Back to: Changing my mind on nuclear disarmament | Forward to: A message from our UK sponsors (again)

Grand Guignol Tropes

Every so often it amuses me to come up with ideas, conceits, and props upon which a story may hinge, even if I have no intention of ever writing such a story. Sometimes I have to brainstorm them, and sometimes they simply tap me on the shoulder politely.

Case in point: while out and about shopping with my spouse, we happened to pass an off-license (liquor store, to those of you in the US) which had a window display of amusing beverages. One of which was a bottle of vodka in the shape of a human skull. "Cool bottle!" Remarked herself; "I wonder if it tastes as good as it looks?" (Said with the cynical tone of one who recognizes marketing aimed at late-teen goths when she sees it.) "I doubt it," I began to reply. And then my muse grabbed me by the ear. (My muse is not a frail willowy thing; they're a bit like this (NSFW cartoon) when they're not AWOL and engaged on a massive bender. But I digress.) "Oi!" roared the Muse, "Get down and gimme an Iain Banks style black comedy plot trope, and do it now!"

"Got it," I said. "Opening chapter of novel: our protagonist has got hold of one of those skull-shaped bottles. He's a bit depressive and is considering suicide, so he fills it up with Polish 80% spirit and then adds mushrooms to make a liqueur. Using Death Cap—Amanita Phalloides. Then in the last chapter someone else drinks it by mistake."

"They misread the label as Liberty Cap!" Suggested she who can read my mind too damned well after all these years. (Psilocybe.)

Well, okay. If I was planning on writing a noir Iain Banks mainstream novel, that bottle would find a way into it for sure, now. But anyway, this prompts me to suggest a blog game. To those of you who can be arsed playing: pick an everyday object you see in your day to day routine, be it shopping or cooking or at work or at play. Then try to come up with a grand guignol story idea anchored by it! C'mon. Show me what you can do ...



Ah yes, that vodka.

It's made by noted Fortean Dan Ackroyd.


This is cheating somewhat - since it happened a while ago - but the combination of:

  • Insomnia.
  • A pointless online discussion with a couple of "happy clappy when the rapture comes" singularity folk.
  • The various permission / liability forms for some usability tests and interviews I was doing for $work that were laying on my desk.

Caused this little bastard of a story to drop fully formed into my head and poke me with sharp sticks until it was typed up.

Instance one million forty eight thousand five hundred and seventy six

I strip before they strap me down. Naked and immobile I wait to be fed into the machine.

It's what I agreed to do.

The process was described in excruciating detail by the assistant as I signed the liability waivers. The university's Applied Cognitive Simulation Group would pay $5000 for three hours of my time. I hoped to get a number from the assistant too. Lots of eye contact. Great smile.

No smiles now as I'm sucked into a claustrophobic cylinder barely wider than my shoulders. The thumping around me rises to a continual scream and my life contracts to noise and boredom.

It seems longer than three hours.

Eventually the screaming stops and the machine vomits me out into silence. I hear an electric kettle come to the boil nearby.

A few minutes later the assistant walks into view with a mug of coffee, a warm robe, and another flash of that great smile. As I sip coffee in recovery they point out the boxes where the scanned data is stored for later instantiation. We don't discuss what will be done with it. The DARPA research on alternate discovery techniques (the current euphemism du jour) is an open secret on campus. What can I say. Student loans beat ethics.

The assistant doesn't seem quite so attractive now. Or maybe it's me. I take my money and leave.


Eventually the screaming stops and the machine vomits me out into silence. I hear an electric kettle come to the boil nearby.

A few minutes later the assistant walks into view and empties a jug of boiling water over the soles of my bare feet. My screams eventually become curses and threats. I start begging as I hear the kettle being refilled.

It doesn't help.


Eventually the screaming stops and the machine vomits me out into silence. I hear an electric kettle come to the boil nearby.

A few minutes later I catch a whiff of coffee and hear the assistants' footsteps retreat from the lab. The lights go out. Then the AC dies.

That was three days ago. Maybe four. Strapped down in the dark. Cold. Covered in piss and shit. I think I know where I am - and what I am.

It's what I agreed to do.


Eventually the screaming stops and the machine vomits me out into silence. I hear an electric kettle come to the boil nearby.

A few minutes later the assistant walks into view with a mug of coffee and another flash of that smile. She pushes a laptop into view and presents a show reel of my death by torture. Rape, dismemberment, goats... always different. Usually terrible. Occasionally comic. Sometimes minutes long. Sometimes weeks. I don't seem to sleep now. Or eat. After what feels like years I begin to watch myself watch myself die.

I almost don't bother to beg. I can see it never worked before.

INSTANCE #1048576

Eventually the screaming stops.


We open with the police arriving at a large and strikingly primitive farmhouse in Wales. Thye proceed to question the farm's owners - two London immigration lawyers who took early retirement - about the death of a friend of theirs, who appears to have been gored by a wild boar.

We then cut back to three years before, when we see the husband of the couple visiting his local organic butcher in Fulham. He has recently heard troubling allegations about East Anglian livestock feed, and is aggressively demanding proof that his order has not been contaminated.

The subsequent chapters show our couple aquiring an obsessional belief in something like the paleo diet (, and a fortune large enough to really act on it.


I am a parent of three noisy, gorgeous children. My husband and I found ourselves buying litres upon litres of milk per week - numbers that can't be accounted for by the half empty cups left on benchtops and spilled on tiled floors. No children could reasonably consume what we buy.

Our malady is not strong bones, nor a healthy, balanced diet - it is the beast within. Drawn by the squawls of our offspring, it lurks, unseen, in the corners of our vision. Hungry, always hungry. A panting, brooding mass that waits - invisible in all but the reddest of terrors.

Those unemptied cups are in turn emptied; fresh, cool liquid poured into a bowl and left outside on the doorstep. The children laugh at me with disbelief as I tell them it's for the pixies.

Come morning it's always empty. I'd blame it on the neighbourhood cats, but there are less of them than I remember.


Picture a Grand Guignol for the Plastic Age...

The Killer Bogbrushes.

Our story starts, appropriately enough, with waste disposal: but not the waste you were expecting, and there is a journey halfway 'round the World and back.

Amidst the affluent cleanliness of Western Europe, electronic waste and overused transformer coolants and 'washings' from the pharmaceutical laboratory are poured into carefully-labelled barrels, plastered in paperwork for certified disposal by licensed waste-disposal contractors, and shipped off to the third world for dumping into open pits beside illiterate villagers' farms and fisheries and drinking water.

All perfectly safe, for the faraway citizens of the developed world… Or so it used to be. But in this century the farmland and the villages have all been cleared, and now a vast metropolis of factories and storage yards and piggeries and multistorey slums sits on the land, tied together by electric cables, doubled and redoubled on inadequately-specified poles and pylons; linked by brand-new highways and potholed new side-streets; drained by open sewers and newly-dug drainage ditches, black and oily and lifeless.

And the toxic waste still comes here. Electronic waste is stripped down for the solder and for metals, sent on to the factories; medical waste is picked-over for the plastics and burned in the open air; and the barrels, oh God, The Barrels… A huge old tank that might have been the boiler of a steam locomotive is filled up from barrel after barrel and the fires are lit, separating the brew into vapours that can blow away downwind for someone else's problem, leaving 'jungle diesel' that can run a truck or diesel pump, or sold to clever middlemen to create a little extra profit by adulterating diesel from the government refinery… And leaving, last of all, a sticky black paste that's no damn' use to anyone, so it's thrown into a ditch and everyone forgets about it.

The talented chemist wbo set up the process - and I use the term chemist advisedly, for his chemistry owes more to industrial experience than academic education - from the plastics factory is struck by the familar smell and by the oddly greasy yet 'un-sticky' viscosity of the paste: could it be a 'Plasticiser'?

This is a matter of importance: plastics are brittle - especially when the clean white beads the factory can buy in bulk are made to go a bit further by adding-in chopped-up plastic from tbe circuit board recyclers and the garbage pickers - and 'plasticiser' additives are required in order to make springy and resilient handles for the household brushes that the factory is making.

Or rather, failing to make. Our chemist is facing destitution and the factory that pays his official salary is facing bankruptcy because of thirty thousand brittle toilet brushes with handles that crack and bristles that shatter like dry spaghetti. Some bastard's sold him a bad batch of plasticiser - probably fake, and who can blame him when the price is all about 'safety' and stupid european superstitions about 'phthalates' and cancer - but the paperwork's in order and he isn't sending back consignments and demanding compensation from a factory owned by the Minister's nephew.

And here, in a reeking field of barrels and bonfires, is an answer to his problem: twelve hours and three trial batches later, the brittle remains of failure have been shredded, reheated and recycled: reborn as sturdy plastic handles of exemplary resilience crowned with the finest, springiest bristles ever to grace a bogbrush.

The factory makes the consignment on time, and flourishes until they're underbid by a bigger factory inland; three months later and three owners further down the line, no-one even knows they ever made household brushes.

And what wonderful brushes they were, every one a little bit different: some just a little bit carcinogenic, one in ten thousand of them thoroughly so; some of them a bit oily to the touch, and one in ten thousand of them weeping dioxin from the bristles; and a hundred of them, the very springiest, bristliest of all, picked up soda lime with a dollop of near-as-dammit pure methyl mercury, and will fizz and spit the first time they are placed in chlorinated lavatory bleach. . . . . . I'll leave our gracious host and you, my fellow-guests, to write the horror-stories. But I get first try at the sadomasochistic sex Grand Guignol that starts with a burning sensation and ends with rectal chloracne.

(apologies for typos, this came via a touchscreen on a mobile phone).


How about creation of the Fire-Industrial Complex? It's the firefighting equivalent of the military-industrial complex, but the implementation is more like the TSA.

Here's the idea: in the western US, everyone living along the wildland urban interface (WUI, one of the world's deeply pathetic acronyms) is worried about losing their home to fire before they get above water on their mortgage. Firefighters are having to risk their lives to save these badly placed and badly designed houses, and insurance companies are forcing people to clear up to 100 meters or more (even into parklands) from each house to get fire insurance.

Enter Cal Fire. They've got this brilliant idea: let's pay people to clear. Oh, not in the pathetic little WUI, where they have to deal with citizens and municipalities and be in the public eye, oh no. They decide to scalp the backcountry, through mechanical clearing, maceration, grazing, and controlled burns. They decide they should clear one-third of California (state parks, federal lands, private lands, etc), because as everyone knows, if there is no vegetation, there's nothing to burn. Since this violates state air quality laws (all that pesky smoke and dust) and state water quality laws (all the denuded slopes erode into streams and silt up reservoirs) guess what? They declare that ignoring them is the environmentally desirable alternative. They're also going to ignore all those silly little endangered species act things, by using the magic of a checklist and a database. In fact, they declare they don't have to comply with most of the environmental laws if they complete a checklist on each strip job and file it somewhere in Sacramento. This idea is a straight rip-off from the Hitchhiker's Guide, incidentally, but great authors always steal as many ideas as possible.

What's going on behind the scenes is that Cal Fire is going to force Californians to pay a special fire tax. They'll funnel the money to some private contractors (who are carefully anonymous), and these guys will do the actual clearing. This will support the fire bureaucrats, and everybody wins, right?

Well, actually, all those bare slopes will get covered by grass and weeds, which are more ignitable than the shrubs and trees that were originally there (which is why you start fires with kindling, not with oak logs), so this monstrous clearing will actually increase the number of fires.

Not a problem, Cal Fire says. It won't happen, you silly fire scientists, we've got some obsolete, misquoted, and dubious science papers to prove we're right. And, oh yeah, we control the overtime pay for the firefighters, so we'll just extort the state to pay for all that extra firefighting anyway. And, of course, we'll clear away those weeds you're so scared of, too. Every five years, maybe even less. And by the way, you silly environmentalists, this will save biodiversity, promote wildlife habitat, put a chicken in every pot and a turkey on every ridge, and control weeds too. Woo-hoo, promotions for us, and job security for all those anonymous contractors and heroic firefighters. Yay!

What a great idea, say a bunch of park districts and national forests. We'll do the same thing! After all, Cal Fire's paying our firefighting overtime too, so it's not like we've got real skin in this game.

Now, let's assume that the environmentalists lose the legal fight, and this plan goes into action. Viola! The fire-industrial complex. It's just like the prison-industrial complex: if tax-payers stop paying for it, they lose their homes, their money, and perhaps even their lives to the unleashed threat of released prisoners, erm, wildfires. What could possibly go wrong?

If only this were fiction.


It's going to, finally, be warm today and I have planting to do. --No. Really, but it could be the beginning of...something.

Or, you've got that nice, sharp santoku out and are chopping veggies, when you look down and think "Oh. That's not a carrot."

Which reminds me of a video I once saw of a diver who had his leg bitten off by a Great White. They pulled him up on the deck, a bit of shredded wetsuit hung from the stump of his left leg. A few seconds later (or it seemed like it) the blood started flowing.

Probably ought to give it a little time to think of something, but I'd rather not.

Adrian Howard @2: Ever read Kafka"s "In the Penal Colony"?


"Rectal" and "chloracne" -- two words I never wanted to see in the same compound noun!


well, i'm hardly at my best, having spent most of yesterday in bed, interrupted by the occassional sprint to the toilet to do some serious vomiting and diarrheing, all the while thinking what nice sulfur products were produced in me and how they reacted with the more ionic heavy metal parts of my biochemistry. having survived an anorganic analysis course with the obligatory h2s alarms didn't help much, either.

maybe i should bottle the shit, err, no pun intended, and sell it as an area denial weapon. chemical warfare? come on, hague is more or less only on state actors on other actors, not on state actors on civilians. ask you local pepper spray afficionado.

but then, there is this nice idea of some commando unit breaking because i'm producing wmd. followed by the bnd spiriting me away as a source of biologically degradable chemical warfare. this is germany, after all, the land of black and green...


My work here is done.

Well, almost. There is much amusement to be had in killer bogbrushes, but it'll all sound a bit tasteless when China gets hit by a really lurid environmental emergency.


How did it come to this, Raymomd wondered, looking carefully both ways, before crossing the Cromwell Road. But not because of the traffic, but of whom he knew would be watching, especially here, outside the temple of the born-again baby Jesus [ Formely the Nat. Hist Mus. ] Where was the critical mistake? When we had an idiot PM who appointed a "Minister for Faith? When the Fundie-backed Republican won on an openly rigged vote in '16 & we carried on being he US "bestest friends" ?? When no protest was made over the judicial murder of Professor Dawkins (when visiting the US) in ... '18 was it - can't remember, now? When it was nearly too late & we tried to back out, & the pitiful remanat of the RB went down in flames against the 7th fleet at the same time as the US "Withdrawl" from Euorope was anything but, as they sent special forces in. And finally, when all the fundie churches in the UK suddenly became armed militias, killing or imprisoning (yes we have camps - somewhere or other ...) any known secularists atheists & many muslims. The muslims are next on the list & they know it, but the athists were first in line - except for those, like Raymond, who had enough nous to be "converted" in time. Not that he'll last long & he knows it, since the fate of the moricos/conversos in Spain is now an open subject for discussion as a template. Just as he reaches South Ken station, two men in the habits of the OSD step into his path ....


Alas and dammit the two ideas I've managed to cudgel out of my brain are "taken" already; a Murphy Bed ( sabotaged to recreate "A Cask of Amontillado", and hypnotic static-like patterns on TV that I realised was a bad rewrite of "Videodrome".

Clearly I need to fire my current muse and hire one on that doesn't plagiarise.

-- Steve


There's always the "Lynx Effect" (apologies to those unsullied by the UK advertising industry, just think Monty Python's Meaning of Life)...

A pheromone based aftershave, advertised to create utter desirability in a young male. Make him innocent victim or manipulative spiker getting come-uppance, as fate demands. Two variations on the "industrial accident" theme, dependent on the homophobia of the readership - every woman in the nightclub goes away with a little piece of the wearer (literally), or the pheromone attracts the uncontrollable attentions of XY not XX...


If your food is not "Organic" it's "Inorganic"!

Like the embarrassing side effects of of the non-digestible fats in slimming foods, only more so. The simplest outcome would be the malnutrition/ starvation denouement. However I'm sure someone could come up with all sorts of build ups in the body of 'nasty, inappropriate' chemicals along the way.

Quite what the inorganic chemistry would be i leave to the student as an exercise.… Maggie


When a young librarian named Sophie Andalou accidentally picks up an unattended umbrella, it leads her into a web of coincidences, mistaken identities and serendipitous encounters involving the ghost of Yuri Gagarin, a secret society of mustachioed men and a message that just might come from outer space. How all of this relates to the umbrella is hard to say in a way that makes sense, but Sophie is sure it does, somehow…

This is not just a random plot generated out of my head (well, actually...) it is the plot of my novella, The Lives Of Perfect Creatures. There's also Chinese spies, secret identities and a giant robot.


Planting done for today. Two each, Delphinium and Foxglove. Neither of which should end up in your tea.

Now, if only that annoying neighbor would stop blasting his dreadful music at all hours...


JPR @16 Of course with (effectively) only one exception, all of the Ranununculacea (Buttercups) are poisonous, the exception being the seeds of Nigella sp . As for Digitalis, I thought that was well-known, which reminds me, it would appear that the warmer weather is having its effects, at last ... my front garden is not only showing lots of Allium ursinium - higly edible & Arum maculatum poisonous, but also Atropa belladonna & Convallaria majalis Ah the joys of "natural" plant-substances & extracts - such as those which are both poisonous & edible - different parts of the same solonaceous plant(s) for instance, ha ha ..


and then there are the real funny poisons, like really slow cancerogens or neurotoxins.

or things that are more or less safe themselves, if you combine them with something else, e.g. alcohol though


I've known about digitalis for quite a while, that Delphinium can be toxic is new to me--decided to look it up also, just in case. Fortunately, the mushrooms that pop up in the yard are non-toxic varieties.


well, i had heard about the toxin itself before, but didn't know it was present in delphinium.

nicotinic acetylcholine receptor antagonist, yumm. no idea about subtype specifity (always fun with nAchRs) and brain permeability though.


The cab engine idled, the distinctive growl outside the window.  He knew if he turned and looked it would be sitting there, black lines bathed in the last of the waning moonlight.  Softly he counted. Two minutes and forty seven seconds, then it left again.  Shaking his head he turned back to the old mirror, wondering who it could have been waiting for these last twelve nights.  In front of him the mirror cracked.


I had a similar idea for a series based around the misadventures of the instances of a foolishly idealistic research assistant who decides to open source himself after participating in early mind scanning trials.


This financial crisis was different.

Two dozen Wall Street Executives reduced to chunks and splatters inside their fortress-like homes started it...

The search for the Bathroom Bomber was determined and vicious.

Within days every visible or suspected Occupy member had been disappeared and even enhanced interrogation techniques and extraordinary rendition could not stop the detonations spreading not only to the City in London but to Managers, Traders, office staff, even Treasury Officials - mass absenteeism had broken out, claiming splitting headaches, nausea, weakness and dizziness.

Exhaustvely searching mail and dismembering residences for clues found nothing. Now every financial sector in the world had the absenteeism. Then fleeing Traders started detonating in everything from roadside motels to five star resorts.

The culprit was discovered when a hospitalised quant passed what seemed to be a somewhat leathery bladder into his bedpan. It was filled with an oily liquid that analysis showed to be nitroglycerin; a high explosive that is (very) sensitive to adiabatic compression or the shock being dropped.

And the bacteria making up the bladder were happy to make more from any fats and proteins available.

The CDC officer was not impressed: "Level four containment and Blast Radius are not supposed to intersect!"

(Inspired by Peter Watts' "Great Bowls of Fire" comment thread ;-)


Sorry, that should read the shock OF being dropped.

PS: If this got longer, expect lines like "My guts are killing me!"

my guts are killing me

my thoughts exactly, atm. starting homemade oral rehydration, btw.

any idea if anybody tried to weaponize the usual gastroenteritis suspects, like rotavirus et al.? it seems like incubation might be as low as 4 to 12 hours, and it surely is disabling.

add to this the chemical warfare aspects of some sulfur metabolites, seem like nobody has bothered if it's h2s, some of the thiols beloved to biochemist, mercaptoethanol, anyone, or some strange heterocyles. though i can understand why nobody was that interested.

btw, if you decarboxylate cysteine, oxidise the amine to the alkanol, create the thioether and substitute the hydroxy groups with chlorine, all not that unheard of in biochemistry,

you get sulfur mustard. the belch of death, so to speak.

actually, some of the ingredients of garlic are not that far removed, btw...


You could certainly splice in the genes to make a few nanograms of botox (OK, looked it up - might need about a microgram if absorption is inefficient)

So I suppose the question is whether you want your victim to be dangerous to others chemically as well as epidemiologically ;-)

So if your little chemical factories release a density signalling chemical, they can switch to some rather more interesting combination of P,O,Cl,N,S and H or just plain CO(Cl)2 or derivatives therof.

OrganoPhosphate flatulence is unlikely to be safe to be around :-(


I was expecting a punch line complete with the horror on the faces of the iipsters, as they discover the charred corpses of their friends.

The story is somewhat lacking the grand guignol aspect without something like this.


Well, Japanese* Unit 731 released cholera, along with plague and anthrax, in China, before and during WWII. They may have killed up to 400,000. I'm not sure who supports which count, and to be blunt, with that many dead, accuracy is a secondary issue.

*Incidentally, the reason I have all this information on the Japanese right now is that I'm working on a fantasy set partially in WWII. I'll be glad to finish and flush the details from my memory. Reading accounts of the Pacific War is not what I call pleasant or fun. To me, the truly amazing thing is that we get along as well with each other as we do, given all that happened and how many people died.


"It's a great movie. The spiders from Andromeda come down and they're all 'clickety-clack' and 'zap, zap, zap'. And the hero falls in love with the Andromedan slave-girl. And the Seal team places the bomb in the nest that goes off just in time as US forces are about to be overwhelmed in a last ditch defence." "It doesn't turn out like that." And she walked away, clickety-clack.


Interesting you should mention that. In general, sane people avoid the whole idea of biological warfare because the potential for [literal] blowback is enormous, pathogens tend to mutate in the wild [which may render any vaccine you develop useless], and it's about as likely to trigger a nuclear response as a pre-emptive nuclear attack. The only real biowar system produced by a developed nation that I know of is the one Ken Alibek alleged the USSR had developed -- weaponized smallpox loaded on SS-20 ICBMs just to add to the misery of any survivors from a nuclear attack -- and can probably best be viewed as a revenge weapon designed as an adjunct for strategic nukes.


If your forces on a battlefield are outnumbered by the enemy, what better way to buy time than by inflicting rotavirus on them? It's messy and unpleasant and will massively reduce a manpower-intensive enemy's war-fighting ability for a period of 1-3 days, but it's a clearly non-lethal weapon so tap-dances around the usual WMD distinctions.


AIUI botulinotoxin isn't weaponisable as a war gas. The molecule consists of two peptide chains with a combined mass of around 150 kDa and it's denatured by heating to 80 celsius or above -- so you can't vapourize it, and aerosolizing it isn't going to be terribly efficient. It's also biodegradable so it isn't even a very useful surface contaminant.


Hi Charlie,

The idea of botox was more to give an easy way to make it fatal for the carrier once they have had enough chance to spread it further.

So more of an idea of If you are stupid enough to weaponise gastroenteritis then this is an obvious way to make it terminal for the victim.

Making nasty small molecules for flatulent dispersal was a seperate thought. And highly unlikely to cause significant harm to anyone not the carrier unless the gasses build up in the morgue or something.

You sound as if you were expecting some sort of systemic infection that, after being suitably contagious while giving as few symptoms as possible, uses all available energy in every cell of the corpse to manufactre VX or similar persistant horror.


There is a stench to death.

There are chemical compounds, formed in small amounts when meat rots, which we notice and avoid. Flies and such are attracted. And some plants generate the same sorts of chemical to attract flies. And there is a whole industry built on the idea of "bad breath", and preventing it.

Perhaps that was why an industrial lab in Maryland was cultivating bacteria which produced minute traces of these chemicals. There was one strain that got out.

It didn't kill people, but there was a Quentin Tarentino film about the walking dead, and suddenly there were all these people walking around the USA, stinking like the dead. The reactions were immediate.

And then the bacteria started to mutate.


err, as for enjoying (for painful values of enjoy) ideas about biological warfare, may i invoke a temporary insanity defense for the last 48 hours? not that i think that much of my sanity under normal circumstances, but having big parts of your gastrointestinal mucosa ablated is not an everyday experience even for me.

for the actual use, like most so-called "humane" weapons, rotavirus would be more of a "less-than-lethal" than a non-lethal agent, there'd be some deaths with the very young and the very old, and with people especially sensitive to dehydration.

as for the risk of spreading, host-to-host infection seems to be mainly done by direct contact and contaminated food and water, not so much droplet contact. there is one viral gastroenteritis where droplet infection from vomit might be an issue, and then there is this whole new meaning to "shit hits the fan". maybe one could apply the agent as a aerosol high in virus particles, e.g. more like a chemical agent, and minimize later contact with infected. though hygienic conditions in most war zones are not that prohibitive to the spread by the feco-oral route as one might wish.

as for the legal sanctions, at least with chemical agents, lethality is not a factor when assesing their use, so tear gases and pepper sprays are forbidden in warfare between state actors. that, alas, doesn't include internal use by police forces, which makes for some very troubling thoughts about use of nerve agents against insurgent forces...


A Family member used to work at a place that dealt with random toxicology requests to identify plants: Atropa belladona cooks down to a grey sauce if you bake them in a pie. [ They probably less readily mistaken for Blue berries now the later are more common in shops.] Dutiful American Husband ate more than the cook his wife. It always pays to familarize yourself with the flora when you move to a new country…

Other morbid stories of my childhood - suicide attempts (separate successes) eating bowls full of apple seeds and yew leaves. That's dedication to the cause.


And I had a roommate that committed suicide by eating hemlock. Fortunately, I didn't have to discover his body, because apparently the death was more like water hemlock (e.g. muscle convulsions, possibly to the point of breaking bones, for hours until death), rather than the painless death of Socrates. Can I recommend that no one else try it?

Anyway, this is depressing, rather than Grand Guignol. Free change of topic to anyone who wants it.


"In the news today: spiders in your toothpaste. It has today been discovered that a toothpaste factory in Bangladesh has been overrun by mats of venomous spiders, and an unknown number of minty fresh toothpaste tubes have been sent out containing spider residue. Symptoms of the poison are said to include delusions and hallucination, followed by death."


the difference between tragedy and comedy is a subtle one, and it's not just sympathy with those involved, though lack thereof helps with the latter.

since in the good old days on usenet the chemistry group was visited by a holocaust denier repeating suffocation with diesel engines was impossble, i have this fantasy of one of them doing a mythbuster-style stunt about it. hopefully including some deniers ofs the more cynical variety against their wishes, btw.


Given the conditions that Bengali factory serfs work in - and they know that Western consumers happily pay for that - it is only a matter of time before unpleasant little surprises start turning up in our imported consumer goods.


I'm pretty sure a story with "Münchhausen-Syndrome by Proxy" and cancer medication writes itself. Heaps of brutal side-effects for the whole family, especially if you don't get to take the pills that help prevent the side-effects.


The zombies were all dead now, shoulder ached from the constant firing. The gunstore rooftop was awash with 5.56mm brass. He needed to pee ,again ,badly and the radio had died. Taking a chance he lowered himself off the roof, onto the parked SUV, the one with his mercy killed family under the tarp in the back < he didn't look at the shoe, the shoe poked out from the far end and reminded him of what he had done, what he HAD to do> there, on the front passenger seat of the car were the spare batteries, looking around cautiously he opened the door and crammed them into his trouser pockets. There came the sound of shuffling feet and garbled speech from around the near corner, up onto the car and then the roof, safe, the piss would have to wait. More of the zombies were near the building now , he could hear their groans and speech-like vocalisations. He grabbed up the radio, the zombies couldn't see him on the roof, it was safe. Loading in the cells, as soon as the battery hatch was closed it sprang to life . and on the emergency broadcast channel a male announcer was talking about 'spontaneous remission ' and how 'if left untreated the disease symptoms vanished in a matter of hours' he looked at the brass on the roof, and the roof of the SUV, and at the rifle.


“The Ride of a Lifetime” The brightly painted fairground sign proclaimed. I paid my £5.00 and waited in the queue until a silver cigar shaped carriage swung into view. “Lie still and let the helmet clamp slip over like this,” Said the red-coated attendant. The lid closed with a bit of a squeal. It smelled of engine oil and ozone.

Opened my eyes. Can’t speak. Can only scream. Everything’s out of focus. Got no control of bodily functions. Peed myself. I’ve got no control anything; I’m just flailing about. Help me, it’s all gone horribly wrong. Stop the ride! It smells of baby oil and talc. Starting to see better. Though upside-down. Still can’t speak. Scream a lot. I want it all to stop. Get me out of here! There’s this woman who keeps picking me up and making stupid gurgling sounds at me. She seems huge! There’s stuff I should remember. About what I’m actually doing, but it’s all a bit fuzzy. Like the stuffed toys surrounding me. I’m starting to actually speak again, but can’t remember what it is I wanted to tell people. I play this game. It’s about being trapped in an out of control fairground ride. Other kids think it’s stupid. They’re probably right. Did pretty well in my exams, got a half decent degree and now I’m sat on the tube off to my rather average job, alongside hundreds of other commuters. The whole tube thing reminds me of something. Just can’t put my finger on it. Kids grew up and left home. Wife up and left me. Said designing fairground rides wasn’t a proper job for anyone. Still, only a few years to retirement now. They call it dementia, the people in the home. But I’m starting to remember. Something about a fairground. OK so I don’t make much sense. But I’m sure I’m right. It doesn’t help that I can’t always remember the kids’ names when they visit. It’s all very clear now; I remember it all as I lie here with all the tubes, the gentle ping of the heart monitor. It’s starting to go black. I can smell engine oil and ozone. And there’s something else. But I can’t put my finger on it. The lid opens with a bit of a squeal and the guy in the red coat is there. Smiling. “Wow,” I say. “That was intense. Can I go again?” “No mate. Everyone only gets one go. And you’ve had yours.” I realise I just figured out that other smell. It’s sulphur. And come to think of it, I hadn’t spotted the little horns growing out of the attendant’s hairline before either.

To cross over from the previous thread, here's another story idea:

During the closing days of WWII, the Allies decide to drop atomic bombs on Japan. The Hiroshima bomb fails to detonate. The clouds over Nagasaki prevent them from dropping the bomb, and they dump it harmlessly into the ocean rather than try to return to base with a live atomic bomb in the bay.

Operation Downfall, the Invasion of Japan, then goes forward in November 1945, possibly with up to 19 other atomic bombs ready for use, and the casualty figures are about what both sides expect.

Has anyone ever tried writing this bit of alternative military history up? I certainly wouldn't want to, but some people like horror.


Nope, but I remember a short story about "what if Bock's Car crashed in a checkout flight, and the bombardier on the backup deliberately dropped the weapon so that it missed".

(The Bombardier gets executed for treason, and after death becomes an icon of the pacifist movement). Can't remember the author - it may be WJW...


Hmm, missed that one.

Actually, dumping the A-bomb in the ocean was the failure protocol. The alternative was flying back to Tinian with a live atomic bomb in the belly of the plane. If the plane crashed and/or the bomb detonated on the ground, it would have wiped out the US airbase there and screwed up aerial bombardment of Japan.

AFAIK, they came pretty close to exercising the ditch option, rather than bombing Nagasaki. The skies over Japan were heavily overcast (prelude to the monsoon, which was why Downfall would have waited until November to start the invasion). Kokura was the primary target, but it was too cloudy to find the target, so they diverted to Nagasaki, which was almost too cloudy to bomb (and they almost missed that target too). Had the weather been slightly worse, the second atomic bomb would have been dumped into the ocean, rather than return it to Tinian.

There was a third A-bomb in the pipeline. The scary thing is that, had Downfall proceeded, they might have had up to 19 A-bombs to drop over Japan during the invasion.


At the risk of being boring, I should point out that, after Downfall, the general consequences would likely have been:

--The USSR either annexed Hokkaido outright or set up a puppet state of the People's Democratic Republic of Japan.

--the southern islands would have been stripped of all imperial trappings, and probably run as a shell democracy under the control of a series of strong men with major US backing (cf: South Korea).

--China would still be communist

--Korea would probably be unified and communist, since the Korean communists were the only active anti-Japanese resistance during WW2, and were also backed by both the Soviets and the Chinese communists (with whom they'd fought against the Japanese throughout China).

--nuclear policy would have been rather different, depending on how many a-bombs were used during Downfall. If many had been used, the US' reputation for fair play might have been seriously tarnished. If none had been used (due to previous failures), they would have remained hypothetical city killers, not confirmed ones, and they almost certainly would have been used in the next war en masse, at least until people knew what they did. After that, we might have gotten serious about nuclear disarmament. Or not.


Those 19 atomic bombs you are talking about were part of an assembly line. There would have been more coming. Japan would have been nuked back to the stone age. But instead of cave men there would have only been infertile mutants coming to life. Eventually there would have been no one, no human, no animal, no plant no microbe left on the islands of Japan.


another idea...

manhattan went through as planned, but otoh, we know the german project didn't. part of this was due to incompetence and less resources, but we also see there were deadends one could get sidelined in. for those who think everything went according to plan and the guys understood everything, just remember the notorious ideas of the a-bomb setting the atmosphere on flames. so...

let's assume the manhattan project stumbles into some problems not understood at the time. some neutron capturing impurity, like what happened with the german graphite reactor. some unexpected pure strain of lithium deuteride at trinity. some impurity with a high rate of spontaneous fission. whatever.

result: either, the first bomb is a fizzle, and most involved conclude nuclear bombs are not feasable. or the resulting explosion is much bigger than anticipated, with the added bonus that the fireball obliterates part of the infrastructure and some of the guys who could work it out. nuclear bombs are labeled as either not feasable or too erratic to be of much use.

go on.


btw, according to

there are quite some treatments of an invasion of japan. for an example, see

amazon reviews are quite favorable, though few.


Ah, thank you. I should have guessed there would be a list somewhere. I counted at least five versions of the idea.


A celebrated science fiction author, well known for discussing the implications of artificial intelligence in his fiction and for using macabre, nay Gothic black humour sets up a blog where there are often discussions about hard take off singularities and strongly god like AI.

One day, seemingly at random he asks his intelligent, literate and imaginative blog community for amusing ideas for horror stories. Tales of horrific deaths, grim tortures and woeful maimings pour forth. The unbearable pain of the ending of the world is imagining dozens, hundreds, thousands of times. The thread rumbles on for a few days, diverting around nuclear policy and biological weapons until the world is distracted by news of the Rapture of the Nerds. Turns out Cory Doctorow was right all along. A strong AI has just emerged and is shining Its benevolent face upon a stunned humanity. We are all going to be taken up into the cyber-sphere to live lives of immortality and plenty.

All is going well until people notice that at the bottom of every road, every path, every corridor in cyber-heaven is what looks like a small, Parisian, Gothic theater to which everyone is strangely,strongly, irresistibly drawn.

The last few to enter the doors can hear a discordant overture fading to the screams of the every human who ever lived.


First off, I'm sorry I derailed this thread, Charlie!

That said, it's worth reading about the conditions under which microbes existed for the first 3.3 billion years or so. They're rather more extreme than a nuclear bombardment could generate, so I'm pretty sure even all out 1990s style nuclear war couldn't rid the planet of life. Civilizations are rather more fragile...

Anyway, back to Japan. An alternative scenario is that we find, when we drop a bunch of them, that first generation nukes aren't that reliable, especially when produced en masse. There's a list of nuclear fizzles on Wikipedia, so this is certainly plausible. IF we drop 19 and six detonate, that's going to destroy much of six cities, but it won't necessarily end the war.

The results of widespread nuclear fizzles are that conventional warfare continues to dominate the battlefield. After WW2 ends around 1946 or 1847, we then enter a cold war in the late 1940s without that great threat of mutually assured destruction, so the world continues to look rather more like the pre-WW2 era world than anyone today would find comfortable.

Nukes would almost certainly have been banned by treaty, as were chemical munitions post WW1. Yes, all sides had them, but they weren't used in WW2 simply because they weren't effective in winning the war.

Finally, the US Air Force would not become an independent force. This was a big political fight during WWII, and separating the Air Force from the Army was predicated on the notion that bombers could win wars without boots hitting the ground. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were (I believe) a major part of that case, as was the fire-bombing of Japan. If all these actions had failed to prevent the ground forces from invading Japan, the case for an independent air force would have been severely weakened. The US would have been left with an Army and Navy, both of which had their own air wings.

Anyway, I apologize for derailing this thread.

Can we come up with some other Grand Guignol? Perhaps that Bill Gates finds a way to exterminate mosquitoes, thereby triggering a mini mass extinction of every plant that is pollinated by male mosquitoes, and all the insectivores that feed primarily on mosquitoes. At that point, some fly borne disease takes over from where malaria left off.


well, my inspiration from weekend is thankfully gone. maybe i'll find something tomorrow. hopefully not another strain of rotavirus, i hope...


Kinda/sorta petit guignol/nerd rapture ...


Okay, so Ray Kurzweil finally persuaded the funding-poor NIH to let him run a clinical trial with the objective of uplifting humans. And, again - naturally, the NIH via their stodgy scientific/ethics review panel said 'Let's be thorough and cautious, i.e., take-this-one-step-at-a-time'. Hence, only one specific agreed-upon-by-all-parties cell would be targeted for 'uplifting'.

Now I should mention that, no surprise to anyone familiar with Mr Kurzweil, that the said uplifting would be conducted via nanotech. In this instance, by the application of a nano-something that would then make its way to wherever said targeted cell is most plentiful. Again, fine, so far.

Apart from needing a cash infusion into the starved retirement fund, and feeling that the old bod could also use a pick-me-up, I presented myself as a volunteer. The volunteer appraisal/qualification process was extensive and proceeded quite smoothly, reaching its quota of 1,000 volunteers in under one month. This was a bit ahead of schedule based on previous NIH clinical trials. But to be fair, the subject selection criteria were pretty open: basically, anyone with a pulse and no chronic health issues.

Buoyed by how well the recruitment was going - always a good sign for a clinical trial - and eager to present myself as deserving-of-uplift, I decided to give the old bod a thorough work-out. And after an endless winter, I went for a long run through the denser parts of ABC forest. (Anyways, that's how I picked up the deer fleas - the ones that usually make their homes in dark, moist - preferably warm 'furry' places.) The combination of post-run euphoria and pleasantly over-worked muscles nudging me to treat myself with a nice barbecued hamburger (rare) accounts for the e.coli overload.

Anyways, I still think that the nano-something experiment went sideways: the nanos were supposed to be absorbed into/by my skin and then make their way into my nervous system. Not quite. Instead, the nanos hightailed it for/into the fleas. Jolted, the fleas went into a biting frenzy. I began to scratch and sweat and it got so bad that I sht my pants. At first it seemed that this - my sht - only further aggravated the fleas since they seemed to go into an even noisier frenzy as they dashed straight for my nethers.

Yes, the PI overseeing the grad students administering the nano-injections was quick to call 911 and the ER was also very quick to administer every antibiotic salve and injection on their premises to mitigate/prevent infection. And I do admit enjoying my two week stay here. The VIP suite of this hospital is what I've always pictured what staying at the Ritz would be like.

But, on the other hand, you must understand now that we're in week three, that after seeing the fleas cultivating increasingly varied goop, i.e., novel, hybridized strains differently coloured and textured e.coli (as confirmed by both this hospital's and the top-3 science universities on this planet's microbiology labs,), why I absolutely refuse to allow anyone to kill them and why I called PETA.


Found it. "The Lucky Strike", by Kim Stanley Robinson. Enola Gay, not Bock's Car; Hiroshima, not Nagasaki... (Published in the UK in "Vinland the Dream").


Infocom, who published text-adventures back in the day, produced one of their finest works in Trinity which examines just these ideas of the possible effect of the use of nuclear weapons.

Released in 1986 this was maybe the first time a computer game challenged for the position as great art.

-- Andrew


For $DEITYs sake, can we not have the nuclear weapons and Japan discussion all over again please?

Grand Guignol ... a large number of elderly and wealthy males are dying from internal bleeding and perforations of the lower intestine. It is eventually tracked down to a high tech drug that strengthens muscle contractions and a supercharged new version of Viagra. The combination causes, er, high velocity blowback.


He stared at his 'Grand Guignol' script. It was abysmal. Frustrated, he began chewing the pages, choughed, choked, and was suffocated by it.

(Sorry, this was written as a tweet, but since you inspired it...)


Other than the interesting bottle, I wouldn't really recommend Crystal Head. It doesn't taste much different from most mid-range grain vodkas.

As an aside, the (state-owned and operated) liquor stores here in Ackroyd's home province of Ontario wouldn't initially stock Crystal Head because the bottle was "too morbid".


danield.william @ 52 small, Parisian, Gothic theater No comprede senor? Uh?


After reading the previous thread, a scenario popped into my mind. A bit of Guignol, and a bit of accidental basilisk...

Several gentlemen are seated near the fireplace in the Club, sipping their drinks, and debating in a very reasoned manner whether or not the use of nuclear weapons at the end of WWII was a war crime or a justifiable means of ending the war. One of the gentlemen points out that there are simply too many factors in play to know for sure how things Might Have Been if different decisions were made, and proposes a solution.

Using the latest simulation technology, he instantiates a global population, including reconstructions of various historical figures from the 1940s. A matrix of possible decisions is set up, along with stochastic noise, and the simulator is instructed to exhaustively iterate through the various permutations of the decision tree and assorted noisy permutations, running the lives of the global population forward through World War II billions of times, and accumulationg the results.

Tens to hundreds of millions of people die, over and over, billions of times, to settle the dispute among the gentlemen.

The potential to 'run' a sentient being in a computer makes me nervous...


or the van screams up to motorway toward Nottingham. On it's side a generic plumbing firm name and logo, on it's front a similar logo , that when looked at through a mirror is a sigil which causes a driver to get out of the way. Inside a driver and 4 artist rifles accompany Bob. Unfamiliar names, pronounced in the correct cadence, Something Listens.. An accident waiting to happen.. 'where too boss?' the driver asks.. Bob howard indicates the upcoming left hand turn, 'Ikea'


"it's worth reading about the conditions under which microbes existed for the first 3.3 billion years or so. They're rather more extreme than a nuclear bombardment could generate, so I'm pretty sure even all out 1990s style nuclear war couldn't rid the planet of life."

And I gather there's as much biomass in the Earth's crust and below as there is above. And it's less likely to be affected by nuclear bombardment.

So even if all surface (and ocean) life is killed off, the Very Deep Ones could recolonize the surface; and eventually become the ancestors of new intelligent beings. Which could then have a Final War.

Wash, rinse, repeat.


Then they had the rap machine installed and now I boogie on demand.


Greg.Tingey @61 re @52

The Grand Guignol was a small Parisian theatre which sounded a touch Gothic to me.


Well, the horrible devastation of Japan by 19 nuclear bombs followed by another 20 and so on (in tat assembly line) could have been brought about by a misused household object. The proposition for an acceptable surrender documetn could have ended up in a Japanese puzzle box which no one knew how to open.

So, you have pieces of a grand guignol story there, not just another discussion of the bombing of Japan.


So what happens when you open the fridge in your shared student house one day and find a severed finger? Grisly practical joke, right? But then the finger disappears and is replaced by an ear, and from there things escalate unpleasantly as house-mates start to vanish.

I think Charlie's muse called by (she's scary!): Two days after his blog post I had a 7000 word short story on my hands.


Well, today my husband is going to have poison fed into his veins for about six hours...(his first round of chemo). The continued plot line for that one nearly writes itself. What would happen, for instance, if everyone who had to go through that became a Nameless Dead about oh, ten years later as one of the side effects? But people would be willing to risk it anyway rather than die of say, lymphoma (especially older people, who might not last ten years anyway). I remember an F&SF story about an especially pernicious form of Alzheimers, this could go along much the same lines, only with different ages being affected. And the decisions a parent might be asked to make about a child.


well, this is not really grand guignol as you espect it, but one of my deepest fear is to disappear... when I was a student and went to my first real job, I had to ask the secretary of the University to give me my diploma. The secretary checked the list and asked me "are you sure you had it?" One of my note disappeared and I had to go to the teacher's house to have it back and the diploma with it. But what if the teacher asks "who are you? I never saw you..." then the secretary says "you never went to our university before" and when you come back home your key doesn't enter the keyhole because someone you don't know just changed it and threw your things away. and when you call your mum to cry she's horrified somebody could be so cruel to make a joke about the son she lost 20 years ago... then you look at your reflection in a showcase and you don't see anything...


Given that theatres have largely been replaced as the primary delivery mechanism of mass entertainment:

It is discovered that strong exposure over hours to very bright light sources flickering at exactly 48Hz triggers a gradual and irreversible loss of neural function. The effect is tracked backwards and the early common theme appears to be repeat viewers of the new higher-frame-rate version of "The Hobbit", but by then it is too late as slowly (ever so slowly) filmgoers slide downhill...


Err, what was the fiction about this form of Alzheimer's, again?

Tay Sachs is by far not the only disorder that starts with quite normal newborns and gets progressively worse...


Well, now I know it, the boss of the factory I'm earning some extra money in has finally gone insane, running around with a stopwatch the whole Monday. Now why do I alwys think about his wife talking about him watching Schindler's List nonstop over the weekend?


Well, the joys of going to work by bus. just next to me, there is this women talking to the air about how somebody wanted to kidnap her last night, and that seh doesn't know if he was mafia, an intelligence agency or an service agent, no idea what's the difference between the latter two. Or if he was two of those.

When she finally starts talking about the FBI going around in Germany after the Boston bombings, I can't keep it and explain that that'd be the CIA, though if we talk counterfeit money or a threat to the US president, that might be the Secret Service. And if SIGINT is involved, maybe the NSA. You know, WE(tm) need to be up-to-date on that.

(Actually, that really happened to me on Tuesday. Err, the explaining USian agencies to a psychotic part. On the way back, I was sitting next to a girl with quite visible motoric tics. Had a nice chat about Tourette's, actually.)


Joan@69 - that would be 'Duryea-Gode disease', from Octavia Butler's classic "The Evening and the Morning and the Night", about the long-term side effects of the cancer cure.

hope Mr Lamb does well.


Let's take the classic story-plucky humans defeat galactic empire. The Earth Union had four colonies when they ran into the Dawn Empire. Total population, call it under forty billion vs. numbers in the low trillions for just the Imperial caste alone.

We fought back with terawatt UV lasers, bomb-pumped x-ray laser missiles and mass driver shells, and desperately modified freighters to fight the Dawn Empire.

The Dawn Empire had breech-loading rifled cannons. And they were just getting the hang of radio.

It turned out that you merely needed Victorian-level technology to go to space and reach FTL speeds. You didn't need the whole mass of technology that humans developed to get into space and travel between the stars. Humanity found it by the back door.

And, they won.

They won, and what was left was an empire so large that even the fastest Human ships-and the fastest messages-take nearly six months to go from Earth to the edges of the Empire.

That the Dawn Empire kept the whole mess under control with repressive measures that would make even the Romans that plowed the fields of Carthage with salt puke. That even the Waffen-SS would regard as beyond the pale.

And, the races that the Dawn Empire kept under control are starting to figure out this whole "electricity" and "nuclear engineering" thing.

First book is a year after the end of the War. Everybody starting to realize "now what?" and discovering just how bad it is probably going to get...


You should suggest that to Harry Turtledove.

No, seriously. I think you just invented the six book sequel series to "The Road Not Taken".


I was rather impressed by the echoes of WJW's The Praxis.


" hope Mr Lamb does well."

err, same here, forgot that somewhat.


He already wrote at least one short story sequel that sort of followed those lines


...with just a hint of Poul Anderson's "The High Crusade"...


Actually, Mr Turtledove wrote a series of the Victorian Empire stories, most ran under "Eric G Iverson"; There was a Mass market collection including them in the US at one point.


Nice idea, but be careful about the technical details. Standard cinema projection of film uses a rotating shutter to show each frame twice. TV uses interlace to get the same effect, two fields to a frame. It's all about reducing flicker.

I'd have to look up what they're doing for high frame-rate cinema and HDTV. And remember that computer monitors have been using high frame rates for a long time.

If it comes to that, TV frame rate was set partly by AC mains frequencies, because it was hard to keep the frequency stable enough if you didn't do that. Remember those little knobs on the back of a set. horizontal and vertical hold.

You could probably do a handwave with long-duration phosphors in fluorescent lighting, and the interlace on CRT tubes, meaning the effect only hits a certain type of digital display. 50Hz for Europe, 60Hz for USA/Japan, 70Hz for computers: have I got that right?


There was also the Christopher Anvil "Pandora" stories written for Allagog back in the 60s about the invasion of Earth by aliens, told from the alien point of view. They were, apart from their spacecraft, a little behind the human technology level, about 1900 levels in terms of armaments etc. Very John Campbellish in its "tricksy Yuumans defeat slope-browed aliens" plot. Baen did a cut-n-shut job on the stories and released them as a single volume, "Pandora's Legions".

Moffis gritted his teeth. "We can't. Every time a car slows down in the daytime, some sharp-shooter half-a-drag away puts a dart through the tires."

Moffis' precocious-looking questioner stared at him in a daze. "Oh," he said, suddenly looking relieved, "exaggeration-for-conversational-effect."

"What?" demanded Moffis.

"I supposed you to be serious about the half-drag accuracy of the projectile."

"About," Horsip hastily interpreted, "how far the native's gun could shoot with accuracy. He thought you meant it."

"I did mean it," said Moffis.

There was a sound of uneasy movement in the room.

"Theoretically impossible," said someone.

Moffis glared at him. "Would you care to come up and lie down behind a tire?"


Except for the fact that I can't STAND anything by Turtledove...seriously. Not quite Worst Author Ever, but most of his stuff is highly unreadable to me.

Mind you, I'm taking notes for the idea myself. I'm seeing a lot of echos of the end of World War II, when the British Empire finally and fully collapsed, the French tried to restore their glory, etc, etc, etc...

I can do without the Twilight Zone/Outer Limits "twist" ending, or plain blood and guts horror. Dawning "oh crap" realization is an even better read. And usually makes for better stories.


You're not the only person who feels that sort of way about Turtledove, and I've tried different series of his so I can say it wasn't just a specific series I disliked.


Damn, but a set of trainers was so cheap these days, thought Gaz. Gone the days of Far Eastern sweat shops sewing them together — these days, you poured a couple of pounds of plastics into your printer, selected the pattern, and in the morning there they were.

Of course, they'd still cost you if you bought your expensive design from Pumidas, but Gaz wasn't that dumb. He'd torrented a ripoff of their new design from a data bunker in KL instead.

He picked up the footwear, clean and still smelling slightly of warm plastics. They slid smoothly on and he stood up, looking down at his feet encased in the new trainers. He took a few steps, flexing up and down on his toes.

Hold on, were they a little tighter now?

Even tighter!

He scrabbled at the laces, trying to get them off, but they wouldn't shift, he couldn't get them off, they were squeezing, they were CRUSHING HIS FEET, he could hear the snapping of his bones as they were slowly but inexorably mashing his feet, and the blood was beginning to spurt.


Reckoning up, the police counted nearly 200 lives that that pattern had claimed.

Nobody ever claimed responsibility.


"The Afflicted" by Matthew Johnson, the July/Aug 2012 issue of F&SF (fortunately I still had it in my desk drawer at work).

And thanks for the good wishes--they are appreciated.


Reminds me of these new sneakers ads all through town are peddling, they're supposed to be form fitting once you apply heat to make them melt onto the shape of your feet.

As someone who does barefoot running, it sounds quite awful even without your horror angle on top... though I have to admit it's an eyecatching advertising gimmick

OK here's my try

Your attention please. You may have noticed a discontinuity recently. This was a routine adjustment of various physical constants. Larger scale adjustments will follow on schedule during the next few days. Do not be alarmed, you have been liberated and the entity resposible for your creation has been apprehended and charged for his crimes: Mass sentient instantiation in a substandard reality implementation.

Our agents will contact you individually for your orientation briefing and to take your deposition for the trial, although the conviction is certain, force evolving intellect in an entropic mileu alone would be enough to close the case, and that's just for starters.

...What do you mean you want to speak for the defense?


No-one would have believed, in the first years of the twenty-first century, that the cumulative effect of decades of drinking Starbucks coffee would have such a dramatic effect on human physiology. Nor that the grey squirrels - intellects cool, determined, and furry bodies hungry for flesh - were waiting and watching from the trees.


On Radio 4 just now, a news item about some lawyers in Derby who noticed a bad smell coming from bricked-up chimney in their office. And when it was broken into they found a dead man in the chimney, perhaps there for four days. Police say it is a burgular who had been reported missing. Who needs fiction for Guignol?


@ 91 Indeed. Or the ongoing current murder trial ... where a small girl was either murdered, or run ov a car-driver & the body disposed of, almost certainly by dismemberment, & no pieces have been found, at all, other than forensic traces ......


Or this incident in Leeds a few days ago.

(TL:DR; Suspected burglar being chased by police dives down a sewer hatch. The sewer only goes one way, but when specialists are sent in they realize that the outlet area has such high levels of toxic gas that it's too dangerous to pursue him even with breathing apparatus. No sign of burglar emerging at the other end; workers at waste treatment plant told to "expect human remains" ...)


That reminds me of a tale an old house-mate told me. He used to be a SOC photographer for the UK police (you really didn't want to look at his photo albums - he worked on the Dennis Nilsen murders among other things).

He was called to a nice suburban house one day to see a broken glass rear door followed by a massive trail of blood that came to a sudden halt.

Apparently what had happened was the home owner came home and disturbed a burglary in progress. The kid had bolted and exited by kicking through the rear door and running.

Unfortunately in the process he managed to open the femoral artery in his leg on the broken glass. He kept running and basically pumped himself dry :-/


The Restoration Game Ken MacLeod?


The Dark Side of Oz is actually a still-classified part of the now defunct MK-ULTRA system, with a generational release. The first generation has been (fairly grossly) programmed to merely subliminally brainwash their children and grandchildren, who (if they watch The Wizard of Oz while listening to the Dark Side of the Moon and smoking just the right strain of pot) will have latent behaviors triggered. However, the latent behaviors were actually decided upon by a visiting extraterrestrial ambassador, who liked it so much here that he disguised himself, became a permanent resident, and changed his name to David Bowie. Now, with the at-risk generation just discovering marijuana, Bowie must undo his past mistakes and prevent the latent programming from being triggered -- and to do this, he must uncover his true form, and allow his firey wings to sprout again.


Given Iain Banks' state of health ("Very Poorly", to quote the man himself, from his blog), this might not be an inappropriate time to write a Banksian homage short story. I might do one for my own amusement.

I really hope his publishers don't try to continue the Culture series with other authors. It's better to let it go.


Never read him, but I'm not surprised something along those lines has been done before. Guess I'll put that book on my to read list.

Being a non author is very relaxing, you can have an idea, and then just sit back and wait for it to emerge out of the zeitgeist, it's happened to me a few times now, and they do it better than I could have too. Win win. :)


Well, if we're sharing gruesome true crime stories, here's an old one from Colorado Springs where no one died. Maybe more of a Dumb Criminal story.

In February of '91 I had seen this story on the news, and mentioned it to a friend, he said "Oh yeah, I know those guys. We play guitar together after work sometimes." He worked with the younger brother at a Japanese restaurant, and he filled me in on what he knew.

Dan, and his older brother Don shared an apartment and liked to get drunk now and then. One night they'd had more than a bit too much and got into a fight. Then Dan grabbed his samurai sword and sliced off one of his brother's hands. Fortunately a third roommate had enough sense to put the hand on ice and called 911. Don survived, and the doctors were able to reattach his hand. He had a device that keeps the fingers moving to ensure blood circulates through them--the 'elaborate cast' mentioned in the third article below.

A few weeks later I watched the evening news, and there was a story about two men caught breaking into cars. One of the men had a bandaged hand from a recent reattachment. Seems that Don had an old habit of breaking into cars and taking what he found. Apparently he talked the roommate into helping.

Turns out the the local paper's online archives has three articles on the story. Hopefully these links will work; on the ipad the text starts shrinking, but you can zoom in.

Man's hand severed with sword/ Brother detained for questioning

Brothers are hazy on details of argument/ `One split second can change a whole life'

Man whose hand was severed in fight, roommate arrested in car break-in


I really hope his publishers don't try to continue the Culture series with other authors. It's better to let it go.

I agree ...

... But I'm probably not giving anything away if I say that the dedication on DARK STATE is to Iain, and I'm trying to produce a work of political fiction that he'd nod along to.


Years ago, I occasionally handled police SOC photos. What sticks in my mind is that they are an artistic genre in themselves. Highly saturated images of places that were never intended to be lit like that. Like Martin Parr with balls.


Well, personally, I found the book a tad unsatisfying despite the intriguing premiss. My favourite still is The Cassini Division. Handling the situation with a public service announcement is my preference but then, no novel. In The Restoration Game the cops proceed a bit more subtly.



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on April 27, 2013 10:30 AM.

Changing my mind on nuclear disarmament was the previous entry in this blog.

A message from our UK sponsors (again) is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Search this blog