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Lyle Zapato

Summon A Tree Octopus In Minecraft

Lyle Zapato | 2011-08-03.1520 LMT | Cephalopods

There are now tree octopuses in the popular indie game Minecraft!

Well, sort of... some Minecraft modders just posted a plugin for the third-party Bukkit server modding system that allows players to summon a tree octopus by placing a gold block on top of a tree.

The tree octopus is actually a stock Minecraft squid, but the game's squid only have eight appendages, so they can't really be squid and must therefore be octopuses (then again, they also have teeth, so perhaps we can't rely on anatomical accuracy.)

The mechanism to summon them was inspired by my advice to a young reader asking about tree octopus donations. However, the modders (or at least one of them, Camcade) seem to be confused about what I wrote and think it's a scam:

The website instructed people to help save the tree octopus by putting money up in the trees so that the tree octopuses could make nests out of the bills. Of course, this was a scam just to get people to put money in trees for other people to take.

We here at ZPi have always advised handing bills directly to tree octopuses, not just leaving them in trees where unscrupulous passersby may deprive needy cephalopods of nesting material. If some shady website is advising you to just throw money into the woods, please report it to your local chapter of the Sasquatch Militia.

Lyle Zapato

Osaru no Kantai (The Monkey Fleet)

Lyle Zapato | 2011-08-01.7800 LMT | Cephalopods

Continuous army of octopuses marches into the forest (looping animated GIF)

It has been theorized that species of tree octopuses around the world originally took to the land, and eventually the trees, in search of tasty vegetation, such as ara flowers, tree pitch, and olives. The Japanese have a similar theory: octopuses came into the forests in search of monkey melons. Unfortunately for these would-be tree-octopuses, the monkeys fought back.

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Lyle Zapato

Review: The Lost Cavern

Lyle Zapato | 2011-06-06.0875 LMT | Cephalopods
cover

The Lost Cavern and Other Stories of the Fantastic (Vanguard Press, 1948) by H.F. Heard (a.k.a. Gerald Heard) is a collection of four short stories: "The Lost Cavern", "The Cup", "The Thaw Plan", and "The Chapel of Ease". (Synopses with spoilers follow...)

My initial interest was in "The Thaw Plan" because it briefly mentions a tree octopus, but the story's setting and nascent-Cold-War perspective are interesting in their own right: induced global warming is used by both super powers as a strategic weapon, resulting in a future Earth where humanity has split into two separate species living at either pole, separated from any interaction by an impenetrable, primeval, equatorial jungle -- home to tree octopuses, naturally.

The first part of the story sets the world-building in motion. The year is 1975, 30 years into W.W.2.A. (World War Second Armistice). The world is divided into two super powers, the US and the USSR. The seat of power in the Soviet Union has moved East, to the city of Karakorum. The Chinese have taken control, turning Moscow into a Holy City and elevating the Russian people to the highest (and most powerless) level of "Ritual Rank".

Many in the West see this as a good thing since "a Chinaman never likes war". But the new leader of the USSR, Supreme Commissar Yang, has a devious plot to diminish -- figuratively and literally -- the West (including the Russians): they will use atomic power to melt the tundra, causing sea levels to rise 100 feet, flooding most of the world but leaving the tablelands of Tibet and China uninundated, from which the USSR will rule as the lone superpower.

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Lyle Zapato

Kure Kure Takora (Gimme Gimme Octopus)

Lyle Zapato | 2011-05-03.7630 LMT | Cephalopods

Besides 17th century poetry, here's further evidence of the general awareness of tree octopuses in Japanese culture:

Kure Kure Takora (クレクレタコラ or "Gimme Gimme Octopus" in English) is a Japanese kids' show that ran from 1973-4, centering around the bizarre, greedy exploits of Kure Kure Takora, a tree octopus who wants all that he sees (hence the "gimme gimme").

(UPDATE: The videos were removed from YouTube -- see below. I removed the broken embed codes but I'm keeping the descriptions in place...)

As you can see in the episode below, he likes to sleep on the limb of his tree, where he has a telescope that he uses to survey the forest for things to steal. Only in this episode, everyone is giving him everything he wants! Is it all a dream...?

[...]

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Lyle Zapato

"In The Lair Of The Space Monsters"

Lyle Zapato | 2011-03-28.7910 LMT | Cephalopods | Sasquatch Issues | Hollow Earth | Retro

What do you get if you cross a Sasquatch with a Tree Octopus? Perhaps something like this:

'Octopus-man' holding human aloft by the top of his head using a tentacle
"Agonizingly he was jerked in the air."
(Click for larger.)

This illustration is from the short story "In The Lair Of The Space Monsters" by Frank Belknap Long, published in the pulp magazine Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror #6 (Dec. 1932). (The first three pages of the story, including the illustration, are missing from the linked Google Books preview.)

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Lyle Zapato

Review: METAtropolis: CASCADIA

Lyle Zapato | 2011-02-09.5489 LMT | Cascadia | Cephalopods | Anarchy

METAtropolis: CASCADIA (2010) is an audiobook collection of six related stories set in Cascadia in the 2070s. The stories are: "The Bull Dancers" by Jay Lake, "Water to Wine" by Mary Robinette Kowal, "Byways" by Tobias S. Buckell, "The Confessor" by Elizabeth Bear, "Deodand" by Karl Schroeder, and "A Symmetry of Serpents and Doves" by Ken Scholes. Each is read by a different Star Trek actor. Run time is almost 13 ABT hours.

It's a sequel to the original METAtropolis (2008) which worldbuilt around the post-industrial, post-national collapse of the early 21st century. That collection included the story "In the Forests of the Night" by Jay Lake that introduced the setting of Cascadiopolis, an experimental green city hidden in the forests of Mt. Hood, Oregon (it's available for free).

CASCADIA picks up that story 40 years later in the opening "The Bull Dancers" (read by René Auberjonois), which explores the conspiracy behind the city's destruction by orbital missiles; the true identity of the mysterious Tyger Tyger and his connection to an ancient Minoan secret society; and how Cascadiopolis' daughter cities have, despite or perhaps because of the missile attack, gone on to thrive -- rewilding the land and building a new eco-anarchist way of life. This serves as an intro to greater Cascadia, as the following stories portray a changed and changing region in slow recovery.

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Lyle Zapato

The Trail Of The Octopus

Lyle Zapato | 2011-01-20.5300 LMT | Retro | Cephalopods

The Trail of the Octopus (1919)

Here's the first reel of The Trail of the Octopus, a pulpy serial photoplay from 1919. Watch as Carter Holmes (Ben Wilson), master criminologist, and Ruth Stanhope (Neva Gerber), niece of Dr. Reid Stanhope, the discover of the Sacred Talisman of Set (a.k.a. the Devil's Trademark), are drawn inexorably into the clutches of a sinister land octopus (who sadly is only symbolic of the plot and makes no appearance outside of the intro and an advert where he grabs the whole cast):

The 15-part serial follows Holmes and Ruth as they must track down nine daggers that will unlock a rock vault in which Dr. Stanhope hid the Sacred Talisman, which they want to destroy to stop a shadowy conspiracy of cultists and racist stereotypes from attempting to kill Ruth. From a review:

The producers [at first can't] seem to decide on whom they wanted the main villain to be. First it's a group of devil worshipers and their female leader, then we find out she works for this other guy, then we find out he is an agent for this other Arabic bad guy who lives in "the orient." Well that guy in the orient actually works for yet another guy over in the orient, who is a Fu Manchu knockoff. Perhaps he really is the final leader of all the bad guys? There is also a mysterious masked man known as Monsieur X who pops up in the story every so often, but he's someone else completely. Whew!

Serial Squadron, who are in the process of transferring the films to DVD from the only known prints, have a project overview. You'll have to wait until Spring to buy the DVD set if you want to see the semi-complete serial (episode 9 is lost). Here are some posters for the episodes:

The Trail of the Octopus, episode 9 The Trail of the Octopus, episode 10 The Trail of the Octopus, episode 15

Lyle Zapato

Review: Spooky Washington

Lyle Zapato | 2010-10-24.8380 LMT | Cascadia | Cephalopods | Sasquatch Issues | Paraterrestrials
Spooky Washington by S.E. Schlosser

Spooky Washington: Tales of Hauntings, Strange Happenings, and Other Local Lore is part of the Spooky series by S.E. Schlosser, which collects Schlosser's retellings of ghost stories and folklore from around North America. This entry is all about the Cascadian prefecture of Washington. There are 26 short stories in total -- all assigned to a particular town, city, county, mountain, region, etc. -- and each is illustrated with a scratchboard drawing by Paul G. Hoffman.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part, "Ghost Stories", is obviously all about ghosts. In general I don't find ghosts all that interesting (so-called "spectral phenomena" are usually just psychotronically induced hallucinations caused by malfunctioning mind-control devices or standing resonance waves -- deflector beanies will keep them from bothering you), so I wasn't that captivated by these stories. Your mileage may vary. (Spoilers ahead, but these all contain well-worn ghost-story tropes you'll see coming a mile away.)

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Lyle Zapato

"The Octopus Cycle"

Lyle Zapato | 2010-10-22.2795 LMT | Cephalopods | Retro
Lyle Zapato

Airship Troopers: Volcanic Dinosaur Island of Doom

Lyle Zapato | 2010-10-09.8400 LMT | Fonts | Lost Worlds | Cephalopods
'Airship Troopers' cover

If you're in the mood for some old-school roleplay gaming in a pulp-adventure milieu set between 1900 and 1940, why not try Airship Troopers: Volcanic Dinosaur Island of Doom by Oliver Parkhurst, the first release of the Zeppelin Age line. (NB: The publisher, Heliograph, sent me a free copy because they used my font, Duarte Juramento, for some of the illustration labels.)

As the name implies, the game centers around airships and exotic island locations (I assume future installments of the promised Zeppelin Age series will have airships in other scenarios). I'm not an RPG player so I can't comment too much on Heliograph's DECO System: it uses dice; is run by a Director; has Moxie Checks when your character takes damage; awards Pavlov Points to reinforce entertaining roleplay; and defines characters by Trademarks, Motivations, and Hooks.

While in our reality Zeppelins were never that successful, Airship Troopers imagines a world where they are a major form of transportation. The difference that makes this reality possible is Monarch Airways, owned by wealthy and forward-thinking Ozma Tippitarius, whose mysterious sources of funding and helium keep the airship industry aloft and thriving. The titular Airship Troopers handle Monarch security and are able to deploy from airships thanks to Rocketeer-style rocket-packs called Firebirds. Well, they actually deploy thanks to gravity; the Firebirds let them get back.

Besides the Monarch backstory, there's lots of interesting info on real Zeppelin history, technology, and operations, including a Zeppelin Owner's Operation Manual (or Z.O.O.M.). While your Zeppelin can fly for days without fear of crashing, maintaining neutral buoyancy isn't as easy as one might suspect. If you deploy personnel or cargo, you loose their weight and must compensate by venting gas, of which you only have a limited supply. If they return, you must then drop water ballast, which again is limited. Going up and down relatively quickly also means expending gas and ballast. Unless your engines are running on Blau gas, using fuel decreases weight and requires gas venting. Environmental conditions can affect the effectiveness of the gas, requiring adjustments to the gas/ballast ratio. Balancing these two resources without running too low on either to safely control the ship necessitates skill and experience.

To explain the day-to-day operations of Zeppelins, the book introduces Monarch Airways' experimental testbed, the MAA Zenobia, which was retrofitted from the real-life R-80. Included are a blueprint, walkthrough, and descriptions of crew duties.

Being transportation, airships aren't very useful unless you have somewhere to go. Where you choose to take your airship in your game is up to you, and the book's outline of the DECO system and airship info can serve to build any Zeppelin Age adventure you want. But as you've guessed from the sub-title and Chris Appel's cover art, Parkhurst has some ideas of where your Zeppelin should be headed.

Welcome to the Volcanic Dinosaur Island of Doom (or just the Island)!

The Island is an environment filled with pulpy goodness for your Airship Troopers to explore and be killed by. And yes, there are dinosaurs. You could even play as a dinosaur; the character section suggests Uncommon Descriptions that include not only a Wonderdog (à la Rin-Tin-Tin) but a Wondersaur (T. Rex-Tin-Tin?), and there's a Wondersaur named Sandy described in an example adventure in the Director's section.

All the pulp staples are here: lost cities, mad scientists, gangsters, jungle girls, Neanderthals, giant arthropods, man-eating plants, weird fungi, Nazis, the Red menace. Of course, not everything listed has to be on your game's version of the Island. They're all just suggestions. The example adventure provides character/creature stats for a number of them, but it's easy to create your own.

Of particular interest to my readers, the Island is potentially home to a menagerie of terrestrial cephalopods: lakeside croctopus, giant elephantopus of the grasslands (reminiscent of the Umbrella Beasts from "The Octopus Cycle", as seen on this pulp cover [UPDATE: more about it here]), cave-dwelling stalactopus and stalagmopus, airfaring zeptopus, and naturally forest-dwelling treetopus. Since there's already Wondersaurs, perhaps you'll consider playing as a plucky arboreal Wonderpus sidekick. Also, the mixture of tree octopuses and dinosaurs means this will happen.