THOG

‘”Seigneur, I have invented forty new dishes for to-night’s banquet,” François said pathetically, his eyes creeping out until they hung on the rims of their sockets like desperate people wavering on the edges of precipices.’ (George Viereck and Paul Eldridge, Salome The Wandering Jewess, 1930)

Connoisseurs of strained similes, mangled metaphors, grisly grammar, excessively purple prose and all writing that is differently good will love Thog’s Masterclass, a regular feature in David Langford’s monthly newsletter Ansible®, essential reading for anyone who wants to know what’s going on in the binary worlds of science fiction and fantasy.
Thog the Mighty is a not terribly bright barbarian hero, the creation of John Grant (Paul Barnett) in his “Lone Wolf” fantasy novels loosely based on Joe Dever’s gamebooks.  He first appeared in The Claws of Helgedad (1991) and was soon identified as the presiding genius behind much bad genre writing, with many fans avidly collecting examples of his influence, as they continue to do.
Mr Langford has very kindly allowed me to include a selection of some vintage Thogs here.  They’re mostly from SF stories, but not all.  My own passing thoughts are in green.

  • ‘Long-since dusty hopes are about to float away on the invisible ink of time, he thought.’ (Robert Newcomb, The Fifth Sorceress, 2002)
  • ‘A minute later, he was vomiting up the breakfast he had not eaten.’ (Peter Straub, Lost Boy Lost Girl, 2003)
  • ‘A thick branch crashed through the tunnel, just missing Filidor’s nose, and he carefully sliced it away before resuming his slow upward progress.’ (Matthew Hughes, Fools Errant, 1994)
  •  ‘… a dangerous and clamorous rollercoaster coil of sexually violent rotation with Eliza’s breasts barrel-rolled across Ezra’s howling mouth and the pained frenzy of his bulbous salutation extenuating his excitement as it whacked and smacked its way into every muscle of Eliza’s body except for the otherwise central zone.’ (Morrissey, List of the Lost, 2015)
  • ‘… the pain marched across my shoulder like a shark army might have.’ (L.E. Modesitt Jr, The Fires of Paratime, 1980)
  • ‘Somehow, the mackerel paté of memory had escaped its wrapper, skipped its kitchen dish, and turned into a flickering silver shoal, darting and twisting in terror against an empty darkness.’ (‘Gabriel King’, The Wild Road, 1997)  My memory quite often does that too.
  • ‘She had an annoying habit of running her tongue over his teeth, and as she did that, he realised there was absolutely nothing between them.’ (Jackie Collins, Hollywood Wives: The New Generation, 2001)
  • ‘The wagon lurched forward like an armadillo trying to mate with a very fast duck.’  (James P. Silke, Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer, Vol II Lords of Destruction, 1989)
  • ‘She shrugged, quivers manifest beneath the thin material of her blouse, the breasts, unbound, moving like oiled balloons.’ (E.C. Tubb, Eye of the Zodiac, 1975)
  • ‘She knew how to embroider and milk a cow.’ (Connie Willis, Doomsday Book, 1992)
  • ‘The underwriter seemed equally amused, frisking up the ends of his moustache, eager for them to join in the fun.’ (J.G. Ballard, Cocaine Nights,1996)
  • ‘A pair of bushy eyebrows jutted out above his orbits like two hands cupped over the brow of a man peering into an unfathomable distance. At the same time, his dense windswept sideburns swerved back dramatically behind his earlobes, as though his mind was speeding faster than the rest of his head.’ (Edwin Black, War Against the Weak, 2003)
  • ‘He was handsome and blond, with the same height and almost the same muscular build as Chastity, except her chest-circumference measurement involved different lumps from his.’ (Robert L. Forward, Saturn Rukh,1997)
  • ‘O’Malley had a face like an inflated punctuation mark.’ (Joel Goldman, Motion to Kill, 2002)  Yes, but which punctuation mark – a semicolon? The mind boggles.
  • ‘”Are either of you aware of the fact that there’s nothing between us and the pole to break the wind but an occasional stray reindeer?”‘ (David Eddings, Castle of Wizardry, 1984)
  • ‘She sat down in that earthy way that said she was all there.’ (L.E. Modesitt Jr, The Fires of Paratime, 1980)  I know women like that
  • ‘It was dark. No darker than it had been while she fell through her dialectical hole, but no lighter, either. It was the kind of disorienting dark that, had she been a feather in a large, unopened can, she wouldn’t have the faintest idea which way was up.’ (Jenny Diski, Monkey’s Uncle, 1994)
  • ‘I felt my molars reach for each other.’ (Kathy Reichs, Death du Jour, 1999)
  • ‘Jocelyn came through the fog wall, muttering, her breasts swaying like two angry red eyes looking for a fight.’ (Gregory Benford, Furious Gulf Thog seems to have a bit of a thing about breasts doesn’t he.
  • ‘The horse’s fall had the sound of a bag filled with rocks and lamp oil, landing beside him and rolling over his legs.’ (Steven Erikson, Gardens of the Moon, 1999)
  • ‘She looked up, and the silence stopped. The carbonized sky howled as the Milky Way cracked its sternum, exposing its galactic heart.’ (Bryn Chancellor, Sycamore, 2017)   The mind boggles even more.
  • ‘Other-ness plays the same part in urinating as in producing poetry.’ (Colin Wilson, The Philosopher’s Stone, 1969)
  • ‘… there is always something magical about the moment when your eyes touch nipples running free; nipples are a door from one world to another, from the grey of the everyday to a place of enchantment.’ (Francesco Dimitri, The Book of Hidden Things, 2018)  … and there he goes again with the breasts.
  • ‘Vienna, in that perfunctory way of hers, has sighed and spread her legs to be shagged by the winter solstice.’ (Adrian Matthews, Vienna Blood, 2001)
  • ‘Somewhere in Snowfield, were there living human beings who had been reduced to the awful equivalent of foil-wrapped Pop Tarts, waiting only to provide nourishment for some brutal, unimaginably evil, darkly intelligent, other-dimensional horror?’ (Dean R.Koontz, Phantoms, 1983)
  • ‘”Pleased to meet you,” Arnstein said, and took the offered hand. It felt like a wooden glove inside a casing of cured ham …’ (S.M. Stirling, On the Oceans of Eternity, 2000)
  • ‘Some women, Commander Norton had decided long ago, should not be allowed aboard ship; weightlessness did things to their breasts that were too damn distracting. It was bad enough when they were motionless; but when they started to move, and sympathetic vibrations set in, it was more than any warm-blooded male should be asked to take.’ (Arthur C. Clarke, Rendezvous with Rama, 1973)  No comment, absolutely no comment.
  • ‘Hope was a classic, a classic barmaid, one whose broad behind leaves an imprint on the pages of history.’ (Robert Leckie, Helmet for My Pillow, 1957)

I’ll leave Thog there contemplating Hope’s historic behind, and knowing his predilections I’m sure she had epoch-making breasts too.  My own hope is that these quotations will serve as a caution to all practicing writers as well as providing fine entertainment for the rest of us — and budding science fiction writers should bear in mind that Thog is watching.

  • There are hundreds more examples of Thog’s influence lurking on the Ansible website and here http://thog.org/  Do visit and have a click around (free but donations are welcome) and if you find any particularly good (bad) specimens please email them to me at jonesrglyn@yahoo.co.uk then maybe we’ll be able to publish another selection here.

  • Huge thanks to David Langford for allowing me to do this.

NON ALIAS PLOT

For anyone who likes to waste their time on pointless puzzles here’s one, and it’s even more pointless than most because I can’t supply the solution.  If you can you’ll be saving me from even more grief.

The mysterious list
The mysterious list

In my sorting through old papers I came across a single typed sheet headed NON ALIAS PLOT with a list of various names which I soon realized were all anagrams of each other.  The typing was done on what looks like my old Olivetti portable and the paper size is quarto, not A4, which would seem to date it back to the early 1970s.  But what does it mean, what on earth was I thinking?  Above all, what are all these names anagrams of?

At that time I was doing illustrations and writing various things for some of the more adventurous (meaning small-time and unsuccessful) periodicals of the day, and it looks as though this might have been an attempt at some sort of avante-garde piece.  Perhaps these characters were to feature in a story or playlet; I can imagine Pat Lion Sloan as the very posh p.a. to a top executive and maybe Alan Tinspool as a rather self-important manager in the grocery business, but after them things take a more bizarre turn.  Lon (‘Piano’) Salt is obviously an itinerant boogie-woogie piano player, perhaps in a vague partnership with Pliant Alonso the eccentric dancer, while Spain O’Tallon, Nina Last Loop and Lopo Slantani seem to be denizens of the US underworld, but I can offer no clues about Polliana Sot or Alan T. Loopins. Maybe the denouement of my little tale was to have been that all these characters were actually the same person.  I was always trying to be clever in those days, with little success then and not much more now.  J.G. Ballard I was not.

I’ve spent more time puzzling over this than I want to admit.  The letters in these names obviously came from something, some key name or title or phrase — I wouldn’t have just chosen them randomly — but searching what’s left of my brain produces absolutely no memory of it.  I’ve also tried feeding the letters into various online Anagram Solvers but the solution remains a mystery, although they did come up with a few amusing variations: the onanist Pallo making a mess on the post-anal lino and getting a notional slap from his indulgent mum.  I feel that the answer is staring me in the face, that with a bit more effort it will reveal itself, and when it does I’ll cry out “Of course!  Why didn’t I see it?”

But so far it hasn’t.  If one of my devoted readers can figure it out please post the answer in the Comments and put me out of my anguish.

Lexicon for a Pandemic

Neologisms for coronavirus communication, by Jay Martel, from The New Yorker (print edition), July 20, 2020.

Maskhole  An individual who wears a mask in a way that makes it completely ineffective — e.g., below the nose, under the chin, on the back of the head.

Face naked  The state of facial exposure that occurs when an individual declines to wear a mask in public. For example, “Pence went all face naked to the Mayo Clinic.”

Body mullet  What most people wear on Zoom calls: a nice top and, below the waist, underwear or less. (“Business up top, party down below.”)

The NOVID-19  The nineteen minutes after a too-close interaction with a maskless stranger during which you experience a thickness in your throat and a certainty that you’re dying. This sometimes lasts longer if frantic hand washing, antiseptic gargling, and estate planning are not readily available.

Overdistancing  When the guy in front of you in line has a metric understanding of the six in six feet, allowing twenty feet to open up between him and the next person in line, which then allows others to interpret that next person as the end of the line and to cut in front of you.

Domino distancing  When the person behind you in line stands too close, causing you to crowd the person in front of you, and on and on until everyone dies.

Emotional distancing  Deciding that now really isn’t the time to make big decisions about a relationship or, for that matter, to have a conversation about it.

Covideo  A short video featuring a quarantined individual’s child doing something adorable and/or profane, the public sharing of which falls somewhere between cute and a cry for help.

Stockholm syndrome  The assumption that everyone would be just fine without any government restrictions.

Someday, Noneday, Whoseday?, Whensday?, Blursday, Whyday?, Doesn’tmatterday  Days of the week.

Parenting  The ability to figure out why the PlayStation isn’t working with the Wi-Fi.

Body Zoom-morphia  Finding your own image on a group video call so unappealing that you are unable to focus on anything else.

Quorumtine  The minimum number of family members necessary to decide what to watch on TV.

Pan-demic  A potentially dangerous increase in the baking of bread in a quarantined home.

COVID-30  Formerly COVID-15; the amount of weight gained by an average adult during quarantine. Sometimes related to a pan-demic.

Helter shelter  That moment in the quarantine day when everything seems dirty and chaotic and you feel like saying, “Fuck it, let’s go outside. I don’t care if we die and a bunch of other people do, too.”

Flattening the curve  Trying to fit into your jeans after three months of sweatpants. (See COVID-30.)

Germophobe  Formerly, crazy people (e.g., Howard Hughes); now everyone except crazy people.

Going viral  No longer used. ?

Words 1

A quotation in an earlier post included the word sympathy and in passing I noted how seldom we see it these days as it is supplanted by empathy, which has become what Fowler called a vogue word. In a recent review section of The Guardian I counted no less than seven instances of empathy or empathetic in its various articles, and I see that the dictionary-makers have been busily playing catch-up to re-define its differences from sympathy.

Anything wrong with empathy? Not really, though I think that many of the writers who use it do so without much thought, precisely because it’s the fashionable term. Has sympathy gone? No, it’s just lurking in the shadows and may re-assert itself one day. The problem with vogue words is that we get sick of them.

Another current one is decimate, which classical scholars will know means ‘to reduce by one-tenth’: not to one-tenth or to wipe out altogether, though that is how it tends to be used these days. “The whole area has been completely decimated” says a TV reporter describing the charred after-effects of a forest fire, and a sports commentator once said that Mo Farrah had “simply decimated the opposition”, meaning that he won the race easily. Decimate in this sense is attractive because the speaker can stress the first syllable and its concluding sibilant — DESS-imate — giving it a dramatic ring, which is not the case with destroy or any other synonym. And of course we know what the reporters mean even if they don’t know or respect their Latin.

Then again: Once upon a time an enormity was an outrage, usually of a criminal nature. A Victorian maiden happening upon the scene of some hideous murder might have exclaimed “Merciful heavens, what heinous fiend can have perpetrated such an enormity?” but these days the word is generally used to denote great size, as when an astronomer speaks of the enormity of a galaxy or of the universe itself, as Brian Cox has sometimes done.

It sounds right. Everyone knows what enormous means, and in speech the central o-sound of enormity (which actually has a somewhat different derivation) can be stretched out to evoke wide open spaces (the arms may also be stretched out to illustrate the concept visually), while the alternatives are much less appealing: vastness and immensity are altogether too hissy for the purpose, while bigness, hugeness and indeed enormousness are awkward and ugly formations, colossal and stupendous generate no manageable nouns, and many hold that massive should have at least something to do with mass.

Purists may disapprove, but I think we must surrender to the forces of common usage and accept that big-enormity has ousted bad-enormity, and that use of the latter should now be confined to works of historical fiction, time-travel and possibly steampunk. It can go too far, though. In a recent TV programme about the excavation of some hitherto unknown tombs in Egypt the archaeologist in charge spoke of “the enormity of the discovery”, by which she presumably meant its great importance. I think this is an enormity too far, a bad-enormity in fact.

And while we’re on the subject of vogue words here’s a list of some words and expressions that I guarantee will never be used by me in this blog:

  • awesome (unless it really does inspire awe)
  • from the get-go
  • elephant in the room
  • epicentre (unless it’s about an earthquake)
  • going forward
  • meme (unless it’s from Richard Dawkins)
  • perfect storm
  • proactive
  • quantum jump or leap (except in physics or SF)
  • scenario (unless it’s a film treatment and not a worst-case)
  • sea change
  • step change
  • trope (unless it’s a figure of speech)
  • viral

I’m still debating whether someone like me should ever say or write heads up. There’s nothing more ridiculous than an old guy trying to be hip, as we used to say.