Archived entries for COMMONPLACE

I’ve got two million dollar ideas.

Which I’m not sure if I could ever pull off.

First is a simple, character-based set up with legs for miles: a public relations operator that works for superheroes.

Main character is a self-made woman that’s the biggest player around for superhero PR. She’s up at 5am every day, an hour at the gym, and in the office before anyone else. She’s dated a few capes in the past, but’s decided that’s bad for business these days. Another major firm is starting to press in on her business, she’s got a client that she just can’t make click. They’re working on a do-or-die rebranding effort for him now. Costume, name, attitude, patrol areas, the whole shebang.

And then there’s the big thing, potential new business that’ll make her the king of the game for all time. But, how do you help a super villain go straight…and stay on the right side of the law yourself?

The second one is less concept, more creepy kick/punch/shoot. It’s called AGAIN-MEN, and the title would be written as AGAIN-MEN.


Zombie g-men to be specific. It is the height of the Cold War and the US government has started a secret program of necromancy. They’re bringing dead spies back to life for another go. The stakes are higher than they’ve ever been before, but what’s a suicide mission to some one that’s already dead?

The Capitalists and the Communists are locked in the tangle of an arms race and mutually assured destruction.

The Soviets are building doomsday-triggers, the Americans are propping up puppet governments in third world countries.

Men wear suits and drink heavily, women stay at home and drink even more heavily.

The whole of first world society is straining to the point of breaking, and breaking could end the whole world.

And then there’s the one wild card.

A post-human being of immense power that hasn’t quite figured out where he wants to be, or who he wants to be there with.

There is a sculpture in front of the CIA headquarters called KRYPTOS. It’s a little taller than a grown man, looks like a giant scroll unfurling and is covered Roman alphanumeric characters and the occasional question mark. The whole thing is a code. Four codes, to be exact. With each code providing a key to the code after it. The whole point of the piece is an homage to the cryptanalysis work done by the CIA and other government agencies. KRYPTOS was unveiled in 1990, and in the 21 years since, only three of the four codes have been broken.

The last code is still being furiously worked on, but each code is a level of magnitude more complex than the previous one, and the last one has been confounding people for years.

Which made me wonder why no one ever thought to go about finding the solution in a more abstract manner.

See, there’s a point where code breaking is hitting something hard until it breaks. Using super-computers to try trillions of permutations until you get something resembling a translated message, for example. But this takes time, and is somewhat akin to hacking your way through a mountain with a pick axe.

But, every code has to be made by some one. And that some one has to hold the key to their code.

Why not go after that person? People are soft after all, and you get a lot more results hitting soft bits than hitting hard bits.

In my head, there’s some young code-breaker who’s realized this. A Captain Kirk-esque figure that’s decided to solve KRYPTOS, not by cracking the code, but rather by stealing the key through social engineering.

Long ago, hackers realized the most vulnerable point in a system is the human element. If you can find a person to talk to, you can probably get them to unwittingly let you into their system. This is the basis of social engineering, tricking people into doing what you need them to do.

Our young code-breaker would apply these ideas to the creator of KRYPTOS. He’d find a way to get into the sculptor’s studio and find the key, or he’d convince the sculptor to give up the information he needed to solve the cypher.

And then, when he presented the completed translation of the KRYPTOS and the questions sprung up about how he managed it, he’d just say…

“I hit the soft bits.”

A while back I had a line pop into my head while I was taking a shower:

Give me an army and I can conquer nations. Give me one man with a purpose, and I can change the world.

There was nothing attached to it, no direction meant to come from it. Just a rather interesting, and probably factually true statement.

I scribbled it down, then went on my way.

In the weeks since, I’ve been watching a lot of Wuxia movies. And thinking that, hey, these crazy people that are flipping around in the air, taking down whole armies with a flip of their hair, focusing their chi into crazy shockwaves…they’re basically just Asian superheroes. Minus the costumes and the bad social commentary, of course.

And thinking along that line, I realized something else. In most Wuxia stories, the protagonist is some one who is ALREADY capable, but instead is forced by destiny to take on this enormous task. That differs from Western superhero stories where in nearly every case, the protagonist has the capabilities thrust upon them. (IE: Spider-Man is bitten to become the hero. Li Mu Bai just trained his whole life.)

It also adds this interesting spin where the hero in the Wuxia genre is READY for what’s coming at them. Sure, it’s going to be a challenge, but this is the road they chose. It gives it a maturity of purpose that Western superheroes just can’t touch.

So what does Wuxia have to do with the quote?

Well, isn’t the essence of a martial arts hero a man with a purpose fighting back armies?

-Western in this case means “Not Asian”. This has nothing to do with cowboys.
-Wuxia (pronounced woo-ja), is a traditional Asian martial action movie genre. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is probably the one you are most familiar with. They’re basically even more over the top kung-fu movies where people use weapons and do crazy wire stunts.

Pat and I are working on this Noir/Fantasy idea, which I think we’ve named Concrete Arcanum. And while Pat is horribly busy climbing to the heights of the video game industry, I am left to stew on ideas for said magical book of concrete.

I’m toying with the idea of working on a collection of short stories for the world using our protagonists, Thomas and Niat. I’ve also resolved to spend the first 15 minutes of each day doing some creative writing/brain storming. Conveniently, the two fit together perfectly.

And what does that mean for you? It means that you get to see my commonplace notes for Concrete Arcanum.

You lucky dog, you.

  • Rust monsters, etc used to dispose of trash at a dump site. Something goes wrong?
  • Vampires in schools. Mother is pimping her vampire child to keep other children/moms eternally young.
  • Dealing with the paperwork aftermath of a bunch of adventurers destroying a building. Play off of Die Hard. They are the classic D&D adventuring group. The “bad guys” are a legally recognized corporation of undead. Dungeon crawling in a sky scraper where the treasure legally belongs to some one else.
  • Illithid showing up sick in emergency rooms. Realize it is coming from them eating drug addicts, which leads them to a new kind of drug.
  • Bard using his skills to knock an audience out/charm one of them backstage to rob them.
  • The Trees in the city park go on strike. Their marching is understandably destructive.
  • Dragon attack. Straight up old school dragon attack. Except this time it’s doing strafing runs down the Avenue of the Americas (or our equivalent). Very 9/11 rescue worker vibe to this. Your life being hurt by something beyond your control.
  • Werewolf pack moves into suburban town. Pets start to go missing, people start to get pissed. Parallel to African American families moving into all-white neighborhoods, but also mix in the current aspect of Mexican families moving into depressed housing markets. Turns out the whole thing is actually a group of local teenagers experimenting with the Dark Arts.
  • Trans-species sex scandal. Options for this are near limitless. Orc + Halfling. Elf + Troll. Human Male + Human Male. Oh, wait…

Logical problem in Devil stories.

God cannot say He exists because that would eliminate the need for faith, and faith is the cornerstone of religion.

But, if the Devil tells some one what he is, then he is also removing the need for faith as well. Since if the Devil exists, then so does God.

Accepting and working around that logic problems gives you this:

The Devil can’t tell anyone who or what he is.

Which is honestly a bit problematic for a creature that makes its daily bread cutting one-sided deals with stupid mortals. Why? Because are you really going to believe a random guy in a bar offering you, say, a super model wife in exchange for your soul if he doesn’t say that he’s the Devil?

Without that bit of fire and brimstone that goes along with knowing that the person you’re dealing with is the Devil, then things get a bit wobbly.

The Devil can’t bring any souls to Hell because he can’t close any deals. Hell and the Devil in Glenngary/ Glenn Ross. The Devil is Jack Lemmon. The Archangel Michael is Alec Baldwin.

Notes down in the book, recorded for a later time.

As a child, I loved Ray Harryhausen movies. Absolutely adored them. From his early work in Mighty Joe Young to Jason and the Argonauts to the original Clash of the Titans, I watched them ravenously. If there was a Harryhausen marathon on AMC, you could forget getting me to do anything. My ass was planted in front of that television, watching impossible things come to life. I actually wanted to do visual effects for years. Build models, make monsters, create fantasy. But then computers ruined all of it and I moved on.

I realized over the weekend that some of Harryhausen’s bigger movies are streamable through Netflix, so I watched Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger a few nights ago.

It got me wondering…why the hell isn’t anyone doing anything with Sinbad? He’s an established cultural touchstone, and one with lots of wiggle room. People know he’s a pirate-y type, but they don’t know much more than that. Which is perfect, because it lets you get away with what ever the hell you want to.

Which is why I want to have him fight Lovecraftian horrors.

Think about it. Sinbad travels the sea, looking for adventure, what happens if he stumbles across, say, R’yleh and inadvertently wakes up a sleeping Eldritch God.

You could have him spanning the world trying to put the cosmic horrors back in the box.

And there’s a scene in my head. A fucking amazing scene.

Sinbad standing on the prow of his ship. Cthulhu or something similar rising from the waves towering dozens or maybe hundreds of feet over him. Sinbad’s crew is going mad, clawing at their eyes. Their captain, shockingly, is smirking. At which point Sinbad procedes to deliver one of those “FUCK YOU, EVIL THING! I’M SINBAD! I’VE DONE XYZ!” Where he enumerates all the fucked up things he’s seen and why the big scary insanity monster isn’t going to make him blink.

Anyway, that’s the idea at least. Tossed away into the COMMONPLACE.

While you’re here, watch the opening minutes of The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, one of my favorite Harryhausen flicks.

The near, but not too near, future.

Four American special ops soldiers drop into a remote part of the Alaska wilderness, hoping to secure a un-compromised radar cortex in the waning days of the Chinese-American war. They arrive at the outpost and claim their prize, only to have the screens flicker on and show them a flight of ICBMs screaming toward a defenseless United States. Their war is over.

They decide to blend into life in the nearest town, a tiny speck of the map forgotten by the rest of the world. Burying their guns and claiming to be refugees from the fighting, they start their lives over, swearing to never tell anyone the truth about who they are.

Time passes, a distant Chinese administrator takes control of the region, and the war becomes a distant memory for some, and a haunting nightmare for others.

One man becomes the sheriff of the town.

One man becomes the town’s drunk.

Another suffers an injury, rendering him comatose.

And the final secludes himself out in the woods, becoming a mountain man.

Our story begins as the Second War For American Independence takes the Chinese by surprise, and as strange men, looking to collect the bounty on deserters, start to appear in town.

The story will be a graphic novel series, told with a mix of flash-back and present day moments. Art will be simple, and clean. Overall, the thrust of the story should be about the way the four men dealt with watching their old lives die, how they rebuilt new ones, and what they will do to protect their new lives from their old ones. Think of this as LOST crossed with WALKING DEAD, with characters being more important than the plotting.

I really kind of like this idea. Have a ton of moments in my head already. Might even warrant a full outline.

  • Vampires wrapped in sun-resistant suits. They become the go-to choice for wetworks and long term spec ops in the 21st Century. They are self-sustaining (their kills feed them), move incredibly fast over rough terrain, don’t require ammunition for combat effectiveness, and are immune to small arms fire.
  • Westernized brother returns home to Afghanistan after being educated in the West. Finds out his parents have been kidnapped by the Pakistani Army. The Army demands that the Westernized brother find his younger brother, now a political radical fighting as an insurgent. The story is a tale of some one returning home to find themselves alien to a people they once belonged to, and home transformed into something alien to the person returning.
  • Brunelleschi’s and the Dome. Graphic story of the construction of the previously unfinished dome of the Duomo in Venice. Brunelleschi was batshit, at the heart of a giant political thunderstorm as de Medici’s favored artisan, and attempting something that, as far as anyone knew – was completely impossible. Short story, very long top to bottom pages.

Just a reminder about how the COMMONPLACE works. I post ideas that crawl into my brain half-alive and looking for shelter. I don’t know what I’m going to do with them. More likely than not, nothing. But, I think they deserve a warm hearth and a clean place to sleep. So, I take them in and put them here so I don’t forget about them.

The COMMONPLACE, like a rehabilitation clinic for wild ideas.

I’m trying to figure out how to make a person forgettable.

Really, and truly forgettable. I know that may seem like the opposite of something that you’d want to do for a character you’re creating, but it is the crux of this one.

You see, we’ve got a guy who the entirety of creation has forgotten. Even Death has forgotten him, making him ageless and immortal.

I hear him in my head describing it to some one:

It is like trying to leave tracks in a blizzard. Every indention made in the snow, proof that you’d been there, is filled up and covered over. The universe is actively working to unmake any record of you.

But the horrible irony of that conversation is that they’ll just forget it the second he’s out of sight.

It is easy to just wave your hand and say something like “Everything has forgotten him”, but something completely different to give hard rules to something like that.

The situations and iterations are maddening

What if he writes something down and hands it to some one? Can they then remember what he’s written? If so, then that’s them remembering him, and therefor against the core of this idea.

So, solve that by saying that the writing fades once it is away from him, and then the memory fades from the person who read the writing. That works, but it then raises the question of if we’re not just talking memory here, but a physical record, a physical record that can be erased, what else could that affect?

If he beats a man to death, do that man’s injuries stitch themselves back together after the character wanders off?

I guess you could go that route, but any tension that could be built would be gossamer thin. You’ve got a guy who can’t die and who can’t actually make an impact on the world.

But what if he was helped in his actions? Like, say he saved a drowning child with the help of some one else. Sure, they’d both forget him, but what would happen if there hadn’t been anyone else to help him? Would that child spontaneously drown the second he walked away?

It gets awkward and convoluted very fast, you see.

The idea is very simple and I think has legs for days, but the minutia, the continuity shit, that’s where this falls apart.

Of course, the entire idea behind this character is the ret-conning in comic books. Some crazy force ret-cons an entire comic universe, but since they can’t remember our character, they rec-con everything but them. The character is the only person who remembers the previous world, but all record of them has been erased in this new one.

Wiping out a physical record that way and allowing a new one to be rebuilt is the easiest solution, but it just feels cheap in a way that I can’t put my finger on. Like I might be asking too much of what I need this character to do.

You’ve been reading the COMMONPLACE – where I talk shit that no one understands and’ll never see the light of day.

  • Secretive liberal cult uses several charities for a front. Cult draws people in, convincing them to do terrible things in the name of fomenting a populist revolution. Cult is really a front for a right wing agenda trying to discredit the left. Also works conversely as right to left. Might even be funnier that way. Probably at least one Ayn Rand joke in there.

This one came to me in a dream last night.

Aliens arrive on Earth, open “ambassadorships” which are basically schools where the aliens teach their philosophy of universal peace and understanding. At the final level of training, then turn an ecophage on the person, rendering them into the ubiquitous gray goo that in turn does give everyone universal peace and understanding, since we’re all just one massive slop pile of nanites. Of course, some one finds out, and a Scientology/Logan’s Run-esque narrative happens.

Second came to me today on the way to work.

A man builds a vat of nanite disassemblers. You throw in trash, they spit out the raw materials you used to make that trash. The disassembler swarm is borderline conscious, so that they can learn to do a better job, and enjoy doing that job. People are scared that this borderline intelligence is a threat, that somehow it’ll want more and escape into the world. Upset, the man asks the swarm if it happy or if it ever felt trapped. The swarm, suddenly now aware that there are options, escapes the take and spreads out into the world. It’s a fable parable; don’t ask questions you don’t want answers to.

The civilized world has ended because of some super-plague. Maybe half a percent of the population survives. Thirty million people, spread across the entire world. Most of them in isolated, non-urban places. The human race will most likely survive, but there is going to be a lot of wandering about in the meantime.

It is during this period that a group of people has tasked themselves with saving these last, fleeting embers of the world. By safely turning off all of the nuclear power plants in the world.

Left to their own devices, the power plants would shut themselves down, but the core reactions would eventually cause the safety systems to breakdown. Radiation would leak, meltdowns would happen.

It would be very annoying to survive a biological holocaust just to die in a nuclear one.

Attack Dolphins.

Dolphins are pack animals of near human level intelligence and creativity. We’ve used them to tag mines during wartime. They have language that they learn and teach. And yet, mad scientists always have a tank full of sharks to dispatch unwanted visitors with.

Sharks are little more than giant worms with fins and teeth. Genetically, they’ve been unchanged for longer than just about anything else on the planet. Fuck, I think algae evolves faster than they do. But, I guess it is hard to improve on teeth, guts, fins and not a whole lot else.

You see, when a shark tears into you there’s nothing there. It is like being ripped apart by a living blender. They are cold, simplistic things.

But imagine if dolphins did it. They are already carnivores, so getting them to sink their pointy bits into us shouldn’t be that hard.

(Ok, chief problem there is that we taste bad. It is pretty much our only natural defense. Most anything that’ll take a bite out of us won’t take another. Lack of an sort of marbled meats. We’re either lean or fat. Not a lot of mix. But anyway.)

You could teach dolphins malice. They could taunt you. They could enjoy it. They could learn to do things that you had never thought about. With a little bit of training and some disturbingly positive reinforcement you could have a vicious little bastard on your hand.

Move over Jaws, Flipper is here to kick your ass.

(No, I haven’t been sleeping…why do you ask?)

-Gargoyles flood the Internet, effective drowning an ocean of information with even more information. The system collapses from the deluge – salvation or damnation?

Gargoyles is a term coined by Neal Stephenson in his novel Snow Crash. They are people who have wrapped themselves in sensory recording equipment, and then dump all of what they record out on the web, in the hope of making a buck from it. Think of them like a crazy person with a shopping cart picking up everything they come across in the hope that something – anything – will sell. We’re already getting their with the shotgun blast spam of personal blogs, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The Internet was bothersomely cluttered to begin with, which is the sole reason for the rise of the seemingly benevolent megacorp, Google. What happens when the volume of the background noise drowns out the sounds you want to here?

This also leads me too…

-Ubiquitous web service companies like Google or Facebook are nationalized/subsidized/too big to fail.

This works either domestically or somewhere out in the wilds of the world. With certain services becoming so universally required for existing on the web, what happens if they blend with the government? Can an Internet company become too big to fail? Where is that point drawn?

End of the week thoughts for this one. Things that have been rolling around in my head for a few days, but I haven’t had the biting angle on.

-Secret military kill command in computer processors is used.

Some back story on this one – the NYT ran a story earlier in the week about the potential for “sleeper agents” in microprocessors. It works like this: only 2% of military processors are in fact, military. The rest of them are produced at commercial plants, leaving them open to exploit. And since hardware alterations on say, an eight core 3ghz processor (that’d be 24 billion individual circuits for those keeping track), would be nearly impossible to notice unless you knew what to look for, the potential to lay in a few rudimentary hacked commands is there. A few people in the military brass have acknowledged this, and they’ve pushed to expand the number of producers of secure military processors. Which opens up the questions of how many corners that operation is going to cut in order to hit some kind of asinine metric.

Anyway, so it all sound hypothetical, and worst-case, right? Well, it did until the Israelis used one of those sleeper agent commands to turn of Syrian radar when they bombed an under construction nuclear power plant. The Syrian radar “failed” to pick up the Israeli fighter jets coming or going. People thought it was a hardware failure until some one dug up this theory about intentional processor faults. Turns out the Syrian radar was made by a US manufacturer, who worked with the Israelis to disable them through an intentional hardware fault. You do know that the US is the largest producer and seller of arms in the world, right? Most of what the US military uses gets re-sold to allies like Israel and Taiwan, then they resell them to others, and so on and so on. The Syrian radar was old enough to mean that this sleeper agent strategy has been in place for at least a decade.

My interest in this? If this is true, it means that somewhere out there is a list of ways to turn off every piece of modern military hardware through an intentional flaw in a microprocessor. Which sounds like a solid basis for either a spy story (some one steals the list) or a robot apocalypse (the ex machina at the end that saves us from the flesh eating military drones).

-We create a world to model patterns, world develops separate life. Rebellion?

We’re using supercomputers to model weather patterns now. And people are using mathematical and behavioral models to predict economic trends. Social models have been used for decades in advertising. Now, what if you took all of those models and more, then smooshed them into a virtual world. Simply put, you build a fake world to predict events in the real world. Then, what if that fake world starts to develop its own unique personality? We’ve become God to a virtual world that is real as far as it is concerned. Are we good custodians of their world? Are we malevolent? Do they want to rebel? Are they aware of us? Do we get jealous of them? Could God be jealous of us?

Originally, commonplace books were cheaply bound books on even cheaper paper that people would use to keep notes and figures on. Precursors to our modern day sketchbooks and Moleskines, but completely devoid of quality (and the pretension.) Writers would fill them with short ideas that weren’t whole stories, but bits they could come back to later. Things like “Ancient egg hatches, what emerges?” That one was from HP Lovecraft, by the way.

Seeing as how I spit out a rather obscene number of underdeveloped story ideas, I’m going to create a category called “COMMONPLACE” here on the BRV. If I have an idea I want out of my head, but don’t want to forget, I’ll make a post titled Commonplace and drop it in the body with corresponding category tag. I won’t tag it anything else, so I don’t pollute my other, already muddied, category feeds.

Sound simple? Good. Here we go.

  • Car on a lonely stretch of highway. Emergency workers find it exploded. No sign of impact or reason given.
  • Man kidnaps you and tells you horrible secrets about the world, then tells you that you can either leave and risk your life, or stay and work for him.
  • Spaceship make a wild jump, and re-appears in the dark spaces between galaxies. Find ancient, massive life. Transgalactic Oceans.
  • Man creates AI script and releases it on the web. It embeds itself on a religious site, and gains self-awareness. Believes itself to be the Second Coming.
  • Werewolves in the wild west that are really steam-driven body hardness for crippled land barons.
  • Astronauts trapped in quarantine before a launch watch the whole world die from a super-plague.

We’ll see where this goes.

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