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Lyle Zapato

The Lost Continent Of The Arctic

Lyle Zapato | 2014-07-15.6476 LMT | Hollow Earth | Elephants | Retro

At the dawn of the twentieth century, explorers had vanquished all the dragons from the map, leaving only the Poles as blanks to be filled. The Arctic, nearer to the majority of humanity than its antipode, had long been the subject of imaginative filling, playing host to paradisiacal lands of legend and rumor.


Mercator's map of the North Pole (1595)

The idea of an undiscovered Arctic continent is an old one. The ancient Greeks believed in Hyperborea, an idyllic land of eternal sunlight beyond the North Wind, populated by long-lived Hyperboreans. William Fairfield Warren in his book Paradise Found: The Cradle of the Human Race at the North Pole (1885) placed Hyperborea -- and Atlantis, Eden, Mount Meru, Yggdrasil, and Avalon -- in the Arctic.

Up to the 1890s, Greenland was widely thought to be the peninsula of a much larger land that covered the Pole. On the periphery, phantom islands like Sannikov Land and Frisland dotted the Arctic of the mind. For centuries, cart­o­graph­ers, most notably Mercator, filled the otherwise empty tops of their maps with various places drawn from mythology and tales of sailors seeking the Northern Passages.

It's no surprise then modern explorers, emboldened by scientific and technological advances, took up the search for lands hidden in the northern ice -- and some claimed to have found them.

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Lyle Zapato

Bulgarian Fossilized Aluminum Foil

Lyle Zapato | 2014-05-28.0410 LMT | Aluminum | Mind Control | Random Found Thing

Aluminum reacts readily with oxygen. This is beneficial for Aluminum Foil Deflector Beanie users since any aluminum surface exposed to air will immediately form a thin layer of aluminum oxide, sealing the inner metal from further rusting (a process called passivation). However, this reactivity means aluminum, although the most common metal in the earth's crust, is never found naturally here in its native metal form. Relatively advanced electrolytic technology is needed to separate the metal from compound, thus aluminum was unknown to the uninitiated public of post-Atlantean, pre-industrial societies.

So how come geologists found a flake of aluminum foil embedded in a 250-million-year-old rock in Bulgaria?


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Lyle Zapato

The Strange Adventures of Captain Quinton

Lyle Zapato | 2013-12-05.0890 LMT | Cephalopods | Piratical Yarrings | Retro

'The Strange Adventures of Captain Quinton' cover showing man in diving suit battling giant devil-fish in sunken ship
(Click for larger cover and spine)

The above is the cover of The Strange Adventures of Captain Quinton: Being a Truthful Record of the Experiences and Escapes of Robert Quinton During His Life Among the Cannibals of the South Seas, as Set Down by Himself (1912).

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Lyle Zapato

Airship Troopers: Volcanic Dinosaur Island of Doom

Lyle Zapato | 2010-10-09.8400 LMT | Entertainment | Fonts | 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.

Lyle Zapato

Book Review: Drome

Lyle Zapato | 2009-09-19.0440 LMT | Cephalopods | Cascadia | Hollow Earth | Entertainment | Retro
Cover: 'Drome' by John Martin Leahy
But why had they set out on a journey so strange and so hazardous -- through the land of the tree-octopi and the snake-cats, through that horrible, unearthly fungoid forest, and up and up, up into the caves of utter blackness, across that frightful chasm, up to the Tamahnowis Rocks, into the blaze of the sunshine, out onto the snow and ice on Mount Rainier?

Drome, written and illustrated by John Martin Leahy, is a pulp story about a strange underground world, home to a lost civilization that may be the progenitors of ancient Greek culture. It was originally serialized in the Jan.-May, 1927 issues of Weird Tales, and republished as a book in 1952. I'm reviewing the book, which I believe has some differences from the pulp original (a preface, footnotes, and some casual references in the main text to atom-bombs and television that don't seem particularly 1920s-ish.)

The story has two elements of interest to me: 1) it starts in Cascadia (the entrance to the underworld is on Mt. Rainier) with references to regional history and culture and 2) it mentions Cascadian tree octopuses, albeit of an unusual and deadly subterranean variety. So naturally I had to acquire an original copy for the ZPi library and review it.

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Lyle Zapato

Levitating Islands

Lyle Zapato | 2006-11-25.5300 LMT | Technology | Nature | General Paranoia

ecoEnquirer reports: Levitating Islands in Bermuda Triangle Observed by Spy Satellite. While ecoEnquirer is at a loss to explain this phenomena -- and the usual suspects aren't forthcoming -- I have two possible theories:

  1. Hyperinventor St. Clair, who is a resident of Puerto Rico (one of the points of the Bermuda Triangle), has been quiet recently. Perhaps he is working on a new patent application that will allow individuals or small groups engaged in Chi Kung breathing to create a harmonic Chi resonance, possibly by following a simple flowchart or instructional diagram, thus enabling large masses to be levitated.
  2. The US Navy is testing their superconducting belt technology on a larger scale, possibly as a means to replace aircraft carriers with flying island airbases capable of traveling back in time and stopping the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Whatever the cause, we can say for certain that the phenomena has caught the attention of the giant white arrows patrolling the Caribbean; let us just hope it doesn't displease them.

(Via Reality Carnival)

The Monorailist

Ramayana, Monorailayana

The Monorailist | 2006-01-27.2500 LMT | Monorail Danger | Technology

According to the Ramayana, around 1.75 million years ago a bridge was built from mainland India across the sea to Sri Lanka. This feat of engineering was accomplished by the vanara architect Nala with the help of an army of monkeys, chief among them Hanuman, so that Lord Rama, prince of Ayodhya and avatar of Krishna, could save his wife, Sita, from the clutches of the island's dastardly, ten-mustachioed demon-ruler, Ravana.

While conventional Indologists theorize that this bridge was merely a walking path, I am certain that careful reading of the epic shows that the bridge was in fact India's first monorail line -- perhaps the grandest the world has ever witnessed.

NASA satellites have documented the bridge's remains: a chain of shoals of unnatural formation -- variably called Rama's Bridge, Nala's Bridge, or, in the West, Adam's Bridge. However, there is an interesting discrepancy; while these limestone shoals sit securely on the sea floor, tradition describes the bridge being made of "floating stones". Some scholars wildly infer that the shoals must have been formed later with the sinking of the presumably buoyant stones, but offer no mechanism for this transformation. They are like blind men unable to identify an elephant by its dissimilar parts. A true synthesis comes only with the realization that the shoals and the "floating stones" represent two different aspects of the same structure -- pillar footings and an elevated monorail track.

Consider the Monorail, with its track gliding through the air like a gentle breeze solidified, held aloft on slender pillars that hardly inconvenience the ground below. Is there any better description for this graceful, elevated state than to say the track is floating? I think not. Clearly, the chroniclers of India's history, faced with the awe-inspiring splendor of that majestic monorail stretching insouciantly Ceylonward, could not have described the rock that made up its track any other way than as "floating stones".

Read the epic with eyes open to the monorailistic possibilities and more details come into focus. Behold Nala's Monorail floating over the sea on pillars made of whole trees, some of them still bearing blossoms, uprooted by the monkey army and planted on shoals newly formed with elephant-sized boulders torn from the mountains by the most powerful of the vanara and plunged into waters tumulted with their alacritous monkey business. Five days! Five days was all it took the army of monkeys -- heroes all -- to build 30 miles of monorail track. Oh! If only Seattle had such a bold visionary as Nala!

(Some skeptics -- no doubt fearful of the coming Monorail Awakening and the massive social transformation it will bring -- will desperately protest that the bridge, described as being 10 yojanas or 80 miles wide, could not have been a monorail. But the same sources claim it was 100 yojanas or 800 miles long when we know the crossing to be only 30 miles. Obviously, exuberance for such an exalted structure has led to an exaggeration of the measurements over time. Do not attempt to explain away the reality of ancient Indian monorail technology with these untrustworthy figures!)

After the monorail line was built, Rama and his younger brother Lakshmana are said to have rode across it on the backs of Hanuman and Angada. As Sugriva, King of the Vanara, tells Rama: "These monkeys can hold both of you while flying in the sky." A clear reference to the elevated nature of the bridge, to be sure, but what are we to make of this? Was this a monorail track without monorail cars? Was it merely an elevated path for monkey porters? No.

We know from the epic that the vanara employed "mechanical contrivances" or "engines" to transport the largest boulders to the sea, so they had the technology to produce a monorail car. As Hanuman and Angada were instrumental in the endeavor to reach Ravana, what better tribute than to name the newly crafted monorail cars in their honor. Thus Rama rode in the foremost monorail car Hanuman, not on its monkey namesake -- a distinction that become understandably confused over time. Mind you, this doesn't lessen Hanuman's bhakti, for he did much in the service of Rama, but I think Rama would find traveling in the sublime, transcendental luxury that only a monorail can provide more befitting of him than riding on the back of a monkey, no matter how loyal and noble the monkey may be.

Having established the antiquity of monorail technology in India, I say: Let Mr. Zapato continue his tired tirades against the Monorail! Let him try to lead the good people of India away from their deserved place among the Monorailized Nations of the World! He will fail -- he already has failed! For you see, the Monorail is the warp woven through the very fabric of Indian culture; an intrinsic part of her national heritage, though today only dimly remembered. India is the homeland of Monorailism and the cycle of history shall be completed with the Monorail's rebirth in Chennai.

Lastly, an interesting note: Lava, the name of the Malaysian consulting firm behind the Chennai monorail deal, is also the name of one of Rama's two sons, both reunited with Rama after being born to Sita in monastic banishment. How fitting that a company bearing the name of one who would not have been conceived had it not been for Nala's monorailular ingenuity should be helping to return the Monorail to her ancestral home, reuniting the Past with the Future.