Last year my walrusfysing sci-fi cover maker was fun but I wanted to do something a bit better. I made the last one quickly using a tool called Hype, but I wanted to make something with leaner code that would let people make a big colourful space opera cover. In particular, I wanted the final image to be downloadable as an image file with enough resolution to use as a legitimate book cover
And I’ve done that! The code works and I’ve got a lot of images together (more still to do though. My main issue now is finding a home (the attic workshop can’t hold the number of image files needed).
When everything is ready I’ll announce it 🙂
Meanwhile, here is an example of what it can make. Each image has seven layers (some of which can be blank) and you can pick an image for each layer.
By Tim “bobbins” Cat and Straw “fettled keks” Puppy
It were grim all right. Grim and grey. Grim and grey and the air was sulfurous and full of grit.
“This is must be an aspect of the hell dimension,” said McEdifice as the trio trudged up the hillside on the outskirts of the fume enshrouded city.
“It cannot be,” replied Qzrrzxxzq, “the populace was too relentlessly chirpy.”
“Service is required when belt lubrication is low,” stated ScanScan.
“He thinks it is the vast quantity of tea that they drink,” translated McEdifice, “Perhaps the demonic overlords of this place put something in the tea.”
“What I don’t get is the rain,” said Qzrrzxxzq changing the subject to the near incessant drizzle, “When it isn’t raining it is foggy. The air is constantly near the point of saturation but that is manifestly impossible. At some point the water has to evaporate to get into the atmosphere and yet it nearly never stops raining. The water cycle here defies logic – it is completely implausible.”
“Paper jam in the bypass tray,” said ScanScan.
“He says not everybody was chirpy,” explained McEdifice, “there were occasional angry young men with big ideas who were going to challenge the system.”
“Frankly I preferred the constant music-hall jokes,” mused Qzrrzxxzq, “but I think if I’d encountered another colliery brass band I would have enacted violence on a tuba.”
They had wandered the city for days but the polluted damp air had made it impossible for ScanScan to use his transdimensional abilities. After much effort to communicate with the locals they had been told that “thing might be different in Yorkshire.” When asked where this fabled place might be, the locals just waved vaguely at the hills to the east.
The trio had marched out of town and up onto the moors.
On the third day, like a miracle, the clouds parted. Above the smog and coal-fired fumes, ScanScan re-activated the ansible projector.
“But where to now?” asked Qzrrzxxzq.
“I have so many unanswered questions. Why did the vampires send me back to that planet of hippies? Why didn’t they just kill me? And why did they invade Planet Campus?” mused McEdifice.
“There’s only one place that we can find those answers,” stated Qzrrzxxzq.
“Draculon 6 – The Vampire Planet of the Six-sixty-six System.” said McEdifice.
“Settings entered,” said ScanScan.
“Lets kick some vampire butt,” said McEdifice.
“I think they say ‘vampire arse’ around here,” corrected Qzrrzxxzq.
And with that they were sucked into the transdimensional gyre.
McEdifice Returns by Timothy the Talking Cat and Straw Puppy ©Timothy the Talking Cat and Straw Puppy. McEdifice™ Timothy the Talking Cat and Straw Puppy. All rights reserved. Patent pending. Also, we put this whole chapter in an envelope and mailed it to the Pope but we deliberately used the wrong address so it came back to us which means our copyright claim is recognised by the Vatican and the Post Office.
McEdifice was still recovering from having punched himself out of a hallucination, staggered onward to Outlaw’s Gulch, the infamous hideout of the Treerat Gang against who he had sworn revenge for what was now a multitude of crimes. To wit:
- Shooting at his head
- Killing Chuck the Pony (don’t worry he isn’t really dead)
- Sabotaging Simon the Bicycle (sadly Simon is definitely dead – also we decided to call him ‘Simon’ so you knew which bicycle we were talking about)
- Putting hallucinogenic drugs on the handlebars of the bike
- Being all round bad people
Oh, those miscreants were in for a heap of trouble once McEdifice got their hands on them! This was going to be a showdown of epic proportions! A gunfight of some significant magnitude! A veritable brouhaha of brutality and bruises. A Toccata and fugue of Bach-like proportions where violence is the organ keys and McEdifice would be pulling out all the stops. (Nice one SP!)
McEdifice stepped through the entrance to Outlaw’s Gulch with a brazen swagger, knowing that his very appearance would intimidate the feeble willed outlaws.
“Come out and meet my vengeance!” shouted McEdifice.
But the only sound was the echo of his cry.
“They’re all gone McEdifice,” said a snide and yet familiar voice.
With reflexes so quick that the nerve impulses in his nerves probably go like faster than lightning, McEdifice whipped around lightning fast with his laser pistol ready to spurt lightning at the intruder behind him.
There was nobody there.
“Over here, you stupid ass.” said the snide voice.
McEdifice looked up and then left and right.
“In the tree. For goodness sake. It is RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU.”
McEdifice turned back to the centre of the gulch where stood an old oak tree. On a branch sat a man in full dress uniform of the Intergalactic Space Navy Marine Corp.
“Well, well, well,” said McEdifice, “if it isn’t Commander Clench, my old nemesis. I thought I told you never to set foot again on the Grassland Planet of Steppe.”
“Well yes, you did but as I explained at the time, I’m free to go anywhere I like and also I outrank you and also I have an orbiting space-dreadnought directly above us that could wipe you off the face of the planet before you could even grimace at me in a way I didn’t like.” explained Commander Clench.
“Well, I told you then that I was never going back. I’m officially retired.”
“Your choice McEdifice but I’ve some bad news for you. If you want those Treerat boys then they’ve already left the planet.”
“War has returned to the Galaxy McEdifice. The massed armada of the evil Space Vampires is claiming huge tracts of space. The Intergalactic Space Army has conscripted every lowlife, miscreant, outlaw, ner-do-well, street punk and tax account into a desperate rag-tag yet elite army of the meanest, nastiest and most financially prudent scum-of-the-earth battalion you never imagined. This ‘bad battalion’ as we have named them will form the vanguard of an assault on the space vampires followed by more conventional (and better groomed) forces.”
“That means nothing to me Clench. My mission is vengeance not another one of your endless wars. No, not even the looming threat of my ultimate enemy – the insidious space vampires – is enough to sway me from my course of avenging Chuck and Simon.”
“Actually Chuck is fine.”
“I won’t fall for your lies again Clench.”
“Have it your way, but the only way you can kill those Treerat Boys is to shoot your way through the Intergalactic Space Army, killing brave soldiers intent on defending the galaxy from evil space vampires. Oh, I know you McEdifice, better than you know yourself.”
“Damn you Clench. What is it that you want from me?”
“Mainly to humiliate you and make you look stupid. To that end, here is a once only offer. If you join the Intergalactic Space Army then you will have the right under the military code of settling debts of honour via the ancient tradition of a duel. Your course is simple: join the army, make your way to the front, challenge the Treerat Boys in turn to duels. And, of course, while you are out there KILL SOME SPACE VAMPIRES.”
“Grrrrr. DAMN YOU CLENCH! OK, you give me no choice. If Major Commander McEdifice needs to take to the field of battle one more time then I’ll do just that.”
“Minor correction: that would be PRIVATE McEdifice. Your rank was for the Space Navy Marines. You’ll need to join the ARMY. It’s back to boot camp for you McEdifice!”
Chiseled McEdifice: Returns – by Timothy the Talking Cat and Straw Puppy
McEdifice softly caressed McEdifices swan-like neck. “Oh darling,” he whispered into his ear, “this night is so magical. I feel we could fly forever upon this magical wingéd horse.”
“This has been the most beautiful night of my life…hold on…wouldn’t a flying horse need both musculatures to sustain flight and to support more standard equestrian activities?” said McEdifice.
McEdifice held on tighter to the manly chest of his beloved McEdifice. “Good point,” he said, “Also a flying animal necessarily has a lighter skeleton structure making a flying horse unsuitable to act as an animal that could bear the weight of two very manly men.”
“Also, now that you come to mention it…isn’t there only one of us?”
“Hmm that does seem fishy but maybe this is all the effect of the magical kingdom far below us?”
“No way McEdifice! I can believe in faster than light travel, mutant talking ponies, psionics, time travel, non-mammalian alien species that nonetheless look like sexy women, laser-swords, space wormholes and space vampires and star-whales BUT I draw the line at such absurd notions as ‘magic’.”
“Hmmm, then I must draw the conclusion that I…”
“…ating and must”
“wake myself up.”
“Brace yourself McEdifice – this is going to hurt!”
“Are we awake yet?”
“No, you’d better hit me again.”
McEdifice awoke with a start. He was lying next to the burnt remains of the bicycle. Cautiously he sniffed his hands. There was the soft sweet smell of decaying blueberries.
Hallucinox 17! The slow acting psychotropic drug that could be easily absorbed through the skin!
McEdifice inspected the handlebars of the bicycle. Despite the charred smell, the scent of hallucinox 17 was still detectable! Those despicable Treerats had not only tried to sabotage his bike but also his MIND!
“Nooooooo!!!!!!” cried McEdifice.
He swore on the lingering memory of the star speckled Pegasus that he would seek revenge on those who had attacked his basic sense of reality. Before it had only been personal now it was PHARMACEUTICAL.
[Postscript: this episode was inspired by a book tweeted below
I don’t think I could fully do it justice but I felt a homage was needed.]
Chiseled McEdifice: Returns – by Timothy the Talking Cat and Straw Puppy
REVENGE! There was but one thought on McEdifice’s mind: REVENGE! The outlaws of the evil Treerat Gang (a bunch of outlaws and pagan worshippers of the ancient demonic squirrel god) had killed (not really but that’s what he thinks right now) the only friend he had on the Grassland Planet of Steppes. They had a lasting hate for McEdifice ever since he drove them and their filthy ways out of town and killed their leader in a shoot-out. Yes, I KNOW I used that sentence already – it is called helping the reader out. What if they had accidentally skipped over that sentence – maybe they were briefly interrupted by an insensitive fellow householder demanding to know what all that mess was on the floor? Where was I? Ah, yes! REVENGE!
With his pony Chuck now dead (not actually but that’s what he thinks), McEdifice had no recourse but to use an old bicycle that was sitting in the barn. As he stood by the barn gates, McEdifice paused for a moment to remember all the good times he and Chuck had had in the barn. He would never forget Chuck and how he had both been a good friend and a useful form of transport on the rugged but on average quite-flat world of Steppe.
McEdifice strapped on a bandolier of knives and guns and ammo and probably grenades and then hopped on the bike and set off on his way to Outlaw’s Gulch – the hiding place of the infamous Treerat Gang!
It was a charming day for a bicycle ride. The sun was out and a cool breeze rippled across the plains, causing the tops of the tall grasses to shimmer as if the ground was glad in yellow-green velvet. Excellent sentence all round I think. High fives for that one. McEdifice whistled a jaunty song as he cycled along the stony path.
Eventually, he reached a slight incline as the ground made its way towards Outlaw’s Gulch. As his speed increased McEdifice attempted to apply the brakes but to no avail! The brakes were not working somehow! Oh, my gosh. The path to Outlaw’s Gulch was becoming steeper and the bike was bumping along the rocky road in a way that was quite uncomfortable!
“Oh dear!” said McEdifice as he once again made a futile attempt to apply the brakes! Just then the front wheel hit a particularly large pebble! The bike crashed and McEdifice was thrown clear!
KABOOM! The bicycle exploded in a fiery explosion as a consequence of it hitting a rock. McEdifice rushed over and beat back the flames and then with one mighty flick of his shoulders he hoisted up the flaming bike and threw it into a near by pond which I should have probably mentioned earlier.
With a heavy heart, McEdifice examined the now parboiled bicycle. The brake lines had been cut! One of the outlaws must have sabotaged the bike before they shot at him, maybe like five minutes before hand. I guess they did it quietly.
He stared at the now ruined bike and then picked it up and cradled it in his arms. This bicycle had been his one true companion on the Grassland Planet of Steppe – a trusty steed in times of need, a faithful servant and a mechanical marvel that could deftly make use of normal human effort to provide a more efficient use of the energy produced when travelling along relatively flat surfaces. But now that bicycle was dead. Another victim of the evil Treerat Gang.
McEdifice looked up to the sky and howled “Noooooooo!!!!! Why must it always be the good ones who are taken?” He then laid the broken remains of the bicycle softly on the cool grass – saluted it and set off on his mission with a renewed purpose.
Before it had simply been about revenge, now it was PERSONAL.
When seasons change the two of them like to dig out their epic space-fantasy-revenge-western-with-vampires. Here is Chapter 1.
Chiseled McEdifice: Returns – by Timothy the Talking Cat and Straw Puppy
Standing proudly before his lonesome homestead on the far prairie plains of the Grassland Planet of Steppe, Chiseled McEdifice was chopping wood. He was standing when he was chopping the wood obviously – I don’t think those two things contradict each other and I wish the beta reviewer would JUST GET OUT OF MY FACE and learn their place. Me: the author, in charge, creative genius. Them: the lowly moron who should be grateful that they get this kind of opportunity to learn from the best quite frankly. Can you chop wood sitting down? No, so what are you going on about? He is STANDING and chopping the wood and those two images do not “clash”.
Here, in this dusty retreat, McEdifice was seeking the peace his life had never given him.
“I’m just looking for peace,” he said wistfully as he stared out over the grassy plains before him.
Just then a gunshot rang out and a bullet ricocheted off his space marine helmet (he was wearing his space marine helmet obviously – look at the cover image). The HUD display flickered on in his helmet (no that isn’t ‘redundant’ I can’t just say ‘his HUD flickered on’ as that sounds perverted to me). Targeting identified a heat source 501.67 metres away to the north east.
“Enhance,” McEdifice vocalised and in some sort of cool special effect way the helmet magnified that area of his vision (with maybe a hi-tech noise like boop-ooohwushboop). It was one of the Treerat gang!
The Treerat Gang: a bunch of outlaws and pagan worshippers of the ancient demonic squirrel god. They had a lasting hate for McEdifice ever since he drove them and their filthy ways out of town and killed their leader in a shoot-out.
With one deft movement, McEdifice hoisted his wood chopper into one hand and then with a mighty flick of his elbow he sent the axe careening through the air. THUNK! it landed straight in the miscreants head who then let out an ungodly scream: “aieeeee!” and then died.
“I guess that trespasser should have axed for permission before stepping on my land.” quipped McEdifice sardonically.
Just then, McEdifice realised that the back paddock was unguarded! He ran as fast as he could but he was too late! Another outlaw had sneaked round and now was pointing a gun at McEdifice’s only friend: a lovely pony called Chuck.
“Don’t move McEdifice or the pony gets it!” said the outlaw.
“Don’t you harm a hair on that pony’s head!” said McEdifice.
“Shoot him McEdifice!” said the pony – this is in space right so it can be a talking pony I think. Probably a mutant pony or something.
“Stay calm Chuck,” said McEdifice.
“I’m just going to mosey on out of here with this here pony,” said the outlaw in that kind of accent that outlaws have in cowboy movies.
McEdifice checked his pocket and in his pocket, he found a pencil. With one deft movement he hoisted the pencil into his hand and then with one mighty flick of his elbow he launched the pencil onto a ballistic trajectory (yes I do know what that means and on this planet the gravity means it is like a straight line because that is cool) which flew straight into the outlaw’s head.
“aieeeee!” said the outlaw and then he died.
McEdifice ran over to Chuck.
“Thank God you are OK old buddy!” said McEdifice to Chuck. I guess it was obvious he was saying it to Chuck (the pony) and not the outlaw because the outlaw was not his buddy and was also very dead by now. I guess he could have said it sarcastically to the dead outlaw – that would be kind of cool if he said it in a drawl. Anyway, he didn’t do a quip at this point because I couldn’t think of one.
“I’m not OK dear friend,” said Chuck, “in the stress of the moment I caught a terminally pony-sickness and I’m now dying. Goodbye old friend, we had good times together.” and then Chuck died. Oh gosh, this is so sad.
“Noooooooo!!!!!!” said McEdifice and at that moment he swore revenge! He knew his quiet life of peace on the plains was over. He’d tried to escape the horrors of space-war but war was what he knew and it would always keep pulling him back!
Oh! I thought of a quip he could have said when he killed the second outlaw! “I guess I was quick on the draw” because he used a pencil you see. That’s what he said when he killed the outlaw – sardonically. So just imagine now I told you that earlier, OK?
Sorry about Chuck the Pony dying. Don’t be upset beta reviewer – it’s for motivation. OK, ok. Later after McEdifice goes off to get revenge, it turns out that Chuck wasn’t quite dead, he was just very, very tired from the space-mutant-pony disease and needed a long nap. He then got better but McEdifice had already left. So in the next chapter Chuck isn’t actually dead but just asleep but McEdifice thinks Chuck is dead. OK? Good.
Oh, if only this WAS a parody:
“It was worrisome that the Human League had declared him “a traitor to Galactic Man” and was offering a bounty on his head. Still, this wasn’t the first time he’d been targeted by crackpots, though, and as a technocrat, he found it hard to be Praton as a sacrifice to his furious fellow council members.”
So with the tune of ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby’, running in my head I descend into ‘Corrosion: The Corroding Empire Part by Johan Kalsi and/or Harry Seldon Edited by Vox Day’.
Servo is a robot working in a cocktail bar, when we meet him. Again, if only this book was a pastiche of new-romantic pop lyrics but it isn’t – I mean how would it have been to have included a cocktail bar in the story?
Instead, we get a bunch of connected not-exactly awful stories set in a technological society run by ‘algorithms’. The style is one I shall now christen ‘Puppy Clunk’. If you read some of the less appalling slated works in 2015, you’ll recognise the style. It’s not illiterate or wholly unreadable but it just sort of goes ‘clunk’ in every sentence.
“It had been ten months since the first time Servo made contact with the First Technocrat, and since then, things had gotten increasingly out of hand. The drone’s behavior had arguably become more erratic than the theoretical algorithmic anomalies with which he was obsessed.”
The premise is that this high-tech space-faring human civilisation is totally dependent on ‘core algorithms’. The civilisation doesn’t depart much from a bog-standard space-future (robots and vid-screens) and the importance of the ‘algorithms’ is just waved around a lot.
For reason unknown, this advanced society has apparently no understanding of boundary conditions or chaos theory or any one of the many ways humans have known that deterministic computation will depart from empirical data without regular correction. As a consequence, humanity is suffering from ‘algorithmic decay’ and only ex-surgeon turned rogue robot ‘Servo’ (no not the one from MST3K) can see the truth.
“He had been allowed enough visitors in prison to gather that the Human League were planning to do through legal means what they had failed to do illegally: assassinate him. His only chance was to win over a Technocratic Council that was not only looking for a sacrificial lamb to throw to the frightened public, but would be presided over by Harraf, his would-be successor as First Technocrat.”
Civilisation is heading for a crash!
OK, that was gratuitous. I’ll let Caden Jarris, First Technocrat infodump a summary of the dangers of algorithmic decay:
“As far as I know, there is nothing that is going to halt this mysterious, gradual corrosion of both the galactic and planetary infrastructure on its own. The trend may be slow, one might even describe it as glacial, but even so, the long-term trend is clear. If algorithmic decay is not arrested, interstellar transportation will be the first sector to fall. That will doom dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of populated planets and colonies to stasis if they are fortunate, and extinction if they are not.”
“We know all this, Caden,” the Sixth Technocrat complained.
I think we all sympathise with the Sixth Technocrat – nobody likes a gratuitous infodump. The decay is a handy wavy substitute for Hari Seldon’s prediction of galactic Empire collapse from Asimov’s seminal Foundation stories. ‘Corrosion’ is supposedly some sort of parody/pastiche/homage to Asimov but it fails to capture any of his magic. Nor does it compensate by addressing Asimov’s failings: the characters are as thinly drawn as the plot. The book is short and yet still mainly waffle. It’s a bit like eating packing material – if packing material could go ‘clunk’ (which it can’t by design).
[NOTE: starch based packing ‘peanuts’ can be digested but are not produced in conditions that are food-safe. Also, they are intentionally stripped of useful nutrients so as not to attract vermin. You can learn more about packing peanuts here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foam_peanut#Starch-based_packing_peanuts No, this isn’t the most interesting article on Wikipedia but yes, it’s less dull than reading this book]
Speaking of peanuts, after the trial of First Technocrat Caden Jaggis, we are whisked away to see more of this amazing future society. We meet a farmer, called The Farmer, sitting on his future tractor: “Ontanso-44 tractor-processor, manually correcting bad readings and attempting to factor a uniform set of correcting algorithms. ” See, this society is all based on ALGORITHMS and so the Farmer has an algorithm-tractor, possibly an algorithm-combine harvester as well and an algorithm-chicken coop.
Nah, that would be silly. Instead, he has his trusted Intrepid-Abundance Class biogenetic tractor-combinator. But things are going badly because of, you know, ALGORITHMS.
“It was that fragile moment in the growing season when blight or insectoid plagues still threatened, but the natural algorithmic defenses of the crops were not yet a full strength. Every class of every crop he mastered — polito, chomats, paradagas, corbolini, purple crone, zaim, yossa beans, and even the hardy gang roots — were going wrong. They were behind schedule, maturing poorly or in several cases, mutating inconsistently.”
The poor old farmer has a bad time of it and…well then we jump forward in time and the empire has collapsed.
Three stories in we meet another man with a vehicle, Scot Farmerson, who has a 00198 Burneck-made truck. That’s nice. You know what Foundation lacked? Trucks and tractors. Nothing says hard sci-fi like a decent agricultural vehicle.
Any Scot dies horribly because of bad algorithms. Not even his truck could save.
Then things go a bit milSF but we are still in the same story because they have gadgets and complain about ‘algodecay’. Then we wander. Things get dull. I can’t even make Human League jokes anymore. People don’t want jokes, people love action.
Skip, skip, skip, oops I’m at the epilogue. This starts with a binary code because ROBOTS! Robots that communicate in ASCII (not Unicode? darn – no emojis). The super secret messages in binary says:
The machines have developed a sense of morality. The galaxy is ours.
Morality? Perhaps but the book still hasn’t developed a sense of humour.
Yeah, anyways, war is good, robots plotting stuff etc. You know the drill. If you read the Castalia MilSF compilation in the Hugo Packet it’s basically the same stuff.
What can I say? The opening chapters were clunky and the rest were formulaic. It is almost like output generated from some deterministic sequence of rules and operations – why, it is almost ALGORITHMIC…