Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Notes on my Lonesome October story: Mother of Monsters

One of my favorite features from the Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny was the end notes, explaining the references and allusions in each piece. I understand that some people didn't appreciate them, and I can kind of see that point of view, even if I vigorously disagree with it. But I never gave Eye of Cat the chance it deserved, because I had read Zelazny's essay about its creation, and I was acutely aware, in a way that I seldom am with his works, that I was reading something that had been planned and created. Seeing the man behind the curtain can ruin the experience for some people. It's hard to believe in the grief of a character if you're listening to the commentary track and the actress telling you how she was thinking about her dead hamster. It destroys the illusion.

I still think the notes in the Collected Stories are great, and they're entirely optional and easy to ignore if you're not inclined to agree with them. Here are my notes on what went in to my story. If you're the kind of person who doesn't enjoy these things, then by all means, move on. Nothing here is essential to understanding it.

(Also, I think my tendency to drop lines from every book or play or movie I've ever seen or read or heard about can occasionally be off-putting.)

Though, as Oscar Wilde said "Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit."

Mother of Monsters was the first time I'd written a story on demand. I was hoping the Lovecraft Ezine would have a second Lonesome October issue and I started writing in May, because I am such a terribly slow writer. Then, when the time came, I realized that what I had was much too large for a short story.

So I had to quickly (by my standards) come up with something else, as I was up to a good 22,000 words at that point, and there was no way I could trim it down to short story length. I am pretty happy with this one. It's a variation of something I was kicking around for the first installment, only set during the Cold War and not in the future as I had originally intended.

The title comes, not from Guy de Maupassant story, but from the Echidna, mother to all those weird critters that ran around in Greek Mythology. I like it, because it can apply to either Odessa or Lorraine.

My biggest influence was Twenty to Life in the Lonesome October, which was my favorite of last year's Lonesome October stories,  but not for the Frankenstein allusions, but rather for the portrayal of a sympathetic opener. I think a thirst for knowledge is one of the most admirable human traits in the real world, but it probably wouldn't be in a reality filled with things man was not meant to know.

The shark-jumping hoodlum is the Fonz.

Mister Jenkins is the Principal in a Wrinkle in Time. This wasn't intentional but rather the first name that popped into my head when I needed a principal, but since I decided to name the place where the antagonists gathered the Echthros Club, I decided to keep it.

Echthros is indeed the Koptic Greek word for enemy, singular of the Echthroi, the Un-Namers of the Time Quintet. Wikipedia said that it means the object of God's enmity, and I like the idea that a bunch of closers would call their club that, as they are opposed to the Elder Gods.

Odessa has the same root as Oddessy, meaning Long Journey, and also city in the Ukraine, which fits in with Lorraine's origins. Also, citizens of Odessa call the City Mama Odessa, which ties back into the theme of motherhood.

I didn't state it explicitly, but Odessa was Lorraine's companion for the purposes of the game.Odessa's eyes are a reference to Cherenkov radiation, which causes the distinctive blue light in nuclear reactors.

Vitruvian Man is De Vinci's famous sketch of human proportions.

A matryoshka is the name for Russian nesting doll.

Mister Talbot, Mister Bates are Larry Talbot and Norman Bates. I wanted to use Tony Rivers, Michael Landon's character from I Was a Teenage Werewolf, (as Larry Talbot is not a teenager) but I thought the name was too obscure for anyone to appreciate the reference.

The glob that girdled the globe was the working title for the Blob. My wife worked briefly with Kay Linaker, writer of the movie, when we lived up in New Hampshire, and I've been fondly disposed towards it since. Also, it fits the 50s horror movie vibe of the story.

Speaking of which, "Nothing moves the blob" is a line from the 90s video game.


 I was going to go the full 1950's Universal Monsters Route, but Movers and Shakers, from Lord of the Fantastic, already covered that territory and I didn't want to step on any toes. We do have a lake monster, a pair of werewolves and frankenstein monster, but that's as close as I wanted to get.

"Who commanded the thunders of heaven, mimicked the earthquake, and mocked the invisible world with its own shadows." is directly from Frankenstein.

"Play a Simple Melody" is a duet popular in the 50s, where one of the singers pines for the simplicity of an earlier era. Here it is, performed by Edith Bunker and Muppets.

The Gorilla and the Brain are not specifically a reference to Monsieur Mallah and the Brain from the Doom Patrol. It's just a coincidence. I just liked the visual of a beatnik gorilla, and the brain is inspired by They saved Hitler's Brain. However, if you've got a gorilla and a brain in your story, it's crazy NOT to pair them up.

High Modernism or High Modernity is a philosophy that science will solve all of the problems that afflict the world. Zelazny touched on this concept with the Bridge of Ashes.

Chimeric means having parts from different animals.

The Piltdown Man was a famous hoax, of a fossil purported to be a an earlier human species.

DSMO is dimethyl sulfoxide. It has several unusual properties. It absorbs other liquids very readily and it penetrates the skin, delivering whatever compounds dissolved in it to its target.  Sodium cyanide is a poison. This is a reference to the fountain shield which Yama employed in Lord of Light.

"Awake, arise, or be forever fallen" is a phrase from Paradise Lost that seems to work its way into everything I've ever written.


  1. I *finally* got around to reading your story (I've been slow to get through this years's issue, though certainly not as a result of any quality concerns), and as expected, it was fantastic. I knew this article was here, and I came *specifically* to verify that the "Nothing moves the Blob" line was a Marvel reference. (Though, to be fair, I didn't know it was from a video game--I just thought it was a general Blob line.)

    Anyway, I liked both the story and the commentary on it. I'd probably do a similar commentary article for my own story, except my website is more just about, "Hey, this is where you can find my fiction," and doesn't really post articles or anything like that. But in any case, you should know that your story from last year was a big inspiration for my story this year, which is why I threw in so many more random allusions than I did last time around.

    But enough about me! Your story was awesome. I enjoyed how believable and sympathetic the opener's perspective was, and the fact that she was participating in a magical gate-opening ritual despite not believing in magic. (And, on that note, I loved the science-vs.-magic theme as a whole. Good stuff!)

    1. I'm embarrassed to say that I haven't read anything else yet. I'm holding out for the audio versions.

      Thanks for the kind words. I hadn't read the story in the interval between when it was submitted and when it was published, and I was remembering it as being worse than it was. On rereading it, I was pleasantly surprised. I think I could have tied all of the elements together a bit more cleanly than I did, but there's also quite bit in there that I like, and I think I'm pretty happy with how it came out.