Why are the ideas of things scarier than the reality?

This entry is part 23 of 26 in the series Mythology of the Modern World

And here we are on Monday, and the Mythology of the Modern World is happily open for business.

Today, our question comes from an old friend not only of Banter Latte and Websnark but even random noodlings and writings for the In Nomine role playing game over at Steve Jackson Games. Moe Lane — an excellent writer of regard on matters idyllic and profane alike (including many matters political, for those who can’t bear to have their assumptions challenged. Be prepared — Moe plays streetball) asked all the way back in the original myth call:

Why is the idea of a ten-foot bug scarier than the reality of one?

Now, I know a number of you just clenched your muscles and thought “what, is he crazy? A real ten foot bug would be terrifying.” And that’s fair enough — but I’d remind you that you’re reacting, once again, to the idea. Even the situations where people have shown terrifying pictures of gigantic spiders climbing up barn walls are expressions of the idea, since those pictures are inevitably created via photoshop or camera angles. If one wanted to listen to the boring scientific explanations done by experts who went to schools and learned facts, they’d explain that ten foot bugs of either the arachnoid or insectoid varieties wouldn’t look like their smaller brethren and would work very differently. It has to do with square-cube laws and the way exoskeletons and hydraulic muscles work and… well, that’s not why you’re here, is it?

Nor is this to claim that ‘bugs’ aren’t scary. I’m a confirmed arachnophobe. A spider the size of a quarter can get me shrieking in a most unrefined manner. No, what we’re really discussing is the fantastic, versus the mundane. In our minds, we can conceive of the most horrific things. Confronted with the reality… well, sure they may still be scary, but at least a small part of our brains thinks “wait — this is what the fuss is all about?”

Which brings us to our core question, distilled to its essence: why are the ideas of things scarier than the reality?

One note? This is kind of a dark one. Just be warned. I blame Moe.

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From the Vault: Langue

Another fragment. Another incomplete story. Distinctive this time because A) I have absolutely no recollection of writing it (though it’s clearly something I wrote) and B) I have absolutely no idea where I was going with it. But it seems interesting to me.

In a way, it’s more stock than a lot of what I’ve written, particularly for fantasy. At the same time, there’s more of a horror dimension than a lot of my fantasy work.

It’s also distinctive because it’s one of the few stories to involve Fort Baxter, a fictional Maine town along the Canadian border, meant to be my home town of Fort Kent with serial numbers filed sort of off and a fresh coat of paint over it.

I think I probably wrote this while I was finishing up college. I was really into the idea of language critical theory/linguistic critical theory/the sign-significator-significated trichotomy for a while then. I’m a little surprised this isn’t more pretentious than it is as a result.

Apropos of nothing, the lead is named Karin MacDougal.  In 1997, a Karen McDougal became a somewhat more-famous-than-usual Playboy Playmate and then Playmate of the Year. From the tone of this piece, I believe it was written at least four and possibly more years before 1997, so despite the name, this is not an homage to a hot chick.

Also apropos of nothing, I used to make homemade hot cocoa like is described in here.

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From the Vault: America the Beautiful

When we go back to stuff I wrote in the past, moving forward, I think we’ll call it “From the Vault.” That’s the sort of thing we’ll do on Tuesdays and Thursdays, on those Tuesdays and Thursdays we actually do something.

This is a fragment — an incomplete chapter one of a book never written, dating back to the early 90’s. As with pretty much every science fiction writer who was once twenty, this was the beginning of my dystopia novel. Back in the days when I figured I was going to graduate school as a matter of course, I had seriously considered Utopia and Dystopia as a concentration and field of study. I was considering that alongside 19th and 20th Century American Poetry, of course. It never entered my head to go for a Ph.D. in the Modern Superhero Story, which is a pity since that’s what I’d clearly be able to nail.

To that end, I started writing my dystopia. I called it America the Beautiful, because I was very, very earnest about it. This was going to be a call to arms — a warning for the ages that would rank with Brave New World and 1984.

You know. Just like all the other dystopias out there.

Well, I never got out of the first chapter. But rereading the first chapter I’m a little amazed — as unsubtle as the title was, the opening, the establishment of tone and character… it’s better than I expected when I went back to reread this. I’m actually moderately interested in what Thomas’s story would turn out to be.

Not that we’ll ever find out. At least, if I ever pick this up, it’ll be significantly different than whatever I intended fifteen years ago.

There is one thing I like in this, as well. To me, a good dystopia — I mean, a really good and scary one — had to be compelling. You had to get the sense that the people living in that society were perfectly content to live in that society. I didn’t believe 1984 would ever happen for the sheer fact that if the entire world was uncomfortable and unhappy, someone would do something about it in a power bid. Brave New World was far more likely, because as scary as that would was, you could believe the people living in it enjoyed themselves. And when people were happy, they weren’t rebelling against the social order.

Anyhow. Here it is. I hope you like it.

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The Shal Mari Blues: A fragment

We continue a week where work is being… well, workish. No complaints. The start of the year is going significantly better than I could have feared. Still, there is much to be done and not much time to work here.

So, this is another incomplete story — the first chapter of an extended fanfic I never wrote a second chapter for. As with a lot of fan fiction I did over the last decade or so, this one’s based on In Nomine, but rereading it now it seems to me it stands on its own, more or less. The non-In Nomine fan might not get every reference, but I think pretty much everything is explained by context. You don’t really need to know what Essence is, for example — just that it’s useful, souls have it and demons want it.

Shal Mari appeared in my last In Nomine story here as well — Shal Mari Apres Vie: Or This Ain’t Bat Country. As with that story, Shal Mari is the grand city of Hell — the closest thing Hell comes to a nice place or a good face. Only, naturally, it’s Hell so it’s neither nice nor good in the end. There was some feeling, back a few years, that Heaven and Hell were woefully underdescribed in the official supplements, and this was one of my drivers for writing the Shal Mari Blues. I wanted to talk about… well, Hell, from the point of view of the poor schmuck condemned to it. And, because I find societies interesting, I wanted to actually examine the society that would form around damnation. Especially when damned souls themselves were valuable to demons without themselves being of value to demons.

Anyway, this is a story about Hell, so expect nasty language, concepts, mature themes and all the rest. But then, the site does have a disclaimer, now doesn’t it?

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Why do we get spam email that’s complete gibberish or random sentences from books strung together?

This entry is part 10 of 26 in the series Mythology of the Modern World

This week, we have a myth com from reader Streon, who asks us:

Why do we get spam email that’s complete gibberish or random sentences from books strung together?

Streon’s question is a good one. He is careful, by the by, to differentiate between the spam e-mail that uses a block of gibberish like a shield, allowing the spamful content to slide in when we least expect it and tell the wife and children that you can have a large penis and low mortgage rates all at once. No, these are the e-mails that are nothing but sentences from books, nonsense phrases, bits of semi-comprehensible detritus and semiliterate ranting.

It is Streon’s thesis, unstated, that there must be some meaning behind these random e-mails. Some purpose.

As it works out, he’s half right.

Entirely right, I suppose, if one extends the defintion of the word “meaning,” but for the most part I don’t think that’s the right word for it. But that, as you can imagine, is a matter for the myth.

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A Judgment of History

For those tired of In Nomine fan fiction, I offer up this Nobilis fan fiction, for this our Random Thursday.

Nobilis is one of the primary influences on my Mythology series, though it is (generally) a darker take on it. Humanity mixes with the divine, assuming Estates and powers, and entering into a very genteel warfare between different ‘familias’ of nobility among the demigods.

This is as typical a Nobilis story as I can think of. And I think it stands on its own. If not… um… well, please accept my hope that you win the lottery.

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Antonio: The Calabite’s Song

It’s storytelling day! And this is a bit different for it — this is an In Nomine piece — a bit of fan fiction. And who’s to say I can’t post some fan fiction now and again? It’s long — novella length, around twelve thousand words. Normally, I’d break it into more than one part for this venue, but I think it works better in its full form.

I actually think this is a pretty good story. Good enough that I’m sad it has absolutely no prospects for sale, since it’s fan fiction and it’s very vested in the In Nomine intellectual property. It’s also something I wrote as kind of a culmination on the work I did on In Nomine Superiors 4: Rogues to Riches. I wrote an extended writeup of Alaemon, the Demon Prince of Secrets.

This is a story of one Alaemon’s demons. A calabite — one of the demons of destruction, who can destroy with a glance (though the universe — or Symphony — would take notice). Paranoia is a part of daily life in Alaemon’s Conspiracy.

Most everything else should be self explanatory. If not, ask a question in comments and I’ll try to answer it.

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Gossamer Reflections: Whisperdance

It’s Storytelling day, and so here’s a story for you, the kids at home. It’s the first of my short Gossamer Reflections stories.

The laws of Gossamer Commons are universal ones, and they’re harsh. Here’s a brief story on that theme. Continue reading →