural action thriller - but John Constantine isn’t really in it.

The 2014 TV series pilot ‘Non Est Asylum’ - leaked online some months back, now re-edited with new scenes - has certainly got John Constantine in it... shame is, at the moment he’s in a fairly run-of-the-mill TV supernatural action thriller.

First, the good stuff... 

As far as being a proper bastard John Constantine, true to the spirit of the comic... Matt Ryan had me at ‘bollocks’. He’s swaggering, sarcastic, dangerous - a nasty piece of work to be sure, but one whose anger, fear and damage is very near the surface. Not quite the cool customer of later comics, he’s still raw from recent traumatic events - I hope we see the truly on-it Constantine evolve as the show goes on.

The decision to give Constantine’s accent more than a hint of his Liverpool home was a smart one - it even gives the American pronunciation of his name (it should be Kon-Stan-Tyne, not Kon-Stan-Teen - it says so in the comic) a degree of plausibility. Almost.

Serious effort has gone into adapting Constantine’s comic history into a show set in the US and updated for our times. Major aspects of his back story are shown: the Newcastle Event (where his failure led to the death and damnation of a young girl named Astra at the hands of the demon Nergal and the condemnation of Johns' soul to the same when he dies), his subsequent incarceration in Ravenscar asylum (in the show, voluntarily), even his torment at his father’s hands due to the death of his mother in childbirth. His magical style is shown as eclectic, combining many traditions with Judaeo-Christian elements in what he calls a ‘proprietary blend’, just as it should be.

Other aspects of the character are toned down; network rules mean he can’t be seen smoking (but he will apparently be putting out a lot of ciggys in ashtrays), it’s been made clear by the showrunners that (at least for the moment) the show will not address his canonical bisexuality. And I’m a little peeved at how short his trenchcoat is... but for the most part, I’m damn happy with this Constantine.

The show itself, however, has an ironic hill to climb. We’re a long way from Conjob's starting days - an entire genre of urban fantasy has arisen, giving us a wide range of street-mages and demon-hunters, and this year alone the show is airing alongside such genre examples as Grimm, Sleepy Hollow and Supernatural (now in its tenth year). The pilot follows along all-too-similar lines to much of these shows’ output, though it’s crisply directed by Neil Marshal of Dog Soldiers, The Descent and Game Of Thrones fame - it’s going to have to do something special to win over an audience.

Several scenes from the pilot were changed from the ‘leaked’ version which appeared over the summer: most notably, what was to have been the female show lead and audience POV character has been unceremoniously written out be the end of the episode (a shame for actress Lucy Griffith as Liv... but the character was the weak link, through no fault of her own). Also, the final boss battle with the demon was reshot to have it appear in the form of Constantine-as-demon, a supposed look at his damned future, which lands much better than the generic menace in the original version.

Despite the hiccups and dilution, I have a lot of hope for the show. I like the aloof viciousness of Harold Perrineau’s angel ‘Manny’, Jeremy Davies is perfect casting as John’s unwilling associate and fellow Newcastle veteran Ritchie Simpson and the prospect of major Hellblazer characters such as Papa Midnite and Zed (as the new female lead), as well as other DC occult figures, holds much promise. Hell, I even like this version of Chas (now an American cabbie, nicely played by Charles Halford, formerly Reggie Ledoux in True Detective). 

So, give it a punt. Know what I mean?


Revisiting the Age of the Sphinx Controversy with Robert Bauval and Robert Schoch

The Great Sphinx and Pyramids

Nostalgic for the halycon days of the 'alternative Egypt' craze of the 1990s? It seems that two decades later, it's due for a comeback. We already know that Graham Hancock is revisiting the areas covered in his hugely influential Fingerprints of the Gods - presumably including ancient Egypt - in a 2015 release titled Magicians of the Gods. And now two other big names of alternative Egyptology, Robert Bauval and Robert Schoch, have announced they are teaming up to write a book on the 'Age of the Sphinx' controversy. From Robert Bauval's Facebook page:

I am please to announce that Dr. Robert Schoch and I have decided to team up in order to write a book on the Sphinx. Since the early 1990s on the one hand Schoch's name has been associated with the 'Age of the Sphinx' geological debate and, on the other hand, I have been associated with a similar debate based on astronomy. Since then much new evidence has come to light after twenty years of new research and on-location expeditions which we will present in this new book, as well as tackle heads-on the various criticism and academic attacks that were thrown at us over the years. No punches will be spared in this forceful book that will once and for all hammer in the last nail to this intellectual coffin of Egyptology. Stay tuned for more news....

Link: Sphinx: The Quest for the Source of Civilisation


News Briefs 24-10-2014

“Life is short and truth works far and lives long: let us speak the truth.”

Quote of the Day:

“Change alone is eternal, perpetual, immortal.”

A. Schopenhauer

News Briefs 23-10-2014

Someone make this game happen, stat!

Thanks Red Pill Junkie, @GrailSeeker and @MysteriousUniv.

Quote of the Day:

It ain't how long you live, it's how you live your life
Burn bright until the grave don't shy away from the light

You+Me, "Open Door"

Recreating the Lost Music of our Ancient Ancestors

Deerbone Flute from Avebury

In the modern age we take for granted the almost magical ability to record audio - up until the 19th century, if you wanted to listen to music, you had to either play it yourself, or listen to someone else play it, live. How then can we hear the sounds of the past before this point? One way is through the transcription of music on to paper - this is how we know the music of the great composers such as Mozart and Beethoven. Sometimes it is through through memory, such as in the transmission of folk tunes from one generation to the next. But in more ancient examples, those sounds have largely been lost.

While we can't be sure of the melodies these ancient people played, archaeological excavations have uncovered some of the instruments that were used. And they show that music is something humans have enjoyed for a very long time: three flutes found at the Geißenklösterle cave in Germany - two of which were made from swan bones, the other from a hollowed mammoth tusk - have been dated to around 36,000 BC, while flutes made from vulture bone discovered in France have been dated to between 20,000 and 35,000 years ago. In fact, it seems the ancients realised fairly early on that bones make for a pretty damn good flute, and utilised skeletal remains from birds, animals, and even humans (most often femurs and ulnas).

And from these archaeological discoveries, we can at least get a sense of what ancient music might have sounded like. The position of the holes in a flute give us the musical scale they utilised, and the construction of the object provides us with an idea of the tone the instrument may have had. Last year we posted video of an ancient vulture bone flute being played. And recently Philip 'Greywolf' Shallcrass has recreated a deer-bone flute found near the Avebury megalithic complex and posted the resulting sounds to YouTube:

The original instrument, now lost, was discovered in July 1849 by one John Merewether, Dean of Hereford, when he dug into some burial mounds about a mile and a quarter from Avebury. The flute was found beside the crouched skeletal remains of a man and an undecorated urn containing the bones of a child. We know what it looks like as Merewether sketched and described his finds in a book published in 1851. I'm not sure why Greywolf's recreation has four holes rather than the three in Merewether's sketch, but imagining the sound of this flute floating across the Avebury circle certainly does give me chills.

(h/t @Fiona_Lang)


News Briefs 22-10-2014

The world hasn't run out of stories just yet.

Quote of the Day:

Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one.

Terry Pratchett

To Celebrate the 100th Birthday of the Late Martin Gardner, Some Skepticism

Martin Gardner

Today would have been the 100th birthday of the late polymath and influential skeptic Martin Gardner. Gardner – who passed away aged 95 in May 2010 – published more than seventy books on such diverse topics as mathematics, science, philosophy, literature and skepticism. For a quarter of a century he was also the writer of the ‘Mathematical Games’ column in Scientific American, and as a consequence he has influenced many of the modern day’s top academics in the hard sciences. Douglas Hofstadter described Gardner as “one of the great intellects produced in this country in this century,” and Arthur C. Clarke once labeled him a “national treasure.”

Gardner was also one of the major voices in the skeptical movement; George Hansen describes him as “the single most powerful critic of the paranormal in the second half of the 20th century”. Gardner was writing ‘skeptical’ books long before the modern movement ‘began’ in earnest with the inception of CSICOP (now known as CSI) in the 1970s – his seminal deconstruction of pseudoscience, In the Name of Science (later renamed Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science), had been published two decades previous in 1952. Like Randi, he could be a rather nasty skeptic too, sometimes embracing debunking over debate (he once commented that in certain circumstances, "One horse laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms").

The occasion of Gardner's 100th birthday has led to a number of tributes on major news sites this week, from the BBC to the New York Times. And rightly so, there is no doubting that he inspired a number of today's leading academics. But I also thought it worth pointing out his fallibility, by relinking to my article "How Martin Gardner Bamboozled the Skeptics", which I think (hope!) does a good job in deconstructing the truly awful 'skeptical' essay he wrote about the medium Leonora Piper. Rather than denigrating Gardner's memory, I would hope that a man who esteemed skeptical thinking as much as Gardner would appreciate my critique of this particular work of his. It's a long piece, so here's the summary:

Unscientific skepticism of the type exhibited by Gardner and Cattel is a corrosive one which, rather than defending science, instead shields it from possible new discoveries and viewpoints through irrational over-protectiveness. It also brings skepticism as a whole into disrepute when such cheap tactics are employed. In his article “How Mrs. Piper Bamboozled William James”, Martin Gardner ignores the original scientific work done, misrepresents the competency of the investigators, and misleads the reader both through incorrect statements and loaded language. This is hardly the type of writing we would expect from “one of the great intellects produced in this country in this century.”

Sadly for Martin Gardner, perhaps the most succinct summary of his essay can be found in James Hyslop’s caustic response to Hall and Tanner’s Studies in Spiritism, written nearly 100 years previous: "The calm critic can only say that the book either displays the grossest ignorance of the facts and the subject, or it is a colossal piece of constructive lying. The authors may take either horn of the dilemma they like."

Link: Skeptical of a Skeptic

Related: Vale Martin Gardner

Review: ‘Discovering Scarfolk’ by Richard Littler

Ebury Press 2014, ISBN 9780091958480

Britain in the 1970s was a very strange time and place. Caught in the brutal come-down after the Sixties yet still retaining more than a hint of pagan mysticism in the air, Britain had a distinctive otherworldliness underlying the economic woes, ever-present threat of nuclear war and public service films warning children that horrific death lurked in every field, every street. Both grubby and garish, represented equally by Abigail’s Party and Children of the Stones, Albion seemed caught in an awful liminality. There was nothing quite like living through that strange time, in that weird place.

Nothing, that is, except for Scarfolk.

The invention of Richard Littler, Scarfolk is a fictional town in the North-West of England which is perpetually trapped in the 70s. Littler’s pastiches of the advertising and cultural symbols of the time, filtered through the paranoid occult and technological fears then present, became an immensely popular blog series over the past couple of years, drawing praise from writers as diverse as Ian Rankin, Caitlin Moran and Warren Ellis. The clever perfection of the parody images, combined with the Pythonesque word play and riffs on the stranger aspects of British culture, are a masterpiece in absurdist horror.

Although there are some parallels to other fictional towns draped in the Weird, Scarfolk is very much its own thing. Comparisons to the Welcome To Night Vale podcast are commonly made, especially when trying to explain Scarfolk to Americans: but whereas Night Vale has a folksy cute-weird inclusive charm that might tempt the fan to consider living there if it existed, nobody in their right minds would want to visit Scarfolk, let alone live there... it makes Royston Vasey seem positively inviting by comparison.

Now, Scarfolk has made the transition from blog to book, and in the process has both gained and lost something in translation.

The book contains most of the classic images Littler created for the Scarfolk site - favourites such as the controversial fake Penguin Books cover “Children And Hallucinogens”, which went viral last year, convincing many that the book had once existed (including, so rumour has it, several concerned Penguin executives). They are surrounded by a two-layered, almost Lovecraftian-styled framing story: the book purports to be a professor’s reconstruction of a found text, telling the tale of one Daniel Bush. Bush, while moving home after the death of his wife in a bizarre Morris-dancing related accident, is trapped in Scarfolk following the disappearance of his twin sons. Recovering from the brainwashing inflicted on him for ‘his own good’ by the residents, he wanders the town, trying to understand his surroundings and find his children.

Though that storyline itself is interesting (and draws heavily on other great British cultural influences such as The Prisoner and The Wicker Man), it doesn’t flow well: mostly because it’s continually interrupted by both the pictures and a lot of footnotes - the readers attention is being continually split. Each element of the book - the art, the story and the footnotes - don’t quite gel together... but each is thoroughly enjoyable in their own form.

The footnotes contain some of the best, most horrific writing in the book, I think: such as,

The ice-cream van man came between 3 and 4 a.m. His van blared out the haunting Swedish Rhapsody numbers station. The ice-cream van man wore a clown mask to disguise the horrific burns on his face because he didn't want to frighten the children. It didn't work. He used clothes pegs to hold the mask on because he was missing an ear. He lived in a nondescript building in an electrical substation and no one knew his name.

As an artefact, the book feels like it has fallen out of some grubby wormhole: the pages are faintly faded, the whole thing almost seeming to glower at the reader. The cover looks like a pre-battered textbook from a barely-used library, its recollection of the publishing tropes of the time a pastiche so perfect that it verges on the hyperreal. Sadly, this finish actually obscures some of the finer details of the illustrations; in one of my favourite pictures, the relabelled diagrams of the male and female genital anatomy, several of the terms are too blurry to be read easily.

(EDIT: Richard Littler contacted me after this review aired to note that the blurring of the pictures was a printing mistake and not intentional. Though that accident adds to the grimy air of this version, I am glad later editions will allow readers to fully see a woman's malteser and a man's battlestar galactica in all their glory.)

Despite these drawbacks, Discovering Scarfolk is a pleasure, if a disturbing one: you’ll never read or hold anything else quite like it.

For more information, please re-read this review.

Link: Discovering Scarfolk on Amazon UK