Outward Reviews: Guerillas

I’ve said it before, the monkey game can be a tough nut to crack. Preconceived notions of the apish persuasion aren’t exactly flattering to the genre. Monkeys are viewed as clowns. Beta humans; their lines to the animal kingdom christening them incomplete versions of ourselves. They’re either disturbing or hilarious. Spectacle is king.

“Look at that monkey dance! Monkeys aren’t supposed to dance!”

*Giddy laughter*

*Cracking whip*

“Dance monkey, dance!”

You know the drill.

Goliath with his little helper.

Goliath with his little helper.

Unless your goal is a healthy coating of cheek, you’d expect a genuine attempt at drama featuring our furry cousins to be a fool’s errand. How poignant can a scene be when the prime movers are convicted shit-slingers? Throwing comics into this mix, you’ve got an uphill battle so steep you’d wish you had a prehensile tail just to hold on. It’s a nigh-impossibility!

I was pleasantly surprised to be proved dead-fuck-wrong when I discovered Brahm Revel’s fantastic graphic series, Guerillas.

First released in 2008 by Image comics, Guerillas couldn’t exactly escape the “stinking ape” stigma and was later picked up for continuation/distribution by Oni Press. Though it may not feature unitard-clad superheroes, Guerillas has been steadily gaining cred through 5-star reviews by fans and the kind of steady attention that a deserving work of art merits.

Did I mention that ape-fiction has a fan base? I know I painted a grim picture a few paragraphs ago, but there is a silver lining. Perhaps it’s that mystical power of well-armed primates? Who knows, but if ever there were a work of ‘damn good’ simian drama that deserved recognition, it is Revel’s series.

Guerillas is the tale of a fresh new recruit named John Clayton and his introduction to the hellhole of atrocities that is the Vietnam War. Our boy John is painted as a wide-eyed young chap who seriously miscalculated when he decided to earn his aloof father’s respect by enlisting. This kid could barely hurt a fly. There are genuinely disturbing instances depicted when John and his platoon comb through the jungle and.. do what American GI’s did.

The grim mug of Dr. Worzle.. who would obviously have an awesome catch-phrase if he were... you know... into that whole 'talking' thing.

The grim mug of Dr. Worzle.. who would obviously have an awesome catch-phrase if he were… you know… into that whole ‘talking’ thing.

The writing is strong throughout. The interactions of the soldiers, while unflattering, remain candid and realistic. It’s got all the conflict and inner turmoil of your big time war flicks; your Platoons and your Apocalypse Nows, all coated in beautiful four-by-four. The art is minimalistic, yet sumptuously illustrated in layers of heavy shadow and bright sunlight. The attention to detail shows: from the rendering of a soldier’s rucksack to the inferred acrobatic antics of the titular primates.

Oh yeah, the chimps! Things take off when our hero buckles under pressure, witnesses his entire squad mowed down by Vietcong and does nothing. It’s at this point that he’s rescued by a group of ‘artificially enhanced’, battle trained chimpanzee commandos. And they don’t exactly take to him at first.

It’s obvious that Revel did his chimpanzee homework. His depictions are spot on. Social interactions are fully represented here, with ‘shit-your-pants’ dominance displays and termite foraging featured just like you’d see it on National Geographic: minus the combat fatigues.

John meets the monkeys.

John meets the monkeys.

Big bruisers like John Bull and Goliath puff on cigarettes; a habit abnormally trained chimps exhibit in real life. Smaller chimps like Goblin and Faben bound shrilly through the trees. These are behaviors (and names) that you see plastered all over nature documentaries. This authenticity legitimizes the story and almost lulls you into forgetting that you’re reading a comic about M-16 toting primates.

It’s this extra effort to tell a good story that is prevalent in Guerillas. It adds nuance and a deeper level of enjoyability to an otherwise fantastic ‘shoot-em up’ war comic. All the right layers are here: Good guys, bad guys, moral ambiguity about who the good guys and bad guys are, mad scientists, swearing; one liner spouting soliders, action, dramatic tension, chimpanzees hooting while they unload a clip into an unsuspecting village..

Guerillas gets my wholehearted stamp of approval. In the world of ape-pulp, this comic stands as a shining example of how to do it right.

Oh. And it’s got a baboon named Adolph that is probably the creepiest loose-cannon character that I’ve ever seen. Way to do that name proud, Adolph… *shivers*

You can get a free digital copy of Guerillas on comixology.com. Not a bad deal for a double-feature sized comic about monkeys.

Short Fiction: Sapience Test

Sapience Test

Complements MrSummers

Complements MrSummers

An earthling approaches the

Megalithic structure seems luminous, reluctantly

Flickers, blinks at her like tail lights upended

In mist

It rose, long before

Now it flowers, again

Grasping with algorithms and preset programs, like

A chain it pulls itself free from non-being

It clamors, triple checks, settles without deciding on

An adequate response and

So it speaks

To a being from earth

“Welcome to Nexus.”

“I am a Cognition Interface Kiosk. You have activated me by stimulating my matrices of proximity and perceived purpose. Your intent has been deemed clear and focused to the extent it necessitates inquiry. Rest assured, your physical requirements are a top priority. I will be glad to assist you in any way that I can.”

“Firstly, let me thank you for including me in your perceptual field layout. Inclusion is the fundament for millions of species that match your preliminary categorization. Remember, this classification is cursory; so please forgive me if this method of communication is flawed and our exchange fails to harmonize. Your primary sensory instrumentation is very important to us.”

“Auditory cues have been received and will be deemed preliminary attempts at communication.”

“Sound generation has been recognized: vocal.”

“Frequency has been detected within the ranges of .01 to 300 Hertz.”

“These facts, coupled with your diurnal appearance and Nexus’ general solar-cyclic rotation, has narrowed the breadth of possibility to within acceptable parameters. Though error has been minimized, please realize that further investigation must be executed.”

“Your insistence is understood and appreciated, but please refrain from menu selections at this time.”

“Continued identification is critical to ensure a healthy exchange. Our services are tailored to over a billion forms of intelligence. Your mold fits a proportionate amount that inaccuracies pose theoretical bodily hazards.”

“Your continuous insistence will be viewed as an interest in the subject, but please refrain from menu selections at this time.”

“Based on deep spectrum scans, listening posts, habitation placement of this kiosk, and many other factors, your species has been narrowed to within 17 million possibilities. We hope that you are proud of this estimate.”

“Your continuous insistence will be viewed as an interest in the subject, but please refrain from menu selections at this time.”

“Activities that advance our interactions will always narrow probability and adequate identification will be achieved. Presently, the overlay is witling. Your continued patience is highly valued, but please act naturally if this interferes with specific species traits.”

“Based on numerical odds, it is likely that you are some form of arachnoid. This is far from a probabilistic mathematical certainty, however.”

“We’re sorry. Your continuous insistence cannot be viewed as an affirmation of arachnoid heritage. Further investigation must be executed. If it is determined that arachnoid heritage is sufficiently likely, continuation will be assumed.”

“Your inability to process this kiosk’s requests has been deemed a breakdown in communication. Recalculating.”

“We are aware that you possess a deoxyribonucleic acid molecular chain based on bioscans of liquids left on the menu selection applicators. Please understand that we can only narrow your phylum so far: Gene forgers and spectral projections have been known to skew results that lack enhanced corroboration.”

“Prior reading results merging with updated genetic data.”

“Species likelihood down to 5 million. Matches witling. Arachnoid heritage is still chiefly likely. You may have been right all along.”

“Your attention please. It appears you may be shedding integuments. Please find a way to calm yourself, as this is likely a sign of great stress or possible fatal injury. We will speedily ascertain your current level of peril.”

“It seems your integuments are attached to neither blood vessels nor active nerve endings. You are in no danger of shock-death. Luckily, we’ve narrowed the parameters to substantive levels. It is possible that you are what you say you are, but it is now more likely that you are a functional chordate.”

“It isn’t unheard of for some spider species having spinal nerve cords. Protraction on this hypothesis will now be assumed.”

“Please click your mandibles, as vocal communication has been your chief means of contact thus far.”

“Calculating.”

“Please expel air through your primary tagma segment’s tracheal system.”

“Curious, this expulsion is not situated in your abdomen. It isn’t unheard of some spider species accumulating vocal folds near or within their chelicera. Though this is unlikely, arachnoid heritage is still viable.”

“Please ‘speak’ in a way that is normal for your species.”

“Calculating. Recalculating!”

“It appears you are indeed a functional chordate. Please expel a vowel sound.”

“That will suffice. Please expel a consonant sound.”

“Very good.”

“Congratulations. It has been estimated that you are cognitively sentient.”

“You appear to be struggling. It is highly likely that you are a member of a gregarious species. Perhaps you should commune with a member who has used this kiosk on a previous occasion.”

“You have been operating the menu selection that links to chemical absorption. Tied to your most prominent legacy-type, it is likely that you are fascinated with: catabolism or, digestion. Do you require any kind of physical sustenance?”

“Please accept this protein supplement. It is mathematically certain to boost the energy reserves of your species-type. Analysis has observed that you control suitable means to break down this supplement, and heartily enjoy the process.”

“Warning: the prior insistence with which you have been attempting to select this application suggests that you may be suffering from extremely low subsistence levels. If you are in danger of starvation, please select this option from the menu once more.”

“Thank you. Here is another increment, based on your body proportions.”

“If you require any sort of medical or social courtesies, I can summon the proper accommodations for your disposal.”

“No? I see you are satisfactorily capable of specialized, powered locomotion.”

“I hope that this interaction has proven satisfactory. This Cognition Interface Kiosk has now been tailored by your collaboration. Well done! It has been an honor to partake in your socio-physical countenance.”

“Remember that intelligence connects us all.”

“And once again, welcome to Nexus.”

The earthling gathers up the offerings bestowed

By the yammering structure above

Which falters and dims

Ready for a century of rest if need be

When satisfied, she flushes her obsidian plumage fully

Extending, opening, clattering against ancient

Stone cold talons, brushing noisily, then

She drifts away

A gravelly call echoes back

A means of communication?

Trilobite: Words on Wednesdays

Okay. Yes. I’m aware that I’m posting this on Thursday. I blame it on my closing shift — bloody day jobs. This week at The Write Practice I took a stab at some Spec Poetry.

Trilobite

Noun

  1. any of numerous extinct Paleozoic marine arthropods (group Trilobita) having the segments of the body divided by furrows on the dorsal surface into three lobes

Reverb shakes the water column;

a cascade of pressure reception, too close.

Straining water flexes weakened cuticle.

A trilobite hunkers in, rolling, enrolling;

tumbling away, just in time.

Compound eyes tac an escape.

Hungry ones roll into view;

flaps churn along a sinuous body.

A wave, juddering trilobite-ian senses.

Down and down;

a fragile underside limb tongues between dorsal sutures.

A gill tasting, breathing.

Guzzling to fuel greedy instinct.

Clamps closed again, not swimming;

Diving

Sinking

Fleeing

A trilobite relies on a flicker’s reaction.

A trilobite trusts the appraisal of intuition.

There is no time for hope;

but if he did, the trilobite would certainly cheer

for stiffened spines –

When Opabinia scuttles close for another pass.

The End of the World has a Commentary

The end of 2012 appears to be angling towards batshit insane after all. It might not be on par with a Mayan foretold apocalypse, but between the east coast of America getting pummeled by a hurricane and news of talking animals coming to light, even hardboiled skeptics like me are beginning to take notice.

Belugas may have to trade in their old monikers of “canaries of the sea” to something a bit more appropriate. Is your money on parrots or mockingbirds?

In all seriousness, learning about several “high-profile*” animals taking to spontaneous mimicry is all that’s keeping me going. It’s good to know that when climate change eventually kills us off, parrots won’t be the only animals to carry on our linguistic legacy.

First up, we have a beluga whale who needed a little personal space. NOC (named after nasty little insects “no-see-ums”) apparently uttered a phrase from every ghost story you’ve ever heard. “Get out.”

When he was nine years old, NOC began to emit calls many octaves lower than cetacean norm. The haunting, garbled sounds appeared very similar to human frequency speech. Such spontaneity is a first. As you can imagine, dolphins have been taught to mimic human language (along the lines of teaching the apes to sign), but this could be the one of the first instances of a beluga whale taking it upon itself to mock exemplify hominid sounds.

Sure, it’s amazing to hear a whale babble incoherently, but it gets better. Or creepier. Or maybe just closer to home.

Next: A male Asian elephant called Koshik was recorded ‘actually speaking Korean words’. Though his vocabulary is limited, Koshik can clearly be understood by other Korean speakers. It turns out that in the formative years of calf-hood, the elephant was only exposed to humans and human interaction. He was taught several simple commands (which I strongly suspect influenced his lopsidedly “commandy” current vocabulary. “Sit down” and “lie down” make up one third of the words he uses.)

Koshik reproducing the devilry that is human speech. He uses his trunk for the tough bits; namely all of it.

Elephants are consummate mimickers. They sometimes emulate lyre birds and imitate manmade sounds such as car engines. That doesn’t make it any less creepy when you learn that Koshik reproduces his trainers down to their individual voices.

None of this comes natural to these animals by any means. There are plenty of extenuating circumstances that has led to their impersonations. Creating such sounds is obviously well outside what their bodies can produce naturally. A massive elephantine throat and the pitched nasal calls of belugas are hardly suited for the job. Both of the animals have to physically modify their ‘vocal apparatus’ to get the job done.

Koshik substitutes his trunk for mobile human lips. And it works startlingly well. He’s able to reproduce tone and enunciation to a degree that is unreal.

NOC had to increase the pressure in his nasal cavity to get it right. He over-inflated a few key elements of his anatomy (which doesn’t sound comfortable by any means) to reduce the pitch of his regular, screeched calls.

There’s a long distance between imitations and actual full-fledged language, of course. It’s a stretch between “Polly want a cracker” and “Hey, want me to drop by the local market for some chips?” But the implications are there. I thrive on implications.

Earth is changing around us. Storms are gettin’ bad and I’m ready to head for the hills when the coastline decides a change of scenery would be in order. Our perception of animal intelligence has also changed much over the last few decades. There’s simply a lot more to them than we once thought.

There’s still so much to learn. I hope we can stick around for the coming golden age in animal communication. Hell. Wouldn’t it be awesome to be part of the creation myth of the future elephant civilization?

*By “high-profile” I of course mean; candidates for sentient intelligence, or; our replacements.

Bow To Your New Overlords: Cats

It seems I’ve got felines on the brain lately, what with the recent passing of a lifelong pet that stretched away into the annals of my childhood. I’ve been coping pretty well, I’d wager; and was even faced with something you might call heartwarming very recently– But more on that later. For now it seems like I’ve got some more healing to do. What are blogs for but to be used as the tools for writer-ly expression? Or just plain venting.

It’s time to focus on a new series that I pulled out of thin air. In Overlords, we’ll focus our speculative powers on what species might take the mantle of world dominators from us. When we pass the buck, who will be there to scoop up the pieces? It’s all tongue-in-cheek, but I’m sure that’s just a defense mechanism for all the hypothetical drivel I purvey.

“On your knees!” Complements: akreon

First up we have domestic cats, in all their aloof, love-em-or-hate-em glory.

When they inevitably usurp us, what would become of those conniving fuzzballs? Evolution would unquestionably have its way. Ah, evolution: the speculator’s whore. You could branch off into a million-trillion directions. Or you could if you were a mental case like me.  But what does popular culture have to offer on the subject?

Humanoid cats in spec fiction and fantasy are a literal dime a dozen. They clog books and video games so much, you’d think everyone would get sick of the hair-balls. I even covered a game that chronicles an adventure across a whole planet of ‘em, and Outwardbounder is still causing birthing pangs! But as per our mission statement, what might future cats evolve into? We’re talking felis catus here.

The undeniable authority on the subject #Tongue-To-Cheek Alert# can be found in the British television series, Red Dwarf. One of the characters is actually a super evolved descendent of the protagonist’s pet. When Dave Lister is accidentally left in suspended animation for millions of years, his pregnant cat Frankenstein gives birth to a whole race of (suspiciously) humanoid catpeople.

The Cat. Pinnacle of interstellar feline evolution.

An entire culture and religion is sprung up around Lister and his pie-in-the-sky plans to retire to Fiji. The show really tears society a new one and is a marvel to behold. As for Cat, (capital c) he becomes the recipient of all of humanity’s stereotypes about felines. Fashionable, uncaring, cool… he’s got it all. The Cat has maintained the most elaborate, funny, and original origin story for any comedy series that I’ve ever seen. Hell, I might go as far as “any sci fi series, period.”

But now we’re getting ahead of ourselves. How would it all start? What would go down in the first place? Some might argue that they’d need thumbs. Others have presented scenarios where humans personally uplift animals through diabolical technology.

In the bloody and beautiful comic We3, a group of fluffy animals have been engineered into competent killing machines. Things take a turn for the heartfelt when the robotic creatures break free and are hunted down by the military. Naturally, throughout the story, characters remark at how viciously proficient the cat appears to be.

There’s something hauntingly plausible about humanity falling because of its own hubris. Evolution made cats into perfect killing machines. Might humanity push the scale even further? Or would we just end up with this?

I could see something like this eradicating all mankind…

How might our Overlords view us? Would they stamp us out completely with no remorse, or perhaps; would they see something of themselves in us? Strangely enough, this might not be completely speculative. In 1999, scientists at the University of California studied how neurons fired inside cat’s brains. They managed to project the data picked up by their retinas onto screens; effectively revealing what the cats were seeing.

As amazingly cool as eye-cameras and dream recorders would be, the study did manage to pick up a snippet of delicious spec fodder on the side. When it viewed a human face, the cat seemed to interpret it in its own felid-centric way. Check this amazing video and judge for yourself.

And there you have it. Cat Overlords, though maybe not completely terrifying, present a particularly wide array of possibilities to ponder. Be it your typical Man Vs. Kzin laser weaponry genocide-fest, or your slow and calculating tabby on a windowsill, you never can tell just how they’ll pounce and steal the stage from under us. Somehow, you wouldn’t put it past them. It’s something about that cold and distant stare. The purr is just to lull you into a false sense of security.

As George Carlin once put it, you can’t really relate to cats like you can with dogs. Cats don’t have eyebrows. Cats have a bunch of shit sticking out of their head.

Sherlock Crowlmes and the Case of the Threatening Stick

Maki over at Sci-ence.org has come up with another funny and informal comic about ingenious animals. Crows are amazing, and their intelligence appears to be on-par with that of apes in some regards.

Sci-ence is jam-packed with riotous works like Caw-sal Reasoning, so check them out.

We’ll have to stay tuned to see what befalls Crowlmes when he faces of with Magpieiarty at Reichenbeak Falls!

Ape Pulp: Never Enough Guns

Complements: Devilpig

They’re all over the damn place. Saved on DVR’s, hidden as graffiti in video games, and lurking between the pages of comic books… It seems that monkeys packing arms are something of a trend. As niche as the concept may be… there must be something to the phenomenon.

Is it self-projection?

Is it the sheer comedic spectacle?

Some find it ridiculous, while others can hardly imagine anything cooler. It’s true; nothing straddles the line of sheer lunacy and utmost awesomeness quite like the sight of a primate with a .45. Something about the promise of impending chaos, mixed with that clownish ineptitude. It’s hard to describe. (As much as I support the right for our primate cousins to bear arms — in fiction, IN FICTION! — I veer dangerously into cynicism whenever I see the stereotypical “infant chimp” with weapons. Call it a pet peeve.)

To some, monkeys and weapons go together like peanut butter and chocolate; or bacon and eggs; or potassium nitrate, charcoal and sulfur. You have a potent yet very volatile mix. It’s so easy to get the cocktail wrong, and end up sinking into a realm of absurdity from which there can be no redemption.

Thankfully this hasn’t stopped writers and directors from taking the risk and putting some very satisfying creations out there for all of us to enjoy. From the iconic Planet of the Apes gorillas with rifles to Chim Chim and his slingshot, it’s hard to refute ape entertainment value. And with that argument, I claim that as a genre, the aptly called Ape Pulp has something to offer that you might not find anywhere else. Ape pulp is great. We need more of it. And thankfully, all you really need to do is look.

Weaponized primates have been around for a surprisingly long time. And they’re still going strong today. Ape pulp is a ‘backwoods’ genre, but its surprising versatility; science fiction, fantasy, thriller, even western applications throw it right across the board. You can be scared by them, or you can laugh at them (Hell, you might even learn from them i.e those damn dirty apes). As long as you are entertained by them, what else could you ask for.

Here are two pieces of literature that have surfaced recently. The first, an older example of the genre. If they’re still alive, the author probably didn’t ask for the reminder.. but the rest of us should thank the internet gods for the millionth time. Gotta love when gems like this emerge.

O’Neil the ‘cowboy’ gorilla.

First off, we have a typical western tale fleshed out with the unlikeliest of heroes. Six-Gun Gorilla appeared in the British paper Wizard, and was published in 1939. It featured a vengeance driven (you guessed it) gorilla named O’Neil, complete with six-shooter, bandolier and holster as he terrorized the men who killed his master; adventuring across the old west.

Recently, Jess Nevins has published the entire saga on his website as the property became public domain. Click here after you pick your jaw off the floor/stop laughing hysterically.

Next we have a comparative newcomer on the ape pulp scene. Ack-Ack Macaque was a work of short fiction by Gareth L Powell. Published in Interzone, the story was quickly voted as reader’s choice story in 2007. The story was about a (right again) spunky one-eyed, cigar chewing macaque. It was set in a divergent future full of zeppelins and automatic weapons.

A fully realized novelization is currently being written by Powell, and should appear early next year thanks to Solaris Books.

Ack-Ack and friends.