Saturday, 30 January 2016

Ramblings Of A Returned Traveller, II

Before getting back to the regular pattern of drivel alternating with reviews and stories, it might be nice to think about those travels once again. Standing outside the personal experience of it all, isn't it amazing that we can cross a distance that would take a ship a week in just the span of ten hours? It's true that you have to strap yourself into a flying metal death tube, be pressurised to an atmosphere near that experienced near the summit of Mount Everest, lose all sense of reality due to enforced dimming of the windows (thank you very much, Norwegian Air), and have all your allergies triggered by the air conditioning simultaneously, but... No, I can't do it. It's horrible to fly. Take the boat, you crazies, take the boat!

It's fun to travel, and see the world. America is one of the more strange places, though, with its curiosities such as firearms in large supermarkets, the absences of public conveniences, and the apparent inability to provide public transport systems that people will depend on. Yes, those car-developed cities are not the easiest to get around without some significant driving assistance. Oh, and sugar is in absolutely everything. Everything! Is that enough moaning? Yes? Finally!

It was good to experience Miami, especially when unleashed to wander myself, stumbling over marathons and toddling over the immense 'Venetian Causeway' that links the Miami Beach island to the rest of the city, and enjoying the great lifeguard huts on South Beach. In less well trodden fun things, it was also good to espy all three of the Dice Tower top ten videocast hosts at a board game shop in the Hollywood area, taking part in a monthly local gaming event. Yes, these things do happen and they can be very impressive. I must be a nerd to have gone out of my way to see those guys...

The Quirky Muffin will now return to its normal service. In the next few weeks, expect some chatter about 'Honey, I Shrunk The Kids', some stories, and perhaps a thoughtful piece about Mark Twain's 'A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court'. I'm also building my LibraryThing book catalogue up a bit. It's something to do...


Thursday, 28 January 2016

Ramblings Of A Returned Traveller, I

How lovely it was to meet my longtime penpal Diaslen, and her esteemed spousal analogue. How nice it was to get the chance to explore a new city on a whole new continent. How awful, on the dark side, to be sick once again and have an awful plane journey. Such is the way of life. This must begin with a great thank you to my wonderful hosts, who drove me around, fed me, organised activities, and were generally far too nice! How wonderful it is to have such friends, and great wishes for their future are attached herewith.

Miami is a lovely city, but one not suited for the pedestrians! If I had travelled to all the places I saw by foot, the trip would have to have been twice as long, with ever more plane trauma added in for karmic retribution! Not only was there the traditional Gatwick rock and roll landing, but on the outgoing trip the lady next to me collapsed and had to be taken away by paramedics on landing. I hope she was okay after all that. Flying is a nasty business. I may never do it again, if it can be avoided.

Points of interest around and about Miami include Vizcaya House, a mansion built by a wealthy resident who wanted a picturesque house to live in and entertain in. The breakfast room is nice at Vizcaya, but the rest seems stuffy. The Cuban restaurant called Versailles is rather awesome, and has some wonderful fish. The Loewe Museum of International Art is also well worth a visit, as is the long long walk across the Venetian Causeway that links the island of Miami Beach to the mainland. Dania Beach is lovely and quiet in comparison to the famous South Beach, with its wonderful artist-designed lifeguard stations, and if you're lucky you might stumble across a marathon as I did. How bizarre it is to be wandering around at dawn in Miami South Beach, and stumble over a major marathon. Things like that don't normally happen, do they?

Sadly, the Venetian Pool was closed for refurbishment, as was the Bass Museum of Art, while the Science Museum was closed due to moving to a whole new building. The old building looked pretty nice, though, as did the sea whenever the beach was visited. You can't beat a green-blue sea, with rushing surf. One day, I'll get into that snorkelling experience on the Keys, or fail in my so far successful attempts to avoid the alligator swamps. Oh, next time, given the momentary insanity that will get me onto a plane or the decadence required for the sea journey, there will be snorkelling and oblivion to the mosquitoes. Actually, getting mosquito bites is pretty scary in these days of the Zika virus.

How's that for a start?


Tuesday, 26 January 2016

On The Book Piles - January 2016

(Prepared in advance, for holiday cover. Many of these books will be finished in the thirty hours of travelling!)

I'm not here right now. This is a projection from the pre-Miami days, before everything became Spanish-based and I changed my name to Pablo. This is the beginning of a probably intermittently recurring feature about what's on or in the - gasp! - piles of books in progress right now, and how exactly they're going. So, let's go.

'A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court' by Mark Twain

This novel is taking forever to read. Now, at far more than halfway through, it feels as if the same hammer of satire or criticism has been wielded far too many times on the same topics. Yes, it is at times funny, but there's not enough story there to have kept it going for so long. Perhaps it will pick up as I go into the finale.

'Jamaica Inn' by Daphne Du Maurier

I'm only a few pages in, and worrying that the Hitchcock film may have spoilt the whole thing. It's got to better than that movie, at least? Hopefully, it will be better than the Hitchcock of  Du Maurier's other famous novel, 'Rebecca', which was so dismal and overly long for its story, that it became interminable. This novel seems far better, in its stages.

'Journey To The West' (Volume 2) by Wu Cheng'en

Following on from volume one, what lies in story in volume two of this epic? Will Monkey finally be redeemed? Will the other questers Xuanzang, Friar Sand and Brother Pig make it to distant lands to bring back the Scriptures? Will the jokes be as good? Only time will tell.

'Armadale' by Wilkie Collins

The third of Collins' four great novels, and the novel that I was reading on my Kindle before it self-destructed. Will the saga of the Armadale family conclude in a better way than I think, or does manipulation and scandal await all?

'Kai Lung Unrolls His Mat' by Ernest Bramah

A LibraryThing recommendation, and one which promises much. Is it as funny and witty in its opening pages as 'Bridge of Birds'? No, not quite, but perhaps this patchwork of stories will culminate in something entirely different?

'Dean Man's Cove' by Lauren St John

A recommendation from a dear friend, which is very promising in its early pages. A young adult novel, a mystery, and it might have some similarities to the beginning of 'Jamaica Inn'? We will see.

'The Complete Peanuts: 1955-1956' by Schulz

Schultz in his early pomp, where Linus forms his attachment to his blanket, Schroeder reached full Beethoven worship, and Lucy becomes the full fussbudget. Charlie Brown plays space alien.

'Jokes And Their Relation To The Unconscious' by Sigmund Freud

It's fascinating that Freud devoted so much attention to humour and jokes, but halfway through this novel it seems as if they do have some interesting connections to the unconscious. Many classifications of the types of jokes, and the

'The Voyage Of The Beagle' by Charles Darwin

Another one of the books that have hung around for ages, due to book blocking. Darwin's account of his legendary voyage is fascinating both for the political and social history, as well as the natural sciences he was famous for. Want to know about South America? This one place to go.

'The Archetypes And The Collective Unconscious' by C.G. Jung

Longest standing non-fiction book on the piles, whis was abandoned at some point, but will be picked back up when Freud's joke book is done. Jung certainly knew what he was doing, but is very dense and difficult to read...

'Histories' by Herodotus

The legendary first history book in existence. Herodotus recounted tales from his own recent and classical histories. More stories than you can count, and one of the source materials that underpins classical history as a whole.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Television: 'The Adventures Of Superman: Round The World With Superman' (1954) (Episode 2x26)

(The author is in Miami right now. This post was prepared far, far in advance.)

This is a special episode of a great television show. It's cute, awesome, sweet and lovely. There's not a crook in sight, and it's all about the other side of being Superman. The side that almost never gets shown any more, that doesn't involve endless punching and brawling. It's true that there was plenty of beating up of bad guys in this series, but there were also other things. This exemplifies them all.

This was the last episode of the black and white version of 'The Adventures of Superman', and it seems that they wanted to go out on a bang, knowing that they wouldn't be back for a while. When they did return, more than a year later, it would be for four half seasons in colour, and with far more of a focus on pleasing the children than the family as a whole. That refocussing had already begun to happen when we arrived here at the second season finale, but it works perfectly.

The Daily Planet, an icon amongst newspapers, had been running a letter writing contest, for children who wanted to fly around the world with Superman. (At this point, I must confess once again to being more schmaltzy than any five other people put together). The winner turned out to be a blind girl who wanted the trip for her lonely mother, to cheer her up and distract her from her problems. The mother, who wanted nothing to do with the prize, got rid of the gallant Planet's reporters, but Clark was set on fixing the problem. First, he realised that the girl's blindness could be fixed after all (precise x-ray vision), and organised the vital operation. Meanwhile, Lois got to the bottom of the mother's issues, and when Superman returned from flying the girl around the world, her father was there waiting for her.

It sounds sentimental, I know, but it's a perfect encapsulation of a different kind of television and superheroics. Just as Ernie Bilko could be the sharpest card shark, but be knocked over by the smallest tug of his own conscience, Superman spend an episode not fighting criminals or lunatic inventions and instead fix some people's lives. Superheroes can be about helping people; that's not a crime. In fact, many of the most iconic heroes transcended their comic book origins because of their hearts and not their fists. Never forget that the first superhero was Sherlock Holmes, and that he spent more time helping people in his stories than capturing them.

Yes, this is the Quirky Muffin, purveyors of schmaltz since 2012, without shame. We could probably do with more sentimentality in the world.


Friday, 22 January 2016

Television: 'The West Wing: The State Dinner' (1999) (Episode 1x07)

(Prepared long in advance as holiday cover)

"You have a big brain, a good heart and an ego the size of Montana. You do, Jed."

Have we touched on 'The West Wing' yet here? No? That's quite the oversight, but is explained by the fact that I literally watched every episode from the golden first four seasons on a repeat loop for several years just after release, and had to abandon the series for a lengthy period of time as a result. It was so excellent that it couldn't be put down, much like those legendary first four seasons of 'M*A*S*H', which is equally difficult to settle down to now due to magnificently excessive over-familiarity.

There are many episodes in the first half-season of 'The West Wing' which could be called the beginning of the 'super golden' period that are the first two of creator Aaron Sorkin's four seasons in charge. (Any season without Sorkin can be written off.) 'The State Dinner' has a very good claim as it features a veritable pile of overlapping story elements, and a definitive abandonment of the shoutiness that mars the first four. For the record, my own personal tipping point is episode 5, 'The Crackpots And These Women', but this one is much more even, showcases the strengths and weaknesses of every character, and introduces the First Lady of the series. It has less Bradley Whitford and John Spencer, though, and no wolf only highways or the sneaky early career appearance of Nick Offerman.

A unifying feature of 'The West Wing' and 'M*A*S*H', as well as many other things I love, is the capacity they have to show characters that care, and are passionate about those things they have chosen to believe in. In fact, the only character to be booted from the cast is the most cynical Mandy of the first season, who is also the most culpable of shoutiness in early episodes. She's used well in 'The State Dinner', which is a tour-de-force in ensemble acting. It's fantastic to watch as Sorkin weaves the material so that every character gets their moment, but also so that it collapses down to the finale where the president is talking to the radio operator of a storm-struck tender ship. Yes, it all did matter, but when you see your room full of main characters listening, and caring, you can't help but realise you're watching something truly special. This is the same episode with a comical multi-step English to Bartok sequence, after all, and a staffer's reaction to their hostage rescue plan leading to casualties. It fits together wonderfully.

We will revisit 'The West Wing', as its sheer magnificence unfolds in my re-watch, and the power of all these magnificent actors in their defining roles is revealed. It's a great show, and this episode begins the sporadically recurring Yo-Yo Ma motif. Do you need any more incentive? No? Well done, you passed the test. Take three golden bananas and please don't leave the state.


PS Don't ever claim to be a sorceror in Indonesia, especially if the locals are wielding scythes. This episode fully reveals the importance of Josh's assistant Donna, who I might have had a massive crush on at the time, continue to now, and will have throughout all time. Donna is one of the best.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Television: 'Star Trek: The Animated Series' (1973-1974)

(Prepared long in advance for holiday cover)

This will probably be the last 'Star Trek' post for a while, the classic cast movies being well recognised for their strengths, and the spin-off series being their own little worlds. It's very fitting to finish on something nice, after the under-appreciated third season of the show, with its immense variability.

The animated 'Star Trek' is fun, a departure from every other incarnation of the series, but still intensely connected to the original show. It's limited animation, so don't expect anything like a masterpiece, but it's still well done. Gene Roddenberry rubber stamped the show, DC Fontana returned as story editor, and all the voice cast but Walter Koenig returned, apparently due to budgetary reasons and Majel Barrett adding a second set of female voice options in addition to being Mrs Roddenberry. Bad luck, Walter. At least you got to write one.

These twenty two episodes were very much a welcome bonus at the time. The original series was cancelled, with added spite, and the cast disbanded back into obscurity. According to 'Star Trek Memories', William Shatner spent the next few years in touring theatre companies, camping out in a space age collapsible hut, and the other cast seemed to have suffered similar fates. Nimoy got two years on 'Mission: Impossible', and was the sole person to stay in the spotlight, possibly working off the remainder of his Desilu contract. Meanwhile, the original show took off in syndication and fans desperately wanted more. They got twenty two half hours, with wilder and crazier aliens, but slightly less interesting 'Saturday morning' plotlines. Despite all that, it was a welcome bonus.

Viewed in context, 'Star Trek: The Animated Series' was a remarkable show for a family cartoon. It broke some of the same barriers as its predecessor. There weren't often outright villains, the antagonists turned out to be misunderstood some of the time, and the same good natured optimism carried over from the second season of the live action show. (The third season's flaws included an absence of that positivity.) Also, Kirk's action roll was often a welcome sight, and the lack of outrageous violence is incredibly refreshing now. On the other hand, some of the stories are weak, but often have fascinating little throwaway bits that catch you off guard.

Yes, the animated series is the little Easter egg that sits between the original series and the movies. A cool little curio. An extra year of the five year mission, of sometimes disputed canonicity. Now, it seems to be accepted as part of the whole, but it wasn't always like that. A little more classic cast 'Star Trek' couldn't be a bad thing, right?


Monday, 18 January 2016

Movie: 'This Island Earth' (1955)

(Prepared long in advance for holiday cover)

It's quite different to the book, by Raymond F Jones. The movie strips out a lot of the talkier sections, and the non-confrontational portions, substituting instead some 'MutANT' workmen on the alien planet and some impressive spaceship-guided asteroid attacks. Despite all that, this is a very good but solemn 1950's science fiction movie. Oh, how I wish that humour had been acceptable in old science fiction films, or even the occasional non-apocalyptic ending!

'This Island Earth' does capitalize on the main strength of it's novel antecedent, in accepting the written start, with the mysterious electronics puzzle. Can you think of many other films that begin with a mysterious shipment of components, an electronics catalogue, and the building of a device you've never even seen before? It's not quite as intriguing as the written version - they have a diagram in this case - but still unique.

Watching old science-fiction films, you can forget how smart some of them are, and lose the historical context. Yes, 'This Island Earth' does have an ant monster, and some flying saucer action, but it's not in the bottom drawer of science fiction dopiness. Some thought has gone into it. The casting is interesting, the alien makeup is nowhere near as dumb as it could have been - except for the plastic hair covers - and the exploitation of the female characters is at a minimum, although those coveralls were fairly tight...

So, what is the story about? Boiled down, a nuclear scientist receives a strange higher technology replacement component in the post, investigates, and manages to build a fantastical device known as an 'interocitor' from the components listed in the mysterious Unit 16's catalogue. Then he's whisked off to a mysterious base, which is promptly destroyed, and kidnapped with his old flame to the mysterious planet of Metaluna, which is under deadly siege by some nasty aliens who like to drag in asteroids as assault weapons. Metaluna turns out to be much more imminently doomed than anyone thought, and the scientist and his lady doctor barely escape with the aid of their alien abductor. They're dropped off on Earth, as their mortally injured friend scuttles his ship into the ocean. Of course, it has to be a gloomy ending, as it's a science fiction film.

As I mentioned, there is an awful lot of source material missing from the film, but it's interesting to see what they did do with their tiny budget and humourless 1950s directing style. It's actually very solid, with some interesting and even impressive effects. The production style makes 'spartan' seem more like a consequence of compact alien science away from Earth, but the acting... It can be said that the acting is better than in most 50s genre films. The most interesting actor is written out when the lead scientist runs off to the alien base at the beginning of the film, though. Let's say that the acting is decent.

Oh, how I wish that there wasn't an ant monster, though. Oh, world, why? Some of the book's ending would have been nice, too, but how much can you squish into eighty minutes?


Saturday, 16 January 2016

On Autopilot

The Quirky Muffin is hereby put on autopilot for the duration of my trip to Miami. There are a number of posts waiting to go up, probably more than would have gone up without my going on holiday, and some of them might even be good!

This trip is being made in honour of my long-time penpal Diaslen, and her man-person Orestes, who has been a great friend and wonderful correspondent. She deserves every good thing in the world, and even some of the great things! Let's hope she knows how to deal with a beaten up mathematician who will have no idea what's going on for at least a day, perhaps two. Jet lag for the first time could be very disorienting.

So, with only a small number of words, the switch is pushed and the blog goes on autopilot until the 28th of January. Have a nice time, phantasmic and spectral readers, and be careful: There might be space hippies out there...

Oh no, is this the beginning of a sore throat?


Thursday, 14 January 2016

Story: The Ninja of Health, VII

( Part VI , VIII )

The anonymous Man and the anonymous Woman fell to the floor from their former perches on the now shattered non-visible tubes. The noise was brief and tinkled, apart from the soft puffs as the two ninjas of health hit the floor and barely made an impact. The voice was gone, as if it had never been there, and their Pattern on the chapel floor had returned to its former glory. Only the crunch of invisible fragments under their feet indicated anything had occurred at all.

The two fetched brooms and began to methodically collect the material that lay strewn about the floor, automatically following the spirals and curves of the floor as they worked, while their minds worked on higher problems.

"Did you know that the chemist on the High Street is going to be turned into a bouncy castle emporium?" Asked the Man suddenly, as he pushed a pile of tube fragments into the corner.

"No? Really? I had no idea there was a demand for bouncy castles to that extent." Replied his companion.

"Yes, I believe it's something do with the population boom in Toddlingham, and the relative lack of safety in bouncing on the regular castle. Something about a record number of confused children, and a shortage of sticky plasters."

"That sounds entirely unbelievable."

"Would you believe a small shack selling party balloons?"

"That sounds more likely."

As they chattered, the two swept their glances across the floor but their pattern remained undisturbed.

"I had a record number of appendicitis victims to deal with yesterday." Commented the Woman. "Three in total."

"Three! In one day? It's rare for there to be more than one appendix in a day, in a town this size."

"Yes, very rare. The probabilities are in the basement of the realm of credibility."

"You don't say. Do we have something to put all these bits in?" The Man politely asked.

"I'll fetch some of the boxes." The Woman disappeared into a side room. The Man looked thoughtful for a moment, and then collected up a bowlful of the material. Vanishing into the chapel's antechamber, a mild creak could be heard.

Underneath the Chapel, in the cellar, the two looked at each other and nodded. The Man put the material specimen in a small urn and sealed it up. They might still be overheard in the cellar, but it was less likely they would be visually observed. The Man mouthed 'Appendices', and the Woman nodded in return. Then, she looked grave and mimed 'Oracle', to which the Man grimly assented too.

They then both went upstairs, emerging from different stairs, continued to clear up the chapel.

To be continued...

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Tick Tock

The days are ticking away. Only six remain until that plane lumbers into the air and I wing away to Florida, for the scariest holiday so far undertaken. So many hours in the air, and all kinds of dangers to be faced. On the other hand, maybe I'll be seated next to someone really nice, or we'll be transported up into a passing flying saucer and taken away to see the majestic splendours of the Ice Palaces of Altair V. Who knows?

I wonder if there are ice palaces on Altair V? Are there even planets around Altair? There's a wealth of information on Altair on Wikipedia; that swiftly rotating bright white star is 16.7 light years away, and yet can be seen with the naked eye on any clear night. Imagine that for a moment, that there is something so bright that it can be seen 157,993,690,000,000 kilometres away. It's a fascinating world which has such fantastic things in it. Who knows what might be in the vicinity of Altair? Perhaps it hosts an annual Galactic Poet convention, or maybe the wandering thespians of the spaceways return there to regale one another with tall stories in a rundown space hotel that has seen better days? Could there be a hat factory, and a selection of civilized worlds grown there to buy the hats? We don't know!

Miami will be interesting. Travelling outside the EU, for we are still fortunately in the EU at the moment, is a daunting thing. Will they have compatible food? Will the infamous lack of real cheese in the USA hamper relations? Will my friends recognise me at the airport? What will we talk about? Will there be enough board games in the case to keep everyone happy for a week? Will staking out board game shops lead to a spotting of the 'Dice Tower' crew? So many questions! Is it okay to drink the water, and will there be any alligators? Oh, the torment, the torment!

One thing that is certain is that so many hours in the air will lead to an awful lot of the books currently stalled in my book piles to get read! That's a great thing. The scourge that is the computer, and the total absorption into trivial things that it represents, is a continuing one. 'A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court' is proceeding nicely, though, as if some magical block has finally been removed. It was a difficult read, as was 'The Prince And The Pauper' before it, but probably worth it, and becoming easier as the end nears. Oh, satire, you are a deeply unsatisfying thing to read. Perhaps Twain, who I've never warmed to, really needed more plot to back it up? Is criticizing such cherished works of fiction allowed? 'A Connecticut Yankee...' will require a great deal of thought before being finally put away.

Oh, to finish, some interesting things about Miami: Outdoor pools, the art deco district, the Dice Tower, the history, and of course it's right next to the Florida Keys, amongst many other things.


Sunday, 10 January 2016

Television: 'The Addams Family' (1964-1966)

They weren't creepy, but they were kooky. They were the Addams Family. An iconic and classical sitcom from the mid-1960s, this show was probably the last hurrah for black and white television, and also for the domestic comedy. Airing in the same years as 'The Munsters', 'The Addams Family' took the phenomenal illustrations of Charles Addams and twisted them to television uniquely well.

Any discussion of 'The Addams Family' television show needs to have the influence of Carolyn Jones' Morticia disentangled from the conversation. Yes, Morticia is central to the show, but she's also the ultimate intoxicant for many male eyes. This is one of the rare examples for me, where the rest of the show is overshadowed by the lady, despite the great performances being given by the ever wacky John Astin, crazed Jackie Coogan, titanic Ted Cassidy, the child performers Lisa Loring and Ken Weatherwax, and Blossom Rock. It's a fantastic cast, and one that should be appreciated at any age, but Carolyn Jones steals every scene as the refined, loving, feminine and superb Morticia in 'that dress'. Even the shuffling is funny. Jones has a wonderful time, and is perfectly cast, with that wild eyed look both as the lady of the house and her recurring sister Ophelia. Now, let's put Jones and her talents aside, and think about the show in general.

'The Addams Family' is a gem of 1960s genre television. Despite the supposed perverseness of the characters, the Addams clan have been widely accepted as one of the most functional and loving families in television history, while Gomez and Morticia were the first married couple in a comedy to actually be seen as affectionate, loving and passionate toward each other. Imagine that! A married couple with children, who actually still love each other! It's actually hard to think of couples in comedies where the husband isn't simply henpecked into oblivion by domineering wives who are always right. This is a marvel in comparison!

The production value of the series is awesome, where so much care has been lavished on the Addams mansion that there are curiosities and wonderful artifacts in every corner, looking truly authentic even at close range. It's fortunate that the show was cancelled rather than continued into the colour age, as it wouldn't have transferred well or cheaply, and looks utterly awesome in monochrome. Despite it being a true and representative show of the era, which does suffer a little in the DVD age, from a more frequent repetition of gags than you would like, those jokes and performances are excellent. John Astin, especially, is a crazed wonder as Gomez. Never was anyone fitted so wonderfully to a character as Astin in his signature role, which draws on the manic energy of Groucho Marx, who the actor admired, and with whom the producer Nat Perrin worked with and shared happy times. Yes, there is Groucho in Gomez, crossed with a loving family man, a barmy millionaire, and a latin lover. There's far less of the more macabre Charles Addams source material than you would think in the show, which is good. Later versions have suffered from there being too much ghoulishness.

This is a series set in the episodic format, where far more than half of the episodes fit a standard pattern, wherein a member of the 'normal outside world' comes into the Addams mansion, seeking to better themselves and exploit the Addams clan, and ends up confounded by either the family's kindness or cluelessness. Yes, the Addams family may have believed in some strange things, and been somewhat ghoulish, but they were always the nicest and most tolerant people in the show. As a result of this sticking to template, it doesn't hold up to binge-watching as well as some others, but it is excellent nevertheless, and the family is a model for how people really should be: True to themselves, and tolerant of that freedom in other people.

'The Addams Family' is a true single-camera comedy of the golden age of television. Oh, and it has the best Morticia. Oh, Morticia...


Friday, 8 January 2016

Throw The Switch, Max!

The tetanus booster still hurts, or at least the puncture does. Yes, overseas holidays come with all kinds of hidden costs, in addition to the flight tickets and accommodation. There are the trio of travel insurance, vaccinations and spending money, as well as the abject fear of flying to contend with. Oh, if only there were ferries to Florida...

This may be more of a waterfall of a blog post, as the lateness causes all kinds of less frequently connected neurons to fire. Yes, anything might happen! Did you know that the world really is a soap bubble in the great basin that is the universe? No? Really? Perhaps you'd like to buy this bridge I happen to need to unload in New York...

It's a curious ability to be able to pound out words and have them make sense. Perhaps it's the tetanus booster, or the novelty of having seen 'funny money' (US dollars) for the first time. They do look like board game money, but they're also rather more attractive than the British money. It's nice to have those different presidents, instead of the one Queen. Good grief, it will be strange when that figure finally changes on our currency...

In other diversions, the first season of 'Sports Night' is proving as good as I remember, Freud's book on 'Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious' is technically very interesting, and 'An American Yankee In King Arthur's Court' continues... and continues... Never have I tried to read a classic story with such persistent 'put downs' as this. It seems to be twice as long as it needs to be. Maybe I'm just not used to reading any more?

Oh, Miami, you had better be mildly weathered and exceedingly beautiful... There had better not be alligators hiding under my bed, and no nurses waiting with even more vaccinations! At least my lips didn't swell up, my arm didn't bloat up into a Popeye lookalike, and there was no fainting. Thank you, world for small mercies, and the great privilege of being able to travel.


Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Television: 'Dirk Gently' (2010-2012)

It was a cute little series that ran for only four episodes. It had an excellent cast, led by the incomparable Stephen Mangan, and was wonderfully written and diverse in the story types it could use. Sadly, it was a series that was cancelled due to budget cuts, rather than any sensible decision, and by a stubborn insistence that it could not be transferred from BBC Four to any other channel. 'Dirk Gently' is one of only two series, the other inexplicably being 'Moon Over Miami', which I still mourn and feel bad about years after it's demise.

It's not easy to write well about something you feel strongly about. The balance must be sought with more care than usual. 'Dirk Gently' was fantastic, if a bit uneven. At the end of episode four, you felt as if even greater things would come in subsequent years, and then nothing came of it at all. To give a clear idea of how out of the ordinary the show was, the theme tune and music incorporated zither, Marxophone and harpsichord, as well as some more conventional instruments.

The challenge in adapting 'Dirk Gently' to television is a massive one. There were only two original source novels, from the late great Douglas Adams, the first being the excellent and romantic 'Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency', which cannot be categorised and is twinned with the similarly unclassifiable and romantic fourth 'Hitchhiker's Guide' chronicle, 'So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish'. The second Dirk novel is the very sombre 'The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul', which is twinned with the equally miserable last 'Hitchhiker's Guide' novel 'Mostly Harmless'. So, we are faced with effectively one source novel and elements of another, both of which are totally unadaptable. Instead, what they did was to distill the idea of 'holistic detective work', the character of Dirk Gently himself, and then mix and match Douglas Adams ideas on an episode-by-episode basis.

The four episodes of 'Dirk Gently' featured, in order, a time travelling lovelorn genius and a hitchhiking cat, a conspiracy about the Pentagon and a program that justifies unjustifiable decisions, an artificial intelligence and a murder at Dirk's old college, and a rash of murders of Dirk's prospective clients and the repercussions of his experimental stalking. The scope was just as vast as that of the first novel which, as we said, defied classification! My own personal favourite was episode three, with the artificial intelligence, a curious romance, and lots of chips.

It was a great but limited run, with a great sense of fun and unusual format. Yes, the supporting performance by Darren Boyd could land a bit heavy, but it worked, and the results were still great. I miss this series even now, and wish that it could have gone on, perhaps instead of 'Sherlock' which seems to have descended into a mode of defying the very things which made it an early success. Anyway, I miss 'Dirk Gently', and watch those four episodes every year at about this time.

Everyone should have a brainstorming pattern on their wall and paint it over regularly.


Monday, 4 January 2016


In the wake of completing the revised and whole first chapter of 'Wordspace', it's hard to piece together a regular postl. That chapter might even be a good start to an unsellable novella, which is a fascinating thought. Could that be idiotic but moderated optimism dusting itself off, after a long holiday? Let's do some old words. Obscure words are the 'go to activity' here, when exhaustion has set in.

Looking through the Phrontistery once gain, I stumbled over many words that didn't exactly mean what I thought they meant, and many that exemplified just how much sense of meaning we've drifted away from over time. For example, I was under the impression that 'pragmatism' had a meaning similar to 'practical performing of activities', as I suspect most people do. Actually, it's slightly more complex. One definition of pragmatism is given by

pragmatism - doctrine emphasizing practical value of philosophy,

and you can also find others, such as

pragmatism - the doctrine that practical consequences are the criteria of knowledge and meaning and value,

pragmatism - the attribute of accepting the facts of life and favoring practicality and literal truth.

They all mention practicality, but they also refer to doctrine and philosophy. In effect, pragmatism is a version of 'applied philosophy', or perhaps 'philosophy based on events', which is a turn toward actually considering the ends as being more important than the means? Is that right? Pragmatism could literally be argued as the opposite stance to idealism, which is probably very obvious to those more educated than myself. Yes, of course pragmatism is the opposite of idealism, and now I recall that being clear in the past, as a consequence of various readings. It's all too easy to get dragged down to the pragmatic base level of behaviour, and lose track of the reasons why ideals are important to begin with. The ends are not more important than the means. I should know this, having not gone the pragmatic route on many many occasions. Or so you are led to believe...

In rare word dredging, you might also want to check out 'palinola':

palinola: compulsive repetition of an act until it is perfect.

Yes, the Quirky Muffin is a vicious cycle of palinola. What else is there to do, when not working? Oh, you're right. I could prepare for Miami, get down to serious Spanish and Greek learning, recruit some students, wait nervously for the result of the Poland grant proposal, do some Mathematics, or even write Chapter 2 of 'Wordspace'. The palinola must be broken...


Saturday, 2 January 2016

Story: 'Wordspace: Phase 1' (The joined-up version)

( Phase II Part I )

There is another world, where the words are the characters, living on a vast metatextual landscape. Some words resemble their namesakes, for Cloud does indeed live in the sky, along with her more sophisticated cousins Nimbus and Stratus, and she does indeed have a curious relationship with her friend Zephyr and the ever enigmatic Breeze. Water sprawls effortlessly over his old friend Ground wherever he cares to, and Ground is vast and solid, reliable to the end. Under Ground, where no words dare to go, there lies one whose name remains unknown to all but Ground and his sibling Earth.

Mystery was sitting in a small indentation in Ground, wondering about the meaning of Life. Many of the more abstract words were hard to fathom as they moved quietly around the Wordspace. What was the meaning of Life, and what her role in the perpetuation of the world? Did she actually do things no-one knew about? Why did everyone instinctively avoid angular Death and her many tricks with Card. (Card was a crafty character.) Why did Love and Hate alternately spend so much time together and then vehemently apart? Oh, the question of Life vexed Mystery so: that curly abstract whose letters crinkled when she smiled, and who sauntered through the air and water, and over the ground as if she owned it all.

For his part, Mystery had no confusion about what it was he was intended to do. He pondered the mysteries of life as well as of Life, and then, when mischievous, set about mystifying others with the strange things and events he observed in his life. Sometimes he would tell the answers to Air, who hovered around and loved to hear all but tell little.

From out of the sky dropped Bird, with a message. Bird was the official messenger of the Council of Lesser Abstracts, a small and interfering committee who liked to pester all the other words with mostly ignored rules and laws, that made little difference in the reality of the Wordspace. The council was headed by Regulation, a bold tyrannical idiot who no one bothered to challenge but Mystery. Regulation and Mystery had been at loggerheads since their time with School, the great teaching word.

The message was from Mystery's old friend Wimsy, who enjoyed vexing Regulation by being morale officer on the Council: "Come quickly, for the time may be at hand, and by the grace of Wisdom come armed. Wimsy." Mystery, always alert for entertainment, fetched his friend Club and they went across the surface of Ground - who was chuckling in the thrill of Mystery's tickling feet - to the place of the Council.

*    *    *

The Wordspace had always been there, as long as any of its residents could remember. The mightiness of Earth had always stood beneath them and the wafting Air had always seemed to drift around and above them in a continuing dance with Sky, his lifelong partner. The Council Of Lesser Abstracts had settled long ago on meeting high up in Air's domain, on that most abstract landmark Cloud, who scooted around to pick up all the members as and when required. Cloud's many letters slowly settled into place as each word boarded, and then she moved on to her next pickup. On this occasion Mystery was picked up early in the run and quickly moved to the centre of Cloud's surface to see who was already there, Club following silently and somewhat on guard. Club tended to be on guard as a default position.

"Mystery, take care." Cloud's unexpected murmur caught the enigmatic Mystery off guard. "My parents say all is not as it seems and there might be danger." Cloud's parents Water, Sky and Air were together very wise.

"Cloud, I'm always careful. The unknown is part of my trade, or at least I think it is." Mystery replied while trading carefully. Walking on Cloud was always interesting as she was so malleable in her form. Her indefiniteness was one of the things the Lesser Abstracts liked about her. "And thank you. I wish we might have talked more before, and for a better reason."

Cloud was silent for a long time before finally murmuring, "I speak when things must be said. Life is for contemplation," and then fell into a fairly meaningful silence. Mystery left her alone and settled his letters in a neutral pose in the meeting area. Only Deliberation and History had been picked up apart from him and he had never got on well with either: Deliberation refused to commit to anything quickly (but often ended up right) and History just seemed to care about facts on every occasion. On the horizon they could see the mighty Earth rolling by, all his many letters filling the horizon. Suddenly Cloud dipped and picked up someone else, the mighty Revolution it seemed, and moved off in a new direction.

"Did you know this is the fifth meeting we've had since Moon did his last run across poor confused Ocean?" History was trying to be social.

"Really? What confused him?" Ocean was always confused, never certain where to be or where to go. All he knew was to go and jump around in Water from time and splash. Sometimes he and Wave would clash and have a water fight.

Revolution interrupted what would have been a curious exchange. "Welcome, good fellows!" He slapped Mystery on the back, who jumped up and down to resettle his letters, and then also settled down the alarmed Club, before rounding on History and Deliberation. "There are problems afoot and plans to propose. We must go quickly and smoothly if the day is not to be lost."

"All things in due course become known. Why must you always hurry so?" History muttered grumpily. He deplored rash actions, sometimes even more than Deliberation.

"You may change your tune once I've presented the facts to the Council. A full conclave might be in order."

"A full conclave? What on Earth are you talking about, Revolution? You're always getting so mixed up."

"All in good time, all in good time." Said Deliberation, who was absently considering his latest holiday plans.

"All in good time, pshaw! The world is about to fall around us in unholy nightmare! We must act!"

Mystery thought that was quite interesting, in a typical bit of understatement, and turned to enjoy the ride while the discussion continued without him.

Cloud passed over the great plain of the Wordspace, gently swooshing from side to side to add effect to the passage. Her letters slowly rearranged under Mystery as the collection trip continued until finally our gallant protagonist was sprawled syllable-length on the amorphous surface. Cloud slowed to a halt at the prearranged point halfway between Sea and Ocean, and ascended to a quiet layer where the Council could meet in peace.

Around the circle, the Council of Lesser Abstracts had been gathered to deliberate. Running clockwise around the Ring there were Mystery, History, Deliberation, Revolution (always bumptious!), Curiosity, Regulation (armed with a clipboard), Wimsy, Speed, Innocence (reading poetry), Medicine and Playfulness. Those eleven were the current members according to the rotation and they would debate what to do with Revolution's news, once he had finally given it coherently.

Thinking of Revolution's past speeches, Mystery was reminded of the last time that Incoherence had attempted a speech at the Council in his presence, a massive shambling effort on his part about the importance of maintaining a guard on the Zone of Dangerous Jargon which unfortunately segued into a long and rambling joke about the Large Numbers Reunion before falling apart into a broken apology about the loss of the punchline and having been trapped in a 'whatever' all the night before. This had all been rendered even more confusing by the presence of Night who, as a representative of the Greater Abstracts, was utterly confused by the whole sequence. Night didn't really like to be involved in bureaucracy when she could be distilling down captured syllables from the Zone for analysis in her dark laboratories.

Revotution stood and addressed the crowd. "My fellow words, I have received a communique from Scout and Explore at the Frontier. They report damage to the foundations just outside the frontier, near the Mound Of Ambiguous Notions, and some explosions. Jargon loss has occurred, and locals have seen unknown words swooping in and out of sight from beyond the frontier. I suspect disaster and recommend immediate action!"

Curiosity and Mystery rushed to get in the obvious question but Curiosity won out. "Could they describe the interlopers? How much of the jargon has gone?"

"Composition was out there and recorded a very lengthy description which boils down to 'Alphabet unknown, lexically incomprehensible'. They appear to be from an entirely different form of life. And we must mobilize to meet them should anything terrible occur!" Revolution threw his inevitable proposal upon the Council: "Who's for a new and totally benevolent tyranny until the problem has been settled!?"

The catcalls were sarcastic but once they were over and Revolution had settled down to a quiet haze in his part of the Circle, Wimsy suggested that Cloud take them to the scene of the action so they could observe awhile. Speed seconded and Cloud set off at a swift float towards the edge of the known Wordspace from whence the troubles had been reported. Deliberation, checking her own clipboard, revealed that she had agents in that region, namely the Kangaroo, the Dragon and the Quark, and that the Snaggle was on its way.

Cloud roared through the space that Sky left for her and reached the edge in record time. There beneath them, and around them, and above them was the edge of known space. And there was a hole.

*    *    *

The ever brilliant and witty Sky shimmered above the Wordspace, thinking flighty and witty thoughts, as Cloud and Air spread out beneath her according to their whims and mighty Ground spread out over the underlying landscape of petty punctuation and unused nonsense syllables that formed the substructure of their world. At the limits of their exploration there had been placed a frontier in great antiquity, which formally divided the known from the unknown. Now there was a hole in that frontier; An entirely inexplicable patch of nothingness, where the foundation showed through beneath. It was unimaginable.

Mystery wandered around the hole and pondered the great - aha! - mystery of what lay beyond the frontier. Once, the mighty explorer Indignation had set off, somewhat grumpily of course, to find the edge of the world, and had been gone for five years. It had been a much more peaceful time without him and people were stunned to see that long forgotten word stumble back into the known world so many years later, looking gaunt and lettered to the point of crisis. After many weeks of recuperation had passed, his report was finally made, such as it was. He claimed to have found nothing more than an endless expanse of nonsense and drivel beyond the frontier, with no indication of any end. It might as well be a void, as far as he was concerned, decrying the waste of all that space.


"Great Shades!" said Wimsy, as the syllabic dust settled. Something had fallen from the sky, from a great height, and now they could see what it was. Or who. The visitor straightened up and twisted around on his unfamiliar letters before looking at the Council of Lesser Abstracts, who looked back at him in total incomprehension. His landing had punched another hole of nothingness into the foundation. "¡Hola!" said the arrival and Mystery was astonished. A word that no-one knew, an extra-lexical visitor, speaking a language unknown to the Wordspace. This was an alien life form, from some other alphabet far, far away! Unprecedented as far as most words were concerned, but not to him. He held up a few digits and saluted the visitor, "Welcome. We welcome you in peace."

"No comprendo... Hay una problema... Me llamo Sorpresa..." The foreign word gestured toward himself and repeated "Sorpresa" a few times.

As the others looked on in a befuddled state, Mystery stepped toward Sorpresa, motioned to himself and told him: "My name is Mystery. Mystery."


"Misterio indeed... Do you... understand... if I speak... slowly...?"


"This may be harder than we thought. If only Translation weren't away on expedition."

Sorpresa sprang up into the air for a moment, tickling Air in the process, and started shaking all the present words' digits enthusiastically. "¡Hola! ¡Hola! ¡Saludos! ¡Me gusta tu sombrero! ¿Donde esta mi amigo Burro?"

"I don't have the foggiest what you're saying, but you seem friendly. It could be worse. We have some words who have a much better chance of getting through to you."

"¿Que? No entiendo, pero creo que eres confiado."

"Close enough for jazz." Mystery mused, and looked up at Sky. "Where did you come from, though... And what's up there, beyond the Sky?" He had never been up high enough to talk to Sky, but now he realised it was long past time. He returned to the issue at hand. "Come along with me, Sorpresa, we have to try to make some sense of you!"


*    *    *

Sorpresa was declared mostly harmless by the Council of Lesser Abstracts, after some extremely amusing attempts at interviews. Cognate and Interpretation seemed to think they would be able to communicate, given time. The 'swooping words' and the origins of the first hole in the foundation remained unexplained, with no repetitions observed in the known Wordspace, but worries remained about that possible first visitor being less friendly than the first.

Mystery had spent those weeks assisting in the liaisons with Sorpresa, who seemed to like him, and contemplating what it might all mean. He had gone away briefly to explore beyond the frontier, but found nothing of interest in that great emptiness except for traces of memories he couldn't quite connect to. Now, visiting Library, and listening to that august word tell the stories he so loved to share, that he roamed the Wordspace collecting, his mind wandered over the events so far. He was so abstracted that he didn't even notice Sky wink a massive syllable in his direction, amused by his distraction.

Ideas were sparking within our ambiguous abstract, ideas that sometimes went against his own nature to consider. Sorpresa had fallen from on high, from on very high, and that meant that the lessons he alone had received from wise old School and Education had some truths behind them after all. There was something up there... something no-one else could even conceive of, partly dedicated as they were to their own meanings. Mystery had always been an exception in his vague definition, and perhaps now his role was to seek out a truth previously unsuspected. A truth. Perhaps Truth could help with truth?

Yes, a visit to his old mentor might be helpful, so Mystery set out for his island, also his own old home, to see the great sage. Of late, Truth had preferred to spend his time surrounded by his friend Water, whose fluidity comforted him in his quest for all that was knowable. Walking on Water, Mystery approached Truth for the first time since Lies had been put in the Zone and their triangle had been broken. As always, when addressing Truth his speech became more formal, as it did for everyone.

"Saged Truth, I have news of others from on high. A word fell from elsewhere, outside our Wordspace, causing damage to the land and much alarm for the Council."

"From on high?"

"Yes, a word from another dictionary, called Sorpresa. There is also another, a prior visitor at large and with intentions unknown."

"If the visitor came from on high, then our answers either lie with that visitor or on high. You must investigate whichever side of the equation you think most apt." proposed Truth, who had great experience in all things, being one of the most long-lived words in the Wordspace.

"How could there be answers with someone we can not find? Or high up there in where no-one lives?"

"Mystery, you have forgotten much. Being told that there is nothing on high is not the same as it being true. In any case, I see something in your form. You know more than you say about this than you reveal."

Mystery shuffled his letters for a few moments. "School and Education might have told me some things I no longer remember clearly, sage."

"Yes, I supposed as much. In that case, you must go. There is truth here to be found, and mystery to be plumbed."
"Go now, and be careful, words from abroad can be unpredictable in their unknown natures."

Mystery departed, after some desultory further chatter, but duty would not be delayed. He crossed Water once again, before summoning Cloud and Club for a journey. A very long journey.

*    *    *

Cloud had never been so high, so high that down below she could see Sky looking anxiously up and hoping for her safe return. Upon her broad syllables rode Mystery, Club and the surprising Sorpresa. Sorpresa was grinning and pointing up, while the other two merely looked excited and concerned. Ever higher, did she go, until finally the loneliness made her shudder and roil, and her letters quake.

Mystery knew that there was something here that he had forgotten, something from those long ago lessons soon after emerging from the Well of Vocabulary into the strange world of the Wordspace, the replacement for his predecessor long gone. Yes, above a vast forgotten memory was stirring, the word they had all but forgotten. The great Space looked down at them and into them and through them, immaterial and absolute. The outlines of massive letters flitted in and out of vision. Sorpresa looked in awe, quite shocked, and Space rallied her senses after a sleep of solitude so long that she had passed out of the ken of most words.

"Space..." Mystery was dumbfounded as the knowledge of Space filtered down into his mind. "We all forgot you. How could we forget you?"

Space focussed on the tiny Mystery and his companions. "It is easy to be forgotten when you forget yourself. A nap of a thousand years is a length absence, and there were reasons to be forgotten."

"Reasons? How have you been asleep up here for so long?"

"Another time will suffice for such questions, gentle Mystery." Space considered Sorpresa for a moment. "Welcome, stranger, to our world. We wish you well." A vast smile crossed Space itself. "Even while sleeping, I am not totally unaware, Mystery."

Mystery asked the obvious question. "Do you know how our visitor came to us, Space?"

"Sorpresa?" Space chuckled. "He came from another space, another lexicon. His people discovered a method for crossing the boundary between this world and theirs, and all others that exist in some greater multi-space." Space flexed her nothingness for a moment.

"Sorpresa is from another place entirely?"

"Yes... there is a point at which the continua superimpose upon each other. A point where only the Silly Stone abides. At this point, you make your choice, and fall to your new world. This I gathered while asleep, living in the small gaps all around, down on the world below."

Mystery looked at Club and Sorpresa, the latter of whom was running on the spot and tickling Cloud, and braced himself for the next step of the expedition.  "We must go to this place, then, this point. Will we remember you, Space? Even now I dread your fading from our memories like strands of petty punctuation."

"I will be here, my friend, even if I must, of necessity, stand apart. However, " a pause, " I will make more of an effort."

"For that I am grateful. We must go now, Space. Where is this point?"

"Not yet, inquisitive Mystery. First we shall go aside, for there is one thing I must tell you alone." And with that Mystery vanished into the void, to be with Space, and Sorpresa jumped in shock.

*    *    *

Mystery hovered in the void and presently Space gathered herself once again. "There is something I must tell you. When I was awakening, before your friend Sorpresa emerged into our Wordspace, another came through via the point. Someone of a different nature entirely. Someone dangerous."

"Yes... We had reasoned that out. The structural damage was already there before Sorpresa landed. What happened to the visitor?"

"I know not, for he has vanished to places unknown, but he still remains in the Wordspace." Mystery's awareness of his newly awakened ally stiffened a moment. "A second passage to the point could not have gone unnoticed." The long pause of reflection. "He does not leave his paths undamaged."

"There is danger."

"Yes, there is always danger. There is always peril. That is why I remain. The Silly Stone knows not always what he does."

"Tell me about the Silly Stone." Mystery was intensely curious about this new name, who didn't seem to be a word at all. His cousin Silly was not stoney, nor was Earth's daughter Stone silly. A Silly Stone?

"There are many Wordspaces, all alien to one another. Except for very few among us, those from different lexicons are utterly incomprehensible. Very few know at all of these other spaces. Whatever happened to Translation?"

"He went on expedition. No message, but bound to return sooner or later. He always doesn. He would have been helpful with our friend, truly."

"Yes, he would have been vital..." A suspicious pause. "The Silly Stone understands all, living as he does outside of time and space. He is, however, quite quite silly, and erratic to the concerns of us all. Gifted with knowledge of all language and all life, but cursed to see existence through the portals of the point."

"He's a prisoner?"

"I do not know. I know only what goes on here, and what was passed on to me from the great Void which preceded us here in the Wordspace."

Mystery straightened instantly, letters clicking into place. "You know of the ancient Void?!"

"Yes, but now you ask too many questions. It is time you went back to the others. A little knowledge is beneficial but a little wisdom is vital. Be careful, dear Mystery."

Mystery reappeared on the trusty Cloud, where Club and Sorpresa had been waiting in the ever surrounding embrace of Space so vast and so rarified. The memory of those questions that remained unanswered rankled at him, but he persevered anyway."Cloud? We have to go somewhere."

"Space has given me instruction. Most succinctly." Amusement from the taciturn Cloud?

"Are you willing to take the risk? Face the hazard?" Mystery expanded his focus. "Are we all willing?"

Sorpresa looked confused but got the gist from some frantic pointing up into the sky. Club didn't even blink before nodding tersely. Cloud set off for their destination without even responding. Mystery continued, almost to himself. "Yes, there's something we need to find out, and the sooner the better..."

*    *    *

Cloud went higher, then away to the left, and they continued to navigate up into the rarified layers of the Wordspace. Club looked over the edge of Cloud briefly, to see many of the clouds of Star's siblings below, passing by rapidly. Sorpresa sat down next to him, and pointed at the landmarks below. "Tierra, Estrellas, Frontera, Cielo, Sol..."

Club looked up to see the magnificent Sun treading the horizon, waiting for his cue, unimaginably distant and unapproachable, but seen by all every day. He was about to lap Moon, who always slowed down about this time of day, perhaps to have a snack of stems and roots, or to have a nap or a good listen to the rustling of Wind. Then the stalwart companion turned to look at Mystery, who seemed apprehensive and intrigued, and then he settled down to think.

*    *    *

The Wordspace below lost all detail, except perhaps for the vague outline of the ancient Frontier surrounding the great mass of curiously patterned nonsense.

Cloud had taken a turn staring down at the Wordspace, from Cloud's edge, and realised that they must be heading towards a point directly over the site of Sorpresa's surprise landing, assuming that the Point that Space had mentioned was stationary relative to their home. It seemed like a logical assumption since Sorpresa and his predecessor had both landed in nearly identical locations.

"How will we know when we're there?" Mystery wondered aloud from atop their insubstantial perch, and accidentally awoke Club with the wondering. That redoubtable protector shuffled to vertical, and surveyed their current surroundings from the edge next to Mystery. He looked unsteady.

"I had a dream." was what Club eventually said, utterly out of character. "It was the first one in a long time. A dream. We were all laughing and singing, happy to the point of bursting. All around there were happy words, but then our friend the Sky darkened, Cloud was pushed aside, and something was coming that no-one had seen before." Club looked straight ahead. "Then you woke me up. I thank you."

"Do you think it was meaningful, Club?"

"There is no telling. My dreams have never been predictable in that respect." Cloud made a sudden course alteration and they stumbled briefly. "Simple things are more in my line."

"I've only dreamed once since Dream's departure." admitted Mystery. "It came true, of course, despite all our efforts." Dream had been a close friend, and colleague on the Council of Lesser Abstracts. She was one of the few words to have vanished under bizarre circumstances. Never had she been replaced, but now everyone dreamed and she lived on in their sleep. Mystery still wished that she hadn't gone. "I miss her."

The two friends stood quietly for a moment, before Cloud rocked and slowed to a halt. Evidently the trip was over.

"¡El Punto!" Sorpresa jumped up, and spoilt the moment. He reached to something he alone could see, before Mystery and Club could wonder what to do, and vanished. Club and Mystery, extremely nervously, reached out in turn, and vanished...

*    *    *

The Silly Stone was unmistakeable.

Mystery, Club and Sorpresa stood in the Point of Intersection, their ally Cloud left to wait behind on another plane of existence. Cloud would wait, yes. She was a reliable friend.

Mystery jerked himself back to his new reality, his mind wandering as it never had before. Was that an effect of crossing over to this strange new place, wherever it might be? Around them was the accumulated debris of eons, or of just a few minutes. The space was vast (or quite, quite small) and dominated by the figure he could only assume was the Silly Stone.

The Silly Stone was bunny hopping. Badly. Mystery was very aware of Club nearby, watching out for his safety, and Sorpresa examining the bounds of the little dimensions with some curiousity. The Silly Stone continued on obliviously, now making strange noises that might have been singing. It sounded slightly like some of the chants he had sung while being raised by the grand School and Education, but not very similar...

Mystery's mind had wandered again, and this time he brought it back from the Isle of Truth, Lies and Mystery, as it had used to be, where his education following his time with School had taken place. This time there was an almost audible mental twang. What was the Silly Stone? What had Sorpresa done when he was here last? (If 'last' even had any meaning?) Now that he was reminded of that strange visitor from another land he examined him closely. Sorpresa wasn't studying the Point any more, nor was he chirping away in his own lingua franca. He just watched the Silly Stone silently and quite intently. Did he know something?

Bunny hop hop hop. Hop chirp splat hop click squeal hop unidentifiable noise tra la la hop.

The Silly Stone was evidently sillier than even Space had intimated. Mystery and Club looked on as he capered around, utterly alien and yet quite familiar. Parts of the Stone seemed to made of the regular syllables and letters of his own experience while others were utterly different and... indescribable... sometimes even graphical! What was there in the syllabic sense was mostly extra-lexical. It was madness!

"Sploot sploot, clammy nostrum axc:lap." The Silly Stone had stopped before him and he realised that he had drifted off again. "Slappy Clippy Drchr Sponge?"

"Sponge?" A genuine word?

"Sponge! Ah! Tarkll lingual smash traversal sl^p."


"Yes. Translation. Don't spckl, it's almost settled in now. Ah, I know this trpl from before! No need to analyse! ¿Como se va, Sorpresa?" The Silly Stone addressed Sorpresa.

"Estoy bien, y gracias por el viaje. Ellos son mis amigos, y quieren hablar contigo. Tambien quiero ir a mi casa, cuando es apropriado."

The Silly Stone nodded, and Sorpresa turned to Mystery and Club, taking them by the hands and then rather surprisingly hugging each of them! Club looked baffled but patted the merry visitor on his back.

"Now for you chaps!" The Stone addressed Mystery and Club. "I've identified your lexicon now. Never met anyone from your world before. What can I do for you? Sing a song? do a merry Rosetta jig?"

"No, ah... This is confusing..."

"Yes, it would be. As lexical beings you're struggling with being out of context." A slow waltz around the tiny/huge room. "You'll adjust in a few moments. Plus, I suspect a few days trying to interpret another language has left you more than a little tired." A sigh. "When you're made of language itself, a new one can be rather opaque."

"Yes... What?"

"Time means nothing here. I know most things and at the same not many at all. However, it's best to get our friend Surprise here home." The Stone spun, and Sorpresa unexpectedly joined in, grinning. Then he was handed a funny looking bag by the Stone, who slung it over one of his better letters. Grinning, but still a little sad, Sorpresa raised a digit to his new friends. "Adios, mis amigos."

"You're leaving?" Mystery asked, not at all ready for this occurrence.

"Yes, he is. You need to say 'Adios, Sorpresa.' back to him." The Stone interjected this useful information before studying a dust mote as it fell. Mystery was almost distracted himself, never having seen anything dust related before! However, he raised his own digit and wished Sorpresa farewell. "Adios, amigo." Club did the same, and then the Stone waggled his hieroglyphs and Sorpresa vanished.

The Stone stared at the space where Sorpresa had stood, and sighed. "I'll miss that chap Surprise. I get so few visitors, and he stayed here for days, last time."

Mystery tried to make the connection. "Sorpresa? Surprise? He was Surprise in another lexicon?"

"Yes, Surprise."

"I see... That explains the jumping out of holes while grinning."

"Probably. He's much more fun than the other one that came through."

"The other one we haven't seen at all."

"Just as well. A nasty piece of work. Quite shook the feathers off my back." The Silly Stone stopped bouncing and looked worried instead. "I suppose that we'd better talk."

"Yes, it sounds we had better." Mystery had a feeling that the weirder events were yet to come.

*    *    *

Thoughts of the Silly Stone:

"Gosh, what a lovely sky. Is it a sky? I seem to recall... Oh, it must be a sky! Or is it Sky, my friend from the someplace I can't remember. Wouldn't it be nice to dance right now? Yes, it would! I remember dancing, or do I? Was it singing instead? It would be difficult to remember things from before now, wouldn't it, because there was no before, and no after now, because nothing ever happens here.

At least, nothing ever used to happen here. Is something happening now? Does it matter more than toast and jam? What are toast and jam? How strange! The walls here are so entertaining, aren't they? The edges of reality itself... Reality. These chaps came from somewhere else. I wonder if they were sent by the same --"

*    *    *

Some moments passed while the Silly Stone was still. Then he quivered suddenly, laughed maniacally, and wandered off to look at one of the walls of his little pocket of unreality. Mystery followed him and tried to examine the wall without his eyes watering from the grinding impossibility of what he was seeing.

"You come from an ordered universe, a world defined by immutable concepts. Progress is made by those of you, most of you, who are advanced enough to be flexible in your self-definition, and embody concepts dedicated to neither order nor chaos. You have the capacities to choose. Outside of your... space of words... things are not so simple." The wall of the pocket universe looked so normal but also ridiculous. A solid barrier that represented the last vestiges of where they were. What was on the other side of the barrier that looked like nothing at all? Mystery reached out to touch it.

"No! Never the jabberwockey! Have you never had the anchovies? Reverse the thrusters, pilgrim!" The Silly Stone grabbed him with one of his strange appendages and rolled back to his little safe space in the centre of the small but large pocket of little universe. That was when Club happened, launching onto the Stone and tackling him to the ground. The Stone just lay there, taking it and laughing until Mystery managed to dispel his associate's pronounced protective tendencies.

The Silly Stone bounced up as if nothing had ever happened and began talking to a nearby rock, before realising it was just a rock. Then a funny looking creature with huge floppy things on its head appeared in an instant. The Stone started chattering away, then flopping and wiggling, before starting into an apparent conversation. After a few minutes, he wove an appendage and vanished the creature to some other continuum.

Without turning around, he called, "Hello! How are you then?"

"How are we? We were just having a chat, then you dragged me away from the edge of reality, Club engaged you in fisticuffs, and then you went off to talk to a newly appeared floppy thing over there!" Mystery was somewhat agitated. This wasn't mysterious so much as nonsensical!

"Ah, of course! You're the other-wordly fellows! I was just about to... Ah, of course..." The Silly Stone gathered itself. "Time flows a bit funnily in the different parts of wherever this is. I used to have a name, but now it's gone as if it was never there. Just a leaf on the wind really." The odd assemblage of syllables, shapes and ever more bizarre things seemed to peer directly into Club's soul for a moment, before turning to Mystery fully.

"In all my experience here, that I can remember at least, no-one has ever come here and forced me to do anything. Never. Not until that hostile. All worlds have destructive elements, but at least they are native to their space. This is... different. I can't even be crazy with that memory lingering."

Mystery stood very still and asked the question they hoped would dissolve the mystery into fact. "Who? What?"

"In your language you would call him 'War', or perhaps worse, 'Armageddon'. A force of destruction without compunction, until nothing is left."

*    *    *

The Silly Stone sent the interdimensional travellers home without a further word. One moment they were there at the Intersection and the next they were gone, falling gently onto the waiting surface of Cloud, who bent gently from the sudden weight.

*    *    *

Mystery sat on Cloud and watched the ground roll across underneath as they flew toward home. He sat quietly, staring intently as his brain swirled in place, trying to reason around the implications of a foreign word seeking to throw devastation upon his world. It was a symmetry, almost identical to their journey to the top of the world. Club looked on just as he had on the way out, vigilant and concealing whatever nerves he might have had.

"Armageddon..." A word of undoubted power and one unheard of in the Wordspace. Total destruction, in a world where lost words were reborn through the Well of Vocabulary. It would become an endless cycle of obliteration, without even the wisdom of the learned School and Education to bring about a new civilization. Beyond that, even the Well might be obliterated...

Club broke the silence, most uncharacteristically, again as he had during the outward journey. "It's something bad, isn't it, Boss?"

"Yes, much like the syllables of Air himself falling from the sky. A doom is upon us, perhaps, and yet perhaps not. The Silly Stone was not at all consistent in his ideas."

"Personally, I think the term 'perfectly potty' is the best one, Boss, but I didn't talk to him. You did." Was Club being reproachful? Surely not.

"He made little sense." Mystery rose up, unfolding his letters to the upright position. "Apparently his place is to understand everyone who might visit. Did you see how he was only like us in part? Quite possibly he could only exist in that place without disintegrating completely."

"And the problem is something he told you? Out of all that nonsense?"

"Sorpresa, as we know, was not the only one to come through the Point. The Stone told me the name of this 'tourist' and that is the problem." Mystery paused, before giving in finally, "He said it translated roughly as 'War', or 'Armageddon', or even 'Apocalypse'."

Club was quiet a long time, mulling alien concepts, as they watched the Wordspace crawl by beneath them. Cloud rumbled from below, with one of her rare comments, the first since Club and Mystery had reappeared suddenly from the point between worlds. "We dealt with War, so surely we can deal with an 'Armageddon'."

"Yes, but what will we have to do this time?" Mystery wondered out loud. "What this time? And what if we're not in time?"

The centre of the Worldspace, the settlement area they simply called home, finally came into view ahead of them. Destruction could be seen everywhere, and of their friends they could see no sign.

*    *    *

Club, Mystery and Cloud surveyed the Wordspace from on high, looking for clues of what had gone on and looking for the perpetrator of such devastation. Below them lay a wasteland of shattered landscape and dismembered alphabet terrain. Most of the decorations and wonders were strewn about the remaining foundations and even mighty Earth himself was nowhere to be seen. Where could have happened to Earth? Even if he had been unthinkably destroyed, evidence would remain, but here there was nothing. Where was Air? Where had they all gone? What of Ground? Had he gone away on excursions, as planned?

"I think I can sense something to the east." Muttered Cloud and slowly they moved over in that direction. The devatation below eased as they moved onward, the foundations becoming more and more pristine away from the epicentre of the event. Suddenly Earth appeared on the horizon, with Air hovering above the crater he had drawn up in his centre, as if to provide protection. Surely enough, a number of visibly worn and beaten down survivors could be seen. Cloud deposited Mystery and Club within the crater and then ascended to speak with Air, her father. Zephyr was there already, looking ragged about the edges, and Wind lurked disconsolately around the edges of Air. Of Sky and Cloud's cousins there was no sign.

The survivors of the Council of Lesser Abstracts present gathered about Mystery: Deliberation, Revolution, Regulation, Wimsy and Medicine. Some more from outside the current, and now sadly redundant, rotation joined them. Time and Life then joined them, apparently the only Greater Abstracts to see him arrive. Life looked so pathetic, and Time as stern as always, and both had dismissed the formalities that normally kept them distant from the other words. Decision and Doubt arrived, arms intertwined as they always were for the twins.

"Where on Earth have you been, Mystery? Do you know what's been going on? Do you?!" Deliberation was so far out of character as to be in the middle of a breakdown.

"I can guess. We have much to tell you. First, tell us what happened to you all, and then what happened to the cause of all this." Mystery's calm voice of command only seemed to aggravate Deliberation who seemed to be about to lift him off his syllables until Club intervened and stood between them. Medicine then unfolded their story in clinical abstraction:

"He came from beyond the landing site of the one we called Sorpresa. He wrought havoc, exerting massive blows against Earth himself and destroying whole precincts of the settlement. Even Earth had to retreat before his power and we thought that perhaps we were all doomed. We separated in several direction. Our group came with Earth, another group went with Sky, a third with Water and Ocean, and a final group went to guard the Zone of Gibberish with Ground. There were few casualties as far as we could tell, fewer than we might have expected in such a confrontation. Alas, even now some successors will be condensing in the Well."

"Our aggressor is one of the Destructives, but not one of our own." Explained Mystery mysteriously. As you might imagine, Mystery could be a very frustrating guest at dinners and social occasions.

"This is no time for crypic comments." Snapped Decision.

"Is there any other kind of useful comment? You know what we might have to do to save ourselves, don't you?"

*    *    *

In a world populated by words, Humour often found herself at the back of the queue as portentous characters like Redemption and Deliberation hogged the spotlight. Maybe the more ambiguous characters like Mystery and Revelation would keep her in the loop from time to time but ultimately she was sidelined. Now, in the survivor camp, as she and Pantomime entertained the small mass of words, she felt useful. The mini-lexicon gathered around their performance, in the grand sheltering crater provided by Earth, was finally relaxing just a little in the wake of their shared disaster. Earth itself found the whole thing rather tedious but was relieved to feel the general stress level decline a little, even as he monitored the horizons beyond his mass for the destructive force that had scattered the population in their smaller groups.

Mystery watched Pantomime and Humour and let part of his mind drift with the performance. He wondered what had happened to his old friend and mentor Truth, in his solitary sanctuary, and then for the first time he thought about his other mentor, Lies. It had been surprising when Lies was exiled to the zone, and the hurt still lingered. But for the small amount of good will he had earnt at the time, Mystery might have found himself trapped in the Zone as well. That Zone where all their greatest horrors had been imprisoned...

Humour twisted her syllables in a spectacular vault and landed standing atop Pantomime to resounding applause before falling off almost instantly in one of the most ridiculous pratfalls ever witnessed. The crowd began tittering as she dusted itself off. A shadow passed over the ground as something soared overhead, and the crowd looked up curiously and worriedly, ready to bolt. Sky was shrouding herself in mist and Earth gathered himself up as if for a blow, flattening out for a moment to give them a view of the horizon. A great figure was approaching, fracturing the ground and its foundations with every step. Mystery was astounded by the scale of the figure, and then rolled over in the quakes as Earth made speed for parts unknown.

"Earth!" He called out to their great elemental friend, "We must make for the Zone, and quickly!" The ground beneath them shifted as Earth completed a surprisingly swift turn and run, heading directly for the threatening figure. "By the Well! What in all the Wordspace are you doing?"

"Must go faster..." Was all he heard from their friendly behemoth, and they did indeed pick up speed. "To the Zone we go." The massive figure looked stunned as the whole of mighty Earth torpedoed him (was it a 'him'?) at ground level and he tumbled down behind them as they passed by. Looking back and holding on for grim life, Mystery saw the figure of the invader sprawled, then awkwardly regaining his footing as Earth sped over the horizon, and then made a correction in his course toward the Zone. Never had anyone suspected such speed in their protector.

*    *    *

The Zone of Accumulated Meaningless Jargon had existed since time immemorial. No-one knew of its origins and no-one could guess at its ultimate end; It simply was. Along with the Isle of Truth, the Well, and the Frontier, it represented the mysterious prehistory of the Wordspace in all its enigmatic glory. To look upon it was to look upon a high domed fortress, built of unintelligible unconnected letters and syllables, entangled forever.

The Zone had strange properties all its own. The Jargon that formed its structure was unbreakable but transparent, if viewed at the correct angle, which meant that the accumulated layers glittered as you approached it. Light passed into the interior of the Zone by reflecting in through all the gaps between the entrapping syllables of the jargon. The Destructives trapped inside were doubtlessly dazzled through the hours that Light chose to shine upon the Wordspace, and doubly cocooned in gloom when Dark remained to skulk across the world. Light and Dark were so abstract that no-one had even seen them in person for centuries. Mystery wondered if they even still existed.

Within the Zone lay all the Words whose natures were said to be so unbendingly defined by chaos and negativity that they were called 'The Destructives'. Long, long ago, a grand alliance of all the non-destructive words, an unprecedented alliance at the time, had forced the Destructives one by one into the Zone, beginning with the mighty War herself. It was inconceivable that such a thing could ever happen again, inconceivable that it could ever have happened. Conflict was a thing of the past, a thing visited upon them now from outside their whole plane of existence. The Destructives were still in the Zone, for if they had somehow been rended down to their letters, successors to War and Conflict, Evil and Malice, or any of the other words imprisoned would have emerged from the Well of Vocabulary. Over time, the population had excised far more marginal cases such as Mystery's old mentor Lies and the unfortunate martyr Misfortune, so that the Zone itself was now a receptacle more for guilt and bad karma than real vice. Incidentally, Karma ran a small meditation centre on the opposite side of the Well from Nursery and School. Mystery understood that singing and gardening were especially encouraged.

*    *    *

Returning to our narrative, Earth had stopped at the perimeter of the Zone, which loomed above them in a vast irregular dome. Somewhere behind them was the aggressor, hopefully lost for the moment, but quite possibly pursuing at full speed. They were waiting for Zephyr to return from a subtle reconnaissance and for Decision to report on his meeting with the Zone's chief custodian Constancy. Decision returned first. "The Zone is intact, according to Constancy, and the portal has seen no activity in many weeks. In fact, the general atmosphere has been so quiet that he has begun to worry that something may have occurred in there."

"Were there any signs of the the other refugee groups?" Enquired Mystery, who was currently being treated as the provisional leader of the group, being ambiguous and therefore adaptable to many situations.

"He reported that they had seen Ocean passing on the horizon some days ago, leading the invader away from the Zone as best he could. Something we have emphatically not done." Decision addressed Mystery resolutely and determinedly. "What are your intentions? We must know in order to discuss at Council."

The moment of decision, as well as the moment of Decision, had arrived, and Mystery made his. "I don't see that we have any choice. Someone has to enter the Zone and investigate the possibility of recruiting the Destructives to help us. They may be the only ones who can."

Decision sighed. "I hoped you might have had a different idea. We have the Elementals, after all. A powerful force for good."

"Yes, but also a force unsuited to deliberate confrontation. We even miss Storm now, another prisoner in the Zone. I'll go through as soon as possible."

Decision clasped Mystery at the shoulder syllable and then straightened. "We will return at daily intervals, and devise alternatives as best we can. Despite your words, you might be wrong. With the combined powers of Earth and Ocean and some of the other Elementals there is hope outside that offered by our warlike past."

"We can only hope." Mystery made his farewells, and headed for the Portal, where Constancy stood waiting, ready to activate the one-way portal. Club followed, despite all Mystery's protests, proving himself once again to be the stalwart companion to his core.

At the portal, Constancy respectfully jiggled his vowels, and addressed the prospective diplomat and explorer. "The exit mechanism has not been activated in living memory. You should think about this carefully, Mystery." Constancy was sincere in his concern.

"What will be, will be, or so Dictionary said." Mystery grinned briefly. "If it weren't for the world threatening situation, the desperately bad odds against us, and the raging fiends that lie beyond this portal, it might almost be fun."

Club looked comically disgusted for a moment, while Constancy looked on politely and blandly.

"Yes, well, I suppose we had better get on." Mystery continued. "We are ready. Our codephrase for exit will be 'redundant miscellany'."

"Very well. I shall be waiting for you at the appointed times, or my apprentice." Constancy promised and then the moment was upon them. He activated the mechanism and the two emissaries stepped into the now opened portal, which closed behind them. The inner door ground open, and they stepped into the Zone, and into a magnificent garden. Mystery and Club were dumbfounded.

*    *    *

The garden was amazing. The stems and roots had blossomed magnificently. Whole beds full of photo-s, helio-s, hyper-s, and others were blossoming amidst a broad lawn of prefixes, all of which were bounded in by suffix fences. The colours twinkled under the light that refracted through the dome, the whole scene representing not so much the proverbial purple patch of prose but the multi-coloured variety of a set of haiku verses. Mystery stood mouth agape and staring, as the entrance mechanism closed behind h.

The Dome stretched away, ignored by Mystery but keenly observed by the dependable Club, who was not moved by beauty when duty intervened. Club had already observed the custodian of the garden when Mystery had barely begun to be amazed. That gardener stood quietly, marvelling at the sight of someone from outside the Zone, someone with whom he hadn't been imprisoned for ages past.

"Boss," prompted Club, "you wanna say hello or shall I?" Mystery, perhaps reeling from the stress of the past few days, didn't answer and so Club sighed and approached the stranger. "Greetings---"

"Club, I am aware of you and your friend's natures." Interjected the gardener. "In Mystery's case I am more aware than most other words. He hasn't changed, at least, still overwhelmed by things he doesn't understand or expect. Still awed by mysteries as much as loving them."

"You know him, sir?"

"Yes. We were part of a triad. My name is Lies."

"Then I am honoured, sir. I have heard much of you, none of it bad." Club inclined his head toward Mystery.

"Yes, I don't doubt it. He didn't take it well when I was put in here. None of the reasons were sound, and the accusations were patently absurd. I ought to know." Lies chuckled to himself. "A great capacity for deceit, however relucant a capacity it may be, can spot a deception very easily."

Club merely looked confused, so Lies walked over to the shocked Mystery and touched his shoulder for a moment. "Are you ready to come back?" Mystery shook his head. "It has all been too much for now?" Mystery nodded and Lies returned his attention to Club. "He wasn't ready for all this. It has plainly been a shocking time?"

Club recognised the invitation for what it was and related their story, beginning with the funny visitor, continuing through to the interlude in the Point of Nowhere, and concluding with the advent of the invader and their quest to enlist the assistance of the Destructives. Lies steepled his digits and listened in the classical way. Afterwards, he paused to think for a long time, an eternity or a few minutes.

"How do you like my garden?" Lies finally enquired of Club, his mind still on other things.

"It's impressive. I seem to recall talk of you having had one before your exile began." It wasn't a question. Club was hoping that Mystery would come back to them soon, and take over, being far more comfortable with this word that had been locked up under accusations of deceit and duplicity.

"Yes... it was a wonderful garden. I wonder what ever became of it? When our friend rejoins us we will talk of the exile, and of gardens. There are things you do not know, and which very few of the outside words know, about that imprisonment."

Club looked perplexed. This wasn't part of his normal role in things.

*    *    *

Excerpt from the journal of Lies:

"We had decided that it was far too dangerous to leave the Destructives in the Zone unmonitored. Their assembled power might still be a danger to us all, or so the ultra-conservatives said, and might even lead to the end of the world. Whatever the truth, someone was going to have to manufacture reason to be placed in the Zone, both as a prisoner and secret guardian.

The two of us, Truth and I, conspired and devised a way for one of us to be placed in the Zone before the fanatics put one of their own in place. Logically, Mystery or myself were the obvious choices, although the danger of uncontrolled truth was not ruled out completely, and we were reluctant to drag someone else into the plan. Ultimately, the long dispelled folklore that I spoke nothing but untruth was held to be an an advantage to our plot, and an opportunity was found for me to exercise my uniqueness and to manufacture a silly attempt to release the Destructives. Then, after a swift rush to judgement by a panel of the Lesser Abstracts, egged on by then chairman Righteousness, I was exiled forevermore.

The tedious details of the journey to the Zone I might write later, excised for now in a rush to get to that thrillingly terrifying moment when the Portal closed behind me and I was lost in the wild prison of all our worst inmates. To my surprise all was quiet, and none of those malcontents I had been sent to monitor and infiltrate were around. It was disappointing in the extreme! There was no option but to explore further into the prison and see what might occur.

The Zone, as I understood it, was a massive dome formed naturally from impenetrable jargon. Some of us had speculated that the Zone was not natural at all, but instead the consequence of some massive explosion or impact, but the jargon defeated all analysis. There were even theories that the Zone was the origin point for us all, a secret garden of hope in the far past, but belief in such unprovens was beyond most of our capacities.

That first day in the Zone I walked haphazardly, always moving close to the centre, but never directly. In here somewhere were War, Crime, Disorder, Chaos, Strife, Sword and all the others, and care had to be taken. For long, long hours there were no signs of life, until I discovered the camp. A number of abodes had been carefully constructed, and studded the slopes of an indentation in the foundation. I watched from behind an outcropping as War emerged from one of the huts and slapped Chaos on the back before heading off to chat with Strife. The Destructives had made peace with one another? Were they now united?

I needed to think, and so returned to the portal, and focussed my mind in the only way I knew how. I began to garden. Later, I would go back to talk to the Destructives. Later, I will write about that first contact. Later. The beds need pruning, and for now I rest."

End of extract.

*    *    *

Mystery realigned his thoughts and took one last lingering look at the garden. It had been so long since he had seen Lies' peculiar touch with the wild verbiage that the beauty was overwhelming. Time was ticking away, however, and outside everyone was depending on the resourcefulness and unpredictability of this word they called 'Mystery'.

"Ready or not, here we go." Mystery declared to himself, and then pulled himself up by the vowels and took himself over to his companions. Lies looked much as he had all those years ago when he had been sent into exile, and Club was obviously torn between his distrust of that living legend and his enjoyment of the tales being spun.

"Ah, Mystery, my lad! I was just telling this friend of yours about the time we raided the larder in the Commission of Absolutism's mansion. I'm afraid it's not one of my finest moments, but you did very well! Also, those beverages were much the better for the drinking, eh?" Lies was apparently in full flow and sparing no details. Perhaps he had been alone for all this time, with no-one to talk to... An upswelling of compassion flared, but was swiftly put aside. There was no time.

"Sadly, my friend, we didn't come just to chat and make small talk. The world outside is in great peril, and perhaps even the world inside the Zone too." Mystery wasted no time in his explanations, during the latter portion of which Lies stood quite somberly.

"You must be wondering where they all are, all those grand Destructives? The banes of our existences before their imprisonment in this palace of... of banal nonsense?" Lies gestured at the outside wall of the dome, somewhat moodily. "I'm afraid you're going to have to put your preconceptions away, and your hopes on a low light."

"What is that supposed to mean?" Asked Club cautiously.

"You had best both come with me. Mind your head now, and watch your footing. The jargon underfoot is most uneven. Many a time I've tumbled end over end." Lies led them out of the garden enclosure clockwise around the edge of the dome, and for the first time the two emissaries saw the Zone proper. A grand wasteland it was as far as they could see, with a gentle peak rising up into the center and obscuring all that lay beyond. They continued on around, Club watching their surrounds to the right, while Mystery and Lies caught up in small chatter complacently. Eventually they reached a village. Yes, a village.

"It's deserted." Was Mystery's first comment, which amused Lies apparently. He chuckled.

"They'll be in their own garden. It's just around the back of the club hut." Lies led them around the back of a large round hut, where they saw some of the worst and most terrible words in the Wordspace. They were drinking tea. Everyone facing them stood up politely, and the giant who must have been War smiled politely and held up her cup in salute, before making the totally unexpected greeting: "Hello! Nice day, what?"

Lies looked sideways at his companions. "I told you things might not be as you thought..."

*    *    *

Mystery had not expected this. Club had not expected this. Only Lies had, and he had kept the information slyly to himself. Before them stood the great legendary Destructives of the Wordspace, the villains who had been locked up here in the Zone of Meaningless Jargon for cycles uncounted, and they had been having a garden tea party?

Mystery was absently shaking War's hand, or whatever passed for a hand in a sentient word, as the giant made some genial introductions to her fellow prisoners. "It has been so long since we had new arrivals... Bad luck on your being here, old bean... This is Chaos, he's wonderful at murals, electrifying... Come over here, Shock, and show the enigmatic one your surprise tea cakes..."

Every Destructive seemed far less terrible than they were supposed to be! Every single one! Looking at his old mentor Lies, Mystery realised that if they were not slaves to their own meanings, why should the Destructives be? War had finally stopped speaking, in that domineering way she did. Mystery raised his voice slightly, and asked in a tone of curiosity, "You are not at all what I was expecting. Any of you." He realised his own rudeness. "I mean, you were all put in here for your shear uncontrollable tendencies, and thirst for power, not because you liked to drink tea or paint murals."

War smiled and quipped, "I believe you might say that the reports of our crimes were rather exaggerated." She motioned around her. "All of us that you see here don't only tend toward destruction but also toward change. In fact it has always surprised me that Change herself isn't here with us. She must have been canny indeed to escape the purge, what?" A question crossed her mind. "Your predecessor took no sides in anything, and surely you would do the same." War towered suddenly as she stood at her full height. "Why are you here, Mystery?"

Club lined up alongside his friend, and was then mirrored by Lies. That lonely exile addressed the Destructives at their tea party with great firmness, deliberation, and with no attention paid to Cacophany's hideous tea cosie. "Great fellow exiles of the Wordspace we all call home, there is chaos outside and invasion in the air. A powerful nightmare has crossed over from outside our world - yes, there is an outside - and is destroying all in his path. We stand here now to ask advice and request your assistance. Are you willing to talk?"

A recursive word that could only be the legendary Fractal muttered somewhat bitterly, "They must be desperate indeed."

"Aye, after what they did to us to conceal their own plans." Mused stately Disaster, tapping a cup with his digit. "Tell us more, and then we shall talk alone."

Mystery told the story again, as he already had so many times. The now serious words all around him suddenly seemed far more imposing, and the box he had been sent here to open far more real. The words waiting outside the Zone, however, began to appear far more sinister in his memory, and the question that bothered him most was what might happen  if they succeeded in transcending their current crisis.

While Mystery considered, War looked gravely up at the roof of the Zone, and contemplated the truths of what she had just been told. Behind her, at the tea table, the other Destructives waited to see how their long unrequired leader would react.

"When we were imprisoned here, exiled by those placid and predictable arbiters, we settled down and we didn't hate. Yes, we first tried to escape, but the Zone was impregnable in its very lack of meaning. We settled, and now when we're needed, should we venture back out into the world?" War looked at the party behind her. "We left it all behind us. And...  What became of Change?" The last question was pointed directly at Club, who jumped at the sudden shift. "Why isn't she here? What happened to her?"

"I, um, we don't know. She hasn't been seen in time memorial. Not since the exile." Club was fazed and then recovered, as Mystery took up the response. "She is supposed to be in here with you."

"She has never been in here with us. Never."

"The reports say - "

"The reports are wrong. She's out there somewhere, but that's for another day. If you don't mind waiting around the side of this structure, we will take a democratic vote. Fellow words of the Zone, we must decide!"

Lies led Mystery and Club around the hut, and then examined them critically. "I imagine that there's not been much debate out there in the Wordspace without us. Your skills have definitely become shoddy."

"It seems as if many of the things we take for granted on the outside are dubious, or perhaps everything we're being told here is a pack of lies." Mystery directed the pointed look he had just learnt from War directly at his old mentor. "I'm not that shoddy."

"Perhaps, perhaps." Lies merely smiled. "It is odd that Change never made it in here. We used to play such games, with fantastical variable rules, and incomprehensible outcomes! But she wasn't here when I arrived. In my forgetfulness I forgot to mention that."

"She could be anywhere. Or even more than anywhere, considering where we've been. However, she's not dead, as there has been no new Change to replace her, or so we're told." Mystery's syllables tightened. "All this doubt changes everything!"

"Don't worry, Boss, none of it bothers me. Just tell me what to do, and I'll do it." Club was resolute and reliable, always and forever. Lies smiled.

A polite roar erupted from around the hut, with a crash of Storm's legendary thunder. The diminutive Shock scurried around, and motioned them to return. The full cohort of Destructives stood waiting for them, and determination seeped into the foundations beneath them, into the dome above, and into the air around.

*    *    *

Mystery's path was set. He led his band of exiles to the exit of the Zone of Meaningless Jargon, laden with essential supplies like tea and word stems, while he hoped that one of the guardians remained alive to release them on time. Club walked dutifully to Mystery's left, and Lies to his right, as they toiled around the inside perimeter of the dome.

The exiles were forty ot fifty in number. A few were missing despite their long imprisonment and now release. There had apparently been no in-fighting, no chaos, and no giving up during the long years inside. Upon reaching the exit portal, a blocked off arched opening in the wall of the dome, they set up camp as the rendesvous with the guardian was still some hours away.

War approached Mystery, and took him away to an alcove in the wall, the latter not able to resist some persistent apprehension. The historical belligerent looked him in the eye, seemingly making an assessment. Mystery broke first. "Something's bothering you, isn't it?"

War's voice rumbled when she was thinking hard. "We have been in here a long, long time. Imprisoned for reasons not straightforward and not entirely honest. Some of us here have lost contact with the cores of our meanings, and some we have ourselves imprisoned. If you look amongst you will see not the likes of Hate and Malice. They will have the run of the Zone once they free themselves." War waved a tea bag in the air thoughtfully. "I worry not about this Armageddon who has come from the outside; We shall deal with him. I worry about the Words who put us in this luxurious cage, and what they might do after the Wordspace is saved."

"And you worry about Change."

"We all worry about Change. She was always the worst and the best of the words." A sudden shift. "Tell me, how is my old friend Peace?" War chuckled.

"Peace is just as insufferably dull as he has always been! He seems to adhere to his meaning far more than you do."

"We all conform to our meanings, but in ways with which we are comfortable. I have never prosecuted war for no reason, but Peace is most consistent in its own agenda. Conflict does like to argue senselessly, but I think his relationship with Consensus drove him out of his mind a little. As you may have noticed, the Destructives are proponents of change and our opposite numbers preservers of the status quo. That does tend to make them a bit stuffy."

"Yes... They do tend to be a bit frustrating at times for those of us in the middle ground... Will they try to put you away again?"

"Perhaps." War nodded her syllables, and then stiffened. "It would not be so easy this time."

"Then we had best prepare for that eventuality. It's not long now until they open the portal."

*    *    *

"Redundant miscellany," said Mystery into the aperture beside the portal. Two layers of jargon away, the form of the guardian waved some letters in assent, and operated the primitive switch that kept the portal safely locked down.

Mystery waited.

The exit portal opened, in the same airlock fashion that had defined the entrance, and Mystery led his band of saviours, or so he hoped they might be, through into the wider world of the Wordspace. As they began their transition, War suddenly whirled and clutched two of the cohort, and flung them far back into the interior of the Zone. The portal closed long before they regained the egress, and War never looked back as they assembled outside and shuddered under the great syllables of Sky. Mystery was pleased to see that great friend on high, once again, no longer absent as she had been when he and Club had entered the Zone.

"Not all of us were safe to be trusted, especially those who had broken out of our own prison." Muttered War. Mystery didn't debate the point. War knew her fellow prisoners far better than he did. He instead directed his attention at the guardian, in this case Constancy's apprentice Solidity. "Greetings and conjugation to you, friend."

"May you be free of punctuation," replied Solidity, "and welcome." The youthful guardian bowed to Mystery and his companions, not entirely without fear. Lies winked at him.

Outside the portal, they were surrounded by chaos as hundreds of words were scattered about, setting up makeshift structures and organising themselves. To one side, some of the Lesser Abstracts were assembled and waiting for Mystery's arrival, while sentries were perched high above them, on the walls of the Zone itself. On the horizon, Mystery could see his old friend Cloud zooming along, possibly on patrol. Truth waved from a cluster of Greater Abstracts, and Lies went to meet his old friend, while Mystery was detained by duty.

The remnants of the Council watched Mystery approach, with his friend Club behind him and to his left and War to his right. Surprisingly, Mystery felt more people get in line, and saw Truth and Lies flanking him too. The Lesser Abstracts assembled, including Medicine, Regulation, Refraction, Wimsy and Entertainment. Wimsy winked, even as Regulation shrank backwards at the growing presence of War. The whole atmosphere changed, as it became clear that there was now a genuine leader in the room.

"Tell us now whether we are in present danger. If there is then opportunity, we need to know the events that transpired while Mystery was recruiting us, and also what you know about the vanished Change. Then we will organise our plans." War's tone was imperious as she commanded the Council. "Where are the Great Ones, who used to be in charge?"

Mystery murmured, "The Greater Abstracts abdicated responsibility in favour of a rotating Council of Lessers shortly after sending you into exile."

Regulation handed over a printed report, which War consumed quickly. She looked at the Council. "We must have a General Conclave."

A conclave!

*    *    *

In the beginnings, there were nouns. Then there were adjectives, pronouns, verbs, adverbs and more. Finally, the nouns separated into abstracts and objectives, and a primitive organisational structure developed. The Councils of Greater and Lesser Abstracts were formed, and the modern age began. The following events remain to be told.

*    *    *

The General Conclave assembled in a semi-circle about the portal from which Mystery's band had emerged a few hours before. The Lesser and Greater Abstracts present, and all the other words, settled into a quickly constructed amphitheatre, built out of the consonants and vowels that could be quickly harvested from the nearby vegetation. Even in the scrub surrounding the Zone of Jargon enough was found to seat the grandness of Time, the melancholy of Death, the radiance of Life, and the clipboard of Destiny.

Mystery opened the Conclave, and immediately took a poll to determine who should chair the occasion. After only one round of votes, the winner turned out to be saintly Truth, who shuffled to the impromptu podium (a pile of ampersands), and addressed the masses somewhat lengthily, but of course with great fidelity to the purpose at hand.

Mystery stepped back into the crowd and looked at the audience beyond the abstracts, the nouns and adjectives with nothing obscure to their meanings, all waiting to see what might happen. Only the sentries maintained a vigil apart from participating in the Conclave, where Truth had introduced Introspection, and was now listening to that fine and thoughtful word's report on the current state of the Wordspace.

War and Tactics were amongst the serried ranks of the Abstracts, taking notes, and Cloud was overhead. Somewhere out there in the wilderness, Earth and the other Elements were hopefully still surviving, or else they would be reborn out of the Well of Vocabulary, fresh and innocent all over again. Almost everyone had been at some point. Mystery himself remembered days of idle learning amongst his mentors and at the foot of School himself. He wondered idly about Fire, who shimmered so when he got agitated.

The report ran that the invader had roundly trounced and annihilated several of the small colonies, and had almost crushed Earth's group before they had barrelled him over and made a run for the Zone. Then they had run, according to the Zone's guardians Constancy and Solidity, and this second group had arrived some days later. Dedication, this group's leader, had decided the Zone to be a last bastion of safety, and a good defensive position, should all efforts to resist fail. Now there would be resistance aplenty, if the Destructives could get organised quickly, and if there were no other way.

Once the report had been completed, Truth invited War to the too-small podium, who then asked the questions that would shape her thinking. She sought descriptions of the invader and hints on their motivation, interrogated Mystery and Club on their report of the mysterious Silly Stone, and then stood silently for a moment. She finally queried Introspection again, whose insights were legendary.

A sentry hooted from their perch on the side of the Zone, and Mystery turned to look at the horizon. The dust of punctuation was stirring. Something was about to happen. He turned to look at the band he had rescued from the Zone, who were as suddenly uncertain as he. War whistled, and called out orders. A scouting troop began to form.

Here ends Phase 1 of 'Wordspace'. Stand ready for Phase 2 in the near future.