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I’m a wizard in search of magic, an astronaut in need of space, and a hopeless enthusiast of frivolity. I’ve shot things with giant lasers, worn an astronaut costume for over 100 days to try and get into space, and made my own soap. A graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop, I write science fiction and fantasy in the Canadian prairies.
In the past few months, World Weaver Press has released the next two installments in Rhonda Parrish’s Magical Menagerie anthologies: Corvidae and Scarecrow. In Corvidae, “birds are born of blood and pain, trickster ravens live up to their names, magpies take human form, blue jays battle evil forces, and choughs become prisoners of war.” In Scarecrow, “ancient enemies join together to destroy a mad mommet, a scarecrow who is a crow protects solar fields and stores long-lost family secrets, a woman falls in love with a scarecrow, and another becomes one.” These two fascinating works feature many bright authors, and I had the opportunity to interview some of them.
The first is Laura VanArendonk Baugh, who writes captivating epic and urban fantasy, historical fiction, and mystery, and as well as non-fiction on animal training & behavior. Her stories “Sanctuary” and “Judge and Jury” are in Corvidae and Scarecrow, respectively.
Joseph Halden: Your expertise in animal training clearly showed in “Sanctuary”. Do you have any personal experience particularly with corvids that inspired you?
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: I haven’t worked with corvids in particular, but the idea for this story definitely grew out of my training experience. I was speaking at Clicker Expo, a training and behavior conference, where Ken Ramirez shared with us his progress on teaching dogs to count. We sat down to dinner that night, and I had the seat beside Ken, and I leaned over to him and said, “You’ve given me the idea for a story.” That was a pretty different story idea, but the concept of a counting animal as a pivotal plot point remained.
JH: What is the most unusual animal you’ve ever trained? What sorts of lessons have you learned from working with animals?
LVAB: People ask that a lot, and I usually answer, Chickens. Because people think chickens are dumb – we eat them, how smart can they be? – and it’s surprising to learn that chickens can recognize cues and identify colors and shapes and all kinds of stuff.
Bob and Marian Breland Bailey came up with the idea of chickens as an ideal subject to teach training skills, because we tend to come to chickens with less emotional baggage and cultural superstition (unlike, say, “My dog should obey me because he loves me and knows that I am boss”) and because chickens require such a precise level of skill and accurate feedback (you can get away with a lot of sloppy technique with a dog – it takes longer and the results aren’t quite as good, but it works). In 2004 I spent several weeks training with Bob and made a music video of some of our exercises. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CYHh7iivPU
JH: Have you ever worked with Phasianids? Why or why not?
LVAB: Hey, that family includes chickens! So yes.
JH: Your story “Sanctuary” features two characters who seem to deal with trauma by serving others, or finding a way to offer something to the world. What do you think drives people to keep going, to heal after suffering through such traumatic experiences or injuries?
LVAB: Huh. I hadn’t thought about them in that way, but you’re right. And I think that ultimately comes from my spiritual beliefs, if we root down far enough. I am Christian and I believe that while terrible things happen, and humans sometimes make bad decisions which affect ourselves or innocent others, there is always a beyond. We can either sit and wallow in how unfair life is, or we can use those experiences to grow stronger ourselves or to help others through tough times of their own. And that’s a choice we make, consciously or not.
JH: Your written work appears to draw from a lot of mythology. Is that a strong source of inspiration for you? If so, why?
LVAB: Myth says a lot about who we are. Myth reveals what’s important to us, and the stories we tell as a culture are a fantastic mirror about what we want and value. And that’s not just ancient myth, that includes our pop culture today. (Can you imagine anthropologists of the future evaluating our present society by reality television schedules?)
Myth lets us get closer to the truth than reality does. We are never so honest as when we jest, and we can explore the most delicate questions when they aren’t really our questions. (“I’m just asking for a friend….!”)
And just as importantly, myths and legends are fun! There’s a reason these stories have endured for centuries or millennia. Let them do what they were intended to do, to educate and entertain.
JH: Did the ideas for your two stories in Corvidae and Scarecrow, respectively, come at once, or did you write one then extrapolate into the second?
LVAB: As I answer obliquely to avoid spoilers, I will say that the premise of “Sanctuary” (Corvidae) came first, and “Judge and Jury” (Scarecrow) was a very natural outgrowth. I wrote them together, knowing I would have to break them apart in such a way that each could be read independently.
JH: Why do you think stories of the magical, the fantastic, are relevant to readers today?
LVAB: Oh, I could go on about this at length! But the short version is as I said above, an imagined distance lets us get closer. By talking about hobbits and orcs and the Shire, we don’t have to think about Nazis and a tiny sceptered isle, even though we desperately need to think about that. We can work out a lot of hypothetical situations and test various beliefs and approaches in a safer arena, where we can pretend it’s about something else entirely.
And we live in a very rational age, where we want to quantify and depersonalize everything. Science is my day job, and it’s best practice to track data instead of imagining what might be going on in an animal’s head. That’s all good for science! But I think we can lose touch with the qualitative world if we never leave that mode. It’s all right to take a walk on the fantastic side once in a while and stick your toes in the grass, read something less scientific and more… holistically human.
And sometimes it’s just fun to put things in a different perspective. Say, my favorite character just faced down a fierce dragon in the Earth’s heart, so surely I can handle middle management on a Monday morning, right?
JH: Do you have any advice for budding authors? Budding animal trainers?
LVAB: There’s a science and an art to both pursuits. Learn the science first, because you shouldn’t break the rules until you know why you’re doing it and what effect it will have. And once you’ve really internalized the science, the art will come, telling you when you can “cheat” and how you can do better by coloring outside the lines. And you’ll be able to see that each time you supposedly break a rule, you’re really still adhering to the principle behind it.
That sounds pretentious, but it’s really true.
JH: Can you tell us anything about the next project you’re working on? Are you planning on submitting to the Sirens anthology?
LVAB: I am! I don’t want to jinx it, because it has yet to go through submissions, but the Sirens story is in revisions right now. I think it falls under science fantasy, my first, so I’m pretty excited about it.
There are definitely some other irons in the fire, too, because I’m very bad at working linearly on one project at a time. Watch for an epic fantasy series launching sometime soon, which I’m very excited about, and then I have a story in World Weaver Press’s Specter Spectacular II this fall which is part of my Kitsune Tales series; it stands alone, but readers of the series will catch some extra tidbits not immediately apparent to others.
Thank you for the insightful answers, Laura! Check out her stories “Sanctuary” and “Judge and Jury” in Corvidae and Scarecrow, available now from World Weaver Press! You can also visit Laura at www.lauravanarendonkbaugh.com/.
This true story is so fitting because of recent fundraising efforts in support of libraries, but it’s also just a good, warm, inspiring account of what is possible.
I’VE DONE A FEW BOOK EVENTS, and I always felt the spirit of the event should better capture the raucous enthusiasm some books engender. When I read a good book, I want to run outside and scream about it to the world. I’m not alone in this regard, so why then, do so many book events feel stifled? Peru offered me the answer I was looking for: Lucha Libro, a twist on Lucha Libre, Mexico’s pro wrestling. Known as “literary wrestling”, writers don masks and are challenged to write a short story in five minutes. The winner takes off his or her mask and proceeds through the tournament, with the final victor having his or her first novel published.
Lucha Libro changes the idea that literature is boring and tries to make it as exciting as possible. I wanted to have a book event like that, where people got together and were excited about books. I wanted to engage the audience, and most of all, I wanted it to be fun. That’s when I came up with the notion of the Edmonton Character Deathmatch.
This is how it will work: two authors will duel by reading a sample of their work, one after the other, with selections focusing on a particular character. The audience, given creative action placards (such as “assimilates”, “judo chops” and “baffles with brilliance”), will then vote on their favorite character. It’s silly and fairly arbitrary, but it adds a level of engagement, progression, and (hopefully) tension to the tournament. I’ve gotten Lucha Libre masks for all the authors, but I can’t promise that everyone will want to wear them.
The winners of the duels will be determined by audience vote, and will take each other on as characters are eliminated from the contest. The final victor will walk home with a trophy that is as incredible and ridiculous as the event itself. To make sure the contestants remain fresh in the audience’s mind, each character has a stat card, similar to a sports trading card, that lists all of his or her qualities and weaknesses.
Here’s a snapshot of this year’s contestants:
Appears in: The Puzzle Box, Creator: Eileen Bell
Mission: To meet her father, while making life as miserable as possible for her mother. Oh, and not destroying the world in the process!
Special powers: She’s half demon, and can wreck most electronics with a half-assed internal EMP. However, a Djinn has just given her three wishes, so she can do just about anything she wants (but only three times. And being half-demon seems to really mess with the wishes, so she has to be very careful. Normally, she’s not careful. Not at all.)
Appears in: Edgar’s Worst Sunday, Creator: Brad OH Inc.
About: In life, Edgar Vincent has been something of a cad. Callous comments, thoughtless promiscuity, binge drinking and excess sufficient to shame Caligula, are standard Saturday night fare.
Mission: When Edgar finds himself in the cloudy planes of the afterlife on one particularly dreadful Sunday, he must put aside his ever-present hangover and try to figure out how he ever got to this point, and where he’s meant to be going now.
Appears in: Weightless, Creator: Jay Bardyla
Mission: Before, it was learning to control her abilities. Now, it’s to save the world, repeatedly.
About: What do you do when something beyond your control forces you to lose control? And what happens later when people want to control you? A battle to maintain a sense of self is easier fought when the whole world isn’t fighting over you but for Eve Lopez, the world’s sole super-human, both battles are never-ending.
Appears in: The Tattooed Seer, Creator: Susan MacGregor
Mission: To locate witches in Esbana, and to convince (or kidnap) them to come to Inglais to aid Ilysabeth’s rise to the throne.
Special power(s): Deceit, drugs, espionage, masquerade, acting, tumbling, kidnapping, assassination (but only the bad guys)
About: (This is a rare depiction of him, painted when he was much, much older. He also bears an uncanny resemblance to Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth 1st’s Spymaster.)
Appears in: The Tenth Circle Project, Creator: Billie Milholland
Mission: To save children from slavery in the post-apocalyptic City of Glory.
About: On the run from the law, wanted for an assassination she didn’t commit, Haywire McQuire teams up with other fugitives to rescue children from a life of servitude.
Interesting stat: She hangs out with ChloroMorphs (people who can trade the iron atom in their hemoglobin for magnesium to temporarily gain the power of photosynthesis).
Appears in: Die on Your Feet, Creator: S.G. Wong
Mission: To find the truth, no matter what the cost.
Weakness: Lola is haunted by a ghost named Aubrey O’Connell, invisible to her (as all ghosts are to the living) but plenty audible.
About: Happy to partake in all that the City’s swank supper clubs and gambling joints have to offer, Lola is unafraid to mix it up with the seedier elements of Crescent City’s dark underbelly when the job requires it.
Appears in: Cornerstone, Creator: Maura Armstrong
Mission: To stay clean, and to reconcile with his family on his terms.
About: At age eighteen, Tad was fed up with his parents’ hypocritical faith and constant bickering, and he walked away without a backward glance. A year later, fighting addiction, Tad returns from his self-imposed exile to find his place in a family that’s slowly disintegrating.
THE JEERING HAS ALREADY STARTED ON FACEBOOK AND TWITTER, and I’m sure there’ll be more playful jabbing throughout the event (June 28 at 1:00 PM at Audrey’s Books). This is all tongue-in-cheek, however, since everyone involved is really supporting each other and coming together to make the event a success. Regardless of who wins this Saturday, everyone should come out wearing a smile. Check it out! It’s something Edmonton has never seen before.
So you’re a Yog-Sothoth-worshipping cult fanatic, but you also care about your family. You want to bring forth a presence of an Elder God, since they technically came here long before us, but you don’t want to lay scourge to all the lands on the green earth. Can you have your own pet Dunwich Horror like Wilbur Whateley did in 1928?
The Dunwich Horror is a pretty big Betsey. In Lovecraft’s work of the same name, swaths of trees 30 ft across are completely flattened. Although the monstrosity is only glimpsed temporarily, we get enough of an image to know it is an oblate spheroid on many legs with scores of mouth-bearing tentacles sliming all over the place. To establish whether this pretty Petunia can coexist with humanity, we need to make some estimates of its size and mass.
If we assume it is a sphere of 30 ft diameter (9.1 m), we get a volume of
V = 4/3 * Pi * (9.1 m /2 )^3 = 395 cubic meters.
If we also assume that tentacles protrude from half the surface out to a length of say, 10 ft (3.08 m), then we get the volume of the tentacles:
V= 4*Pi * (9.1 m /2 )^2 / 2 *3.08 = 400 cubic meters.
Therefore the total volume of the Dunwich Horror is roughly 800 cubic meters. If we take its density to be close to that of water (and ignore any part of it wrapped up in other dimensions) then we get 800,000 kg for its mass, or 800 metric tonnes.
An accepted biomass assumption is that 10% of a prey’s mass is converted into mass in the predator. If we assume linear growth over its lifespan of roughly twenty years, 8,000 metric tonnes of mass must be fed to the Dunwich Horror.
What sort of biomass is available in Dunwich? Well, first, we have to know where Dunwich is. A man named Geoffrey has done an incredible job detailing the closest real-life location to the fictional Dunwich: the town of Shutesbury, Massachusetts. Appropriately its original name was Road Town, since it was a town between towns, not really a place worth stopping. It’s similar to the way Lovecraft describes Dunwich.
Shutesbury’s population had declined to 222 in 1930, around the time of the Dunwich Horror’s peak. Nowadays, it has 1800 people. Since that first Dunwich attempt didn’t go over well for the balance of the universe, let’s assume we’re living in modern-day Dunwich (Shutesbury). The town itself occupies 70 square kilometers.
Hopefully we don’t have to feed the Dunwich Horror purely human meat (although I hear some of them can be picky). What wildlife and domestic animals would sate our cute Kirby’s appetite?
There are 850 moose, 39,000 cows, and 2,000 bears in the State of Massachusetts. We’ll ignore smaller mammals since the Dunwich horror, as much as we’d like to focus on its positive aspects, is probably an apex predator. Massachusetts has 27, 336 square kilometers, and if we assume a uniform distribution of animals over the entire state, that gives us 2 moose, 100 cows, and 5 black bears in the Dunwich region. Let’s not forget about the white-tailed deer, which have a density of 6 per square kilometer in the Dunwich region. That gives us 420 white-tailed deer, a substantial fraction of the wildlife biomass in Dunwich.
The average masses of the above animals are :
Since we’re shooting for a stable population, we want the proportions to not diminish substantially. Black bears reproduce at a rate of maybe 2 / year / bear, which would give us 200 bears over the growth period of the Dunwich Horror, or 36,000 kg. It’s a decent start to a budding abomination.
Deer mature in 2 or 3 years, then reproduce at a rate of one per year for the next ten years. If we assume half the deer population reproduces over the full duration of the twenty-year period, we get 4200 deer with a total mass of 1,260 tonnes. Little DH is on its way to a healthy lifestyle.
If we assume similar reproductive rates for moose and cows, then we get a mass of 11,000 kg and 750 tonnes, respectively. The grand total is therefore 2057 tonnes, still 6,000 tonnes short of the quota. By any measure, that’s a lot of meat. No wonder poor Wilbur had to import his sacrifices and look to the Necronomicon for guidance.
Uh oh. Looks like it’s time for human sacrifice.
1800 people in Dunwich reproduce, so there may be enough action going around to fill in the DH’s musculature.
The fertility versus death rate in Massachusetts yields a net growth of 4.5%. However, the people of Dunwich are described as thoroughly inbred. Studies have shown that mortality rate could possibly be increased by 60% in inbred populations. This brings our net growth down to 4.07%.
If we calculate by the mystical and impossible-to-comprehend-Cthulhu-like compound interest, we get a final population of 4,000 at the end of twenty years. Assuming all 2200 people were devoured by our friendly neighbourhood horror at a mass of 60 kg each, we get a mass of 132 tonnes. Still quite a way’s off of the required 6,000 extra.
OK, so maybe you can’t raise your own Dunwich Horror without decimating life as you know it in the region. But what if you outsource the destruction? Convince someone else to raise the beast until it was a healthy, well-balanced symbol of cosmic destruction? Could you then maintain the Dunwich Horror at its 30 ft size?
If we calculate the Basal Metabolic Rate (minimum number of daily calories to sustain life) of the Dunwich Horror as if it were one of our own (i.e human) using the Mifflin St. Jeor equation, we get 8,000 kcal / day. Over a period of a year, this is 2.92 gigacalories. Meat contains 2.5 kcal per kg, so we’d need 1168 tonnes per year, half of what we’ve determined the Dunwich biomass growth can sustain over 20 years. The litttle beastie requires a bit too much protein for the little town of Dunwich (Shutesbury), unfortunately.
In conclusion, the next time you’re considering calling forth a child of Yog-Sothoth to pave the way for Hell on earth and the return of the planet to the rightful Elder God rulers, think about the ramifications, and whether or not it will fit the vision of a sustainable earth you want for your goatspawn children.
The granite-wheeled steamless steamroller pushed around by Fred Conan-quads Flintstone is number three on TIME magazine’s list of the best fictional vehicles of all time. It’s recognizable enough that it was featured on the 1994 live-action movie poster, and the iconic image of the car tipping after receiving a rack of brontosaurus (read apatosaurus) ribs is all-too familiar. There are many benefits that could be used in modern society by a human-powered vehicle, so we must turn to the beginning of the modern stone age: could someone actually move a car like the Flintstones’?
As a child, I remember trying the Little Tikes foot-powered car pictured to the right. I don’t remember it working very well, but then I wasn’t the picture-perfect image of masculine muscle I am today.
While stone car look-alikes abound on the Internet and elsewhere, most of them use materials other than granite for the wheels, lowering the vehicle mass considerably. You can even buy a functioning replica of the Flintstones’ car, but it doesn’t use the same human driving mechanism. There is an admirable group of boy scouts who regularly build wooden vehicles, but the propulsion is again done through other means (i.e. slave labour. I’m not judging, Troop 122). A real-life test of a replica may have been averted by science-hating thieves who stole it from an unsuspecting comic shop. I wanted to interview Greenpeace after they made an excursion in their own rendition of the Flintstones car, but unfortunately they were arrested.
The real heart of the problem–thank the Good Lord–comes down to a question of physics. I know you were worried it might have been something more esoteric, but you can rest assured that we’ll resolve the issue with a protractor, a slide rule and some yabba-dabba-dooduction.
There are two excellent articles which outline the reasons why Fred Flintstone couldn’t use the friction of his feet to stop a regularly-moving automobile, and I encourage you to read their toe-tickling truisms. What they haven’t done, however, is calculate the ability of a human to drive the vehicle in the first place.
I will use Scientific American’s estimates and assumptions of the car mass: namely, that it is mostly going to be comprised of the two granite slabs making up the front and rear rollers. We’ll assume the slabs are 1.5 meters long, and 0.8 m in diameter, which will make each of them have a mass of 360 kg. Add about 50 kg for the wood and tarp on top, and 95 kg for Fred himself, and you have to move a mass of 865 kg.
The maximum values for human power output are held by cyclists, with top athletes being able to pump out 6 Watts per kilogram of their own mass. If we assume Fred Flintstone was in prime shape after all those bronto-burgers, then he could generate about 570 W of power.
Thankfully the wheels make it a bit easier than trying to slide the granite across the bare ground, but even the rolling coefficient of friction isn’t going to be easy for Mr. Flintstone. Assuming a rolling coefficient of friction close to iron on granite (b=0.002 m), we calculate the rolling frictional force that must be overcome:
F = N b / R = 865 kg * 9.8 N/kg * 0.002 m / 0.4 m = 42.4 N
Power can be written as P = F x v where v is velocity. We can then solve for the maximum velocity of the vehicle under Fred Flintstone’s world-class athlete legs:
v = P / F = 570 W/ 42.4 N = 13.6 m/s
Converting this to km/hr gives us
v = 13.6 * 3.6 km/hr = 48.96 ~ 50 kph
Therefore, Fred Flintstone would be able to move at the average Canadian speed limit in cities! If additional family members helped out, then it would indeed be a feasible form of transportation. As the above-linked articles emphasize, however, the stopping distance would be much longer than the cartoon implies.
OK, the more astute of you may have noticed a glaring detail I’ve left out: how does Fred Flintstone and his family bring a dinosaur in their vehicle? That mass is significantly greater. Although Dino is officially listed as a Snorkasaur, for the purposes of this discussion we will assume he is an adolescent apatosaurus from the sauropod family. The mass of adults ranges from 16 to 22 tonnes, so we’ll assume Dino’s about 10 tonnes.
That adds 10,000 kg to the mass of the car, making it completely impractical to bring Dino anywhere. If you go through the above calculations again the additional mass makes the required force 533 N, making the speed about 1.06 m/s or 3.8 kph, about as fast as walking. But what if Dino brings his own form of propulsion?
Animals expel a fair amount of methane during the process delicately referred to as flatulation. Apparently at one point an Australian company may have been handing out carbon credits for every dead camel–that’s how stinky they are. There are suggestions that dinosaur *ahem* farts may have warmed prehistoric earth.
The estimates of an apatosaurus’s yearly methane output are about 690 kg. If we assume that sauropods outgas at about the same rate as mammals, say an average of 20 times a day, then that brings the average farted mass to about 0.095 or 0.1 kg.
The average fart is ejected at about 3 m/s. Let’s say the apatosaurus can do at least 10 times better than we can in this department, since its bowels could probably strangle a skyscraper. The momentum thus imparted by the flatulent Dino would be 3 kg * m/s. This change in momentum for the gas would result in an equal and opposite change of the entire car’s speed, of … 0.0003 m/s if we assume Dino is riding onboard.
If we neglect Dino’s mass, then the change is still only 0.003 m/s.
If we assume Dino saved up the entire year’s worth of methane for one enormous tectonic-plate shattering fart of 690 kg, that would bring the speed change to about 2 m/s, which is a more respectable change of 7 kph. That brings the total to about 11 kph, which is a little bit better than jogging, and with the entire family helping out, that could still make for a viable mode of transportation.
The Flintstone family could indeed move the granite-wheeled goliath with their own power, but they’d have to be able to exert as much wattage as Olympic cyclists. As far as bringing their pet Dino out to dinner, this must be a much-less-frequent affair than depicted on the show, and Dino would have some serious indigestion in order to expel his year’s worth of fart in one fell swoop to bring the vehicle to a respectable cruise. It would definitely not make the Flintstones friends with the neighbours, and the fact that Barney and Fred are still on speaking terms is a testament to the true power of human kinship.
If you’re interested in getting your own foot-powered cars, toy versions are available, and there is even a patent on a foot-powered vehicle, although it appears to have a mechanism different from that of the prehistoric populace. The Scooser apparently combines human power with electrical motors, though the parallel propulsion is another matter for discussion entirely (the Urbee 2 is another candidate in the same field). There’s a professor who’s done away with feet power altogether, and instead put forth rowing. You just need a team of friends whenever you want to go somewhere — no big deal.
I’ve personally tried a quad cycle with the leg power of 3 other friends, and I can attest to how tiring it can be. I put forth that the Flintstones didn’t live in San Francisco, but more likely Saskatchewan.