This is the Occult Triangle Lab, a blog about fantasy, trigonometry, and ungodly amounts of milk. New posts are below, but for new visitors, here’s a guide to some of the coolest projects on the Lab so far:
Since college, I’ve wanted to write a story using hypertext, partly because of Serial Experiments: Lain. The show weaves together a bunch of different references to conspiracy theories and cyberpunk elements, including references to Xanadu, the life-long work of Ted Nelson. Xanadu was one the first hypertext projects, and was meant to lay the groundwork for “a global community united by perfect information.” There’s a great article in Wired about it, which includes a profile and interview of Nelson. Here’s the clip from Lain:
Fittingly, there’s another fantastic article in Wired about why hypertext fiction is a defunct format. In short, it’s generally considered too difficult to write and too hard to read, all without bringing substantial advantages over traditional, linear fiction. Print versions of hypertext literature, like House of Leaves or Choose Your Own Adventure, are either messes or lacking in depth.
As I’ve said before, any kind of ergodic literature should be intuitive and feature a narrative that matches the format. That’s what I’m shooting for in this new story, which is about time and dopplegangers.
The story has a working title of “Dream-Eater.” It takes place in an underground city that’s divided into two caverns, which have opposite day and night schedules. The story begins with a narcomancer, a dream-mage, waking up and realizing that his sleep schedule has been broken and he’s been sleeping for the past 24 hours. To compound that, he can’t remember what parts of the previous day were real, and which parts were just his dreams. In that 24-hour period, though, someone that looks like him has been carrying on his routine: cleaning clothes, talking to his friends, etc. The story is about him trying to reconstruct what happened before he went to sleep and what his doppleganger did while he was sleeping. It’s also about his slipping grip on reality.
To chart out the flow of the story and divide it into nodes, I started writing notes:
The arrows on the left represent links to other nodes, which in this story lead to memories (which are fragmented and need to be pieced together), dreams, thoughts, or texts, like books or sheet music that don’t need to be included in the main text. The idea is to have the surface level of the story in the main nodes, but the deeper layers that reveal the truth, like thoughts and memories, hidden in a series of lower nodes that branch off the main narrative at strategic points. This way, the mystery isn’t just exploring the world and reality, it’s exploring the inner space of the protagonist.
Despite working my full-time job at Outer Places (which included an interview with P. Craig Russell, who’s scripting the new American Gods comic), I’ve been doing a lot of writing. I’ve got two stories on deck this month, one out for submission and one in the late stages of revision. At this point, I’m offering copies for people to read and let me know what they think. Here are the descriptions:
The Crownless King
When I took the draft of “The Crownless King” to a monthly Brooklyn Sci-Fi Writers workshop back in November, I was blown away by the feedback: people said it was “strange, eclectic”, “original,” “gruesome”, “fantastic,” and “fucking spectacular.” It was super encouraging, especially considering that I’d been working on the story for about seven months and eight drafts. You can read an excerpt and check out some of the sketches from the early draft, back in January 2016, here.
“The Crownless King” revolves around a wizard and his student holed up in a frozen tower buried under snow in the aftermath of the end of the world. While they’re preparing to head up to the surface, the wizard (named Samal) decides to teach his student (named Iz) a very old, dangerous piece of magic, which is ‘the crownless king’: the ability to remove one’s head.
People loved the lore and history woven into the story, as well as the parts dealing with self-surgery and magical flesh-work. It’s one of the first stories where I get to showcase my world’s take on wizards, magic, and ghosts. Here’s are some notes/sketches I did around the magic of ‘the crownless king’:
This is another one I brought to the BSFW writing group, this time in December. “Old No-Eyes” came from a much bigger and more complicated story involving Yute, the subject of my post on psychopaths and madness, and the Nokizi, the book of necromancy and mathematics that I ended up writing especially for that story. I wanted to focus on those two elements, so I cut it all down and wrote a new story, which is “Old No-Eyes.”
“Old No-Eyes” deals with Yute, an eccentric, ruthless necromancer with a talent for mathematics, and his former, backstabbing colleague named Tenza, who needs Yute’s help decoding a bizarre occult book written by an anonymous madman who calls himself “Old No-Eyes,” who claims that the text will teach the road to immortality to anyone who can decode it.
I’ve been passing around this one since December, and again, the response has been overwhelmingly positive: despite being a psychopath, people love Yute and his twisted sense of humor. People also liked the way mathematics was worked into the story and the depth of the worldbuilding. It’s the first of my stories to dive into the world of necromancy and introduce Yute, who’s one of my favorite characters. Here’s a sketch my friend Joel Clapp made of him:
Want to read A COPY?
If you’re interested in receiving a copy of these stories, I can send you a link to the private postings on Medium or a PDF via email. Shoot me a message at christophmahon [at] gmail [dot] com or hit me up on Twitter @DeadmanMu.
I’ve said this before: magic should not be science. Magic can be systematic and internally consistent, but it shouldn’t be reduced to a human tool, like astronomy or chemistry. A lot of writers and worldbuilders don’t seem to understand the difference–didn’t Arthur C. Clarke famously say that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic?”
But there is a difference. That’s what my new essay is about.
In this essay, titled “Frodo is Dead” I wanted to show how basing magic off of science, ration, and the Enlightenment philosophies that informed them inevitably leads to a breakdown of its fantasy world by turning it into a mirror of our world.
“The Rats in the Walls,” inspired by the work of H.P. Lovecraft, was something I put together for the Twitter Fiction Festival, but it quickly became something bigger. It received some coverage by folks like The Dusty Rebel and ANIMAL New York, and it kept me sane while I was unemployed. Otherwise, I might have been up in a clock tower with a rifle rather than drawing chalk summoning circles.
Here’s the abstract for the presentation:
The Rats in the Walls: Storytelling That Blurs History, Reality, and Fantasy
Two years ago, an anonymous figure in a white mask began appearing in Lower Manhattan, handing out cryptic messages and drawing occult diagrams in chalk. ‘Kilroy’, as the figure called himself, claimed to be the spokesperson for an enigmatic group called ‘THE RATS IN THE WALLS’, which was planning an apocalyptic event that would shake all of NYC. In reality, this was the beginning of a carefully planned, city-wide fictional narrative played out over two months and multiple mediums, including scavenger hunts, original video, and live performances.
“The Rats in the Walls” project incorporated elements of New York history, graffiti culture, and the work of H.P. Lovecraft to create an innovative, meta-textual storytelling experience that turned Lovecraft’s signature obsession with cosmic horror and local history into a narrative that blurred the boundaries between fantasy, reality, and urban legend. My presentation would take the form of a faux-journalistic account of the history of the Rats in the Walls, beginning with Lovecraft’s “Horror at Red Hook” (which will be treated as history) and ending with the fictional apocalyptic event Kilroy and the Rats brought about in 2015.
Along the way, the presentation will illustrate how the project incorporated elements of alternate reality games (ARGs), alternate history, worldbuilding, and metatextuality. The importance of live storytelling, the use of technology to create dynamic narratives, and the practical challenges and methods that come with allowing wide-scale audience participation will also be addressed.
This weekend I finally started digging into about 5 years worth of sketches and thumbnails doodled in the margins of my school notes. The majority of the sketches are for helmets, masks, and faces, but there are some symbols and ritual magic designs.
Most of the helmets on the left are meant for Redcaps, which are elves that have warped their bodies into killing machines. Their helmets usually have a grinning skull motif, like death masks. On the right are robes, designs, and a mask for a necromancer. The almond-shaped mask design is one of the oldest masks I made.
Most of the designs on the left are ritual hook designs, surrounded by symbols. I’m not sure what I’ll use them for yet. The other symbols scattered around the page are for necromancy. On the far bottom-right corner is a sketch of the god of death, Erroth.
I’ve been experimenting with creating a language of symbols for magic based on Chinese or Japanese pictograms. The two blocks in the center and left are some automatic drawing examples. On the right is a design based around the mask of the god of death.
More helmets on the left, and death masks on the right. The mace in the middle is a take on the Gae Bolga, the famous weapon of Cuchulain, the Irish hero.
These are some assorted drawings of faces, including the skull-like face of a necromantic character and the alien-like neck and head of Absurdity, which is an embodiment of chaos.
First, I’m taking on the temporary title of Interim Managing Editor for Outer Places, the sci-fi/science site where I work! My official title is Staff Editor, but until a new managing editor is found, I’ll be taking on that role and managing OP’s output and marketing. I’ll probably be heading out to SDCC, WonderCon, and NYCC this coming year to help cover events and speak on new panels too, which is amazing!
Second, Clarkesworld Magazine accepted my new pitch for an essay on magic and worldbuilding! For the past several years I’ve been bugged by magic in different books and games, especially The Elder Scrolls, because it’s often treated like a science where mages can ‘experiment’ and harness ‘magical energy.’ The way I see it, treating magic like science will inevitably create a domino effect within the fantasy world that leads it to turn into a world like ours, one where magic is harnessed like any other natural phenomenon. Magic will stop being magic, and Middle-Earth will become just ‘Earth’.
Third, I submitted a presentation proposal to GIFCON, the Glasgow International Fantasy Conversations convention, outlining a lecture I want to give on ARGs and The Rats in The Walls, my April 2015 project. I got an email last week that my proposal is under consideration, and that I should hear back around mid-January. We’ll see!
Back in college, I used to keep a sticky note attached to my laptop titled “Things Chris Mahon Believes In”. In order, they were:
Ursula LeGuin’s “Wizard of Earthsea”
Neon Genesis Evangelion
The sticky note was there to anchor me, and remind me why I do what I do. I used to read and write a lot about moral philosophy, and a lot of my writing is still informed by that, but day-to-day, I always found myself returning to stories for inspiration and a reason to get out of bed.
Thanks to Outer Places (the sci-fi website where I work), I got to write a piece on my seven favorite sci-fi/fantasy movies and books for TSR’s blog, Multiverse! You can read the article here, but here’s the list:
Wizard of Earthsea
Dune by Frank Herbert
Neuromancer by William Gibson
Johannes Cabal the Necromancer by Jonathan L. Howard
Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
End of Evangelion
This list isn’t definitive, but it’s a good chunk of what I love. There’s no H.P. Lovecraft on there (because most of his work is short stories and novellas) or Paranoia Agent or Serial Experiments: Lain (both TV shows), nor is there any manga/graphic novels (Vagabond or Uzumaki or V For Vendetta or Prophecy), and I couldn’t include things like The Seventh Seal or Man of LaMancha because those films aren’t technically fantasy.
Still, it’s a good shortlist and amazingly cool that it’s been published. It’s now “ON THE RECORD.” Woop woop!