Tag Archives: inspiration

Great Pop-up books

Last week, I wrote about my own pop-up work. I’ve admired pop-ups since I was a kid, although I had only one pop-up book throughout my childhood. It was called Les Dinosaures and it was in French. I don’t read a word of French, but I examined the book until I shredded it. I suppose after my parents saw the wreck I made of that book, I never got another one until I started buying my own in adulthood. Below are a few of my favorites. As you can see, pop-ups cover any topic, from the literary to the historic to the nerdy. Pop-ups convey wonder and humor. I’d love to hear pop-up suggestions, too!

The White House: A Pop-Up of our Nation’s Home

Hot off the presses, a 2016 pop-up book. In my favorite page, opening a tab opens a curtain, but a photo would hardly do it justice. Little delights abound in this book. I found my copy at the LBJ presidential library in Austin, Texas.

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Moby Dick

I found this lovely pop-up at the Kansas City Art Museum. Their gift shop had dozens of pop-ups, and in a frenzy, I had to choose one. This book has ships with riggings, pull tabs, and twisting whirlpools. It’s cartoonish and I love it.

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Star Wars: A Pop-Up Guide to the Galaxy

I have a habit of finding my pop-up books in strange places; my Star Wars pop-up book came from the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys. The museum contains numerous lovely dollhouses, historic and modern, in southwestern styles, Victorian styles, and more. It’s also full of Star War toys. This pop-up book is so jammed full it can be hard to open. The back panel features Luke and Vader facing off with lightsabers, which light when the page is opened. My favorite page shows Anakin Skywalker in the Vader mask–as you open the page, his face disappears into the mask. A true nerd’s pop-up book.

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America’s National Parks: A Pop-Up Book

Perfect for the 100th Anniversary of the Park System, it’s the National Park pop-up book. This book alternates between pop-up pages and flat pages, which is a great way to fit a little more information into the book. The Yellowstone geyser page is lovely, but so tall it was tough to capture photographically. Appropriately, I got this book at Rocky Mountain National Park.

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Writing prompt: Junk Food Day

Time: 7 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“Junk Food Day” (Inspired by this list of silly holidays.)


The priest reached under the alter. With reverence, he placed three relics before the congregation. Antonia craned to see. She could see them through the plastic, bright yellow and emanating well-being. The packages were adorned with ancient symbols and decorations. Though these decorations had smudged and flaked in places, the contents remained intact. It was through the bountiful blessings of the Hostess goddess.

“Behold,” the priest said, “these relics have passed through the generations to us. And today, we shall share these Twinkies in Holy Communion.”

He recited an incantation, said to be the words of an ancient “commercial,” or a spreading of good will. Antonia recognized some of the words, like “fun for the whole family,” but others, like “snackalicious” were beyond her. The ancient civilization had been so advanced. Her father said they couldn’t have been human, or that they must have had the help of clever aliens. The ancients had built mysterious temples thousands of feet high, and roads hundreds of feet wide that extended beyond the farthest known horizon. Today, they knew so little about the ancients. But on holy Junk Food Day, they tasted the Twinkie and rejoiced. The priest went around, slicing off bits for the devoted.

 

Science fiction worlds and the ancient west

After visiting Chaco Canyon in northwest New Mexico, I read archaeological articles about the region. For a region so full of artifacts, we know little about what life was like. We don’t know what their social structure was. We don’t know why they came to the region around the year 900 or why they left around the year 1300. We think the canyon wasn’t fully occupied most of the year, but archaeologists debate whether the region’s role was more economic or religious. We aren’t even sure if the region could sustain agriculture. There’s plenty of speculation, but little certainty. Events that already occurred can be almost as shrouded and mysterious as the future.

I tried to imagine life at the height of the Chaco culture. Science fiction can be about the extrapolations of technology and travel, but its emotional core explores the human response to extraordinary worlds. The Left Hand of Darkness explores the human response to extreme cold and unusual gender dynamics. A Canticle for Leibowitz explores the response to apocalypse, the assignment of blame, and the attempt to rebuild within poisoned ashes. The Wind-Up Girl looks at human response to bioplagues and the biomechanical future.

Imagining life at Chaco Canyon is arguably more alien than science fiction. Science fiction is written for western audiences with western lifestyles. (This is not a criticism—science fiction is fiction first, and sociology study somewhere down the list.) The social hierarchies are familiar. We quickly understand what is considered important and unimportant. The motivations of characters in science fiction are often less alien to me than customs on our own planet. Russians often find smiling a sign of foolishness. Japanese salespeople so dislike saying “no” that they will ignore the question rather than give such a rude answer. These are tiny examples of different outlooks on life, shadows of structurally different mental organizations. These are cultures extensively connected to my own, living with the same technologies and the same global events. Our very language biases our ability to conceive of and express concepts. Ursula LeGuin explored this concept in The Dispossessed, but of course it is still in English.

By comparison, Chaco Culture is almost Martian; it’s 700 years gone, it was isolated in a draconian environment, and even the statistics of their society are now matters of speculation. But we can infer that they found rhythm and certainty in the sky. They made the Sun Dagger and they aligned so many of their buildings to the patterns in the sky. Reading archaeology felt like holding sand; the very question of whether or not the people grew corn on site was a debate waged hotly across decades. But I could look up at the sky and see their sky.

But even the sky we look upon isn’t their sky. Our planet wobbles like a top, and because of that, our window into the stars slowly shifts. Today, the north star, Polaris, is less than a degree from celestial north. (A degree is about the width of your finger when held at arm’s length.) In the year 1200, Polaris was 5 degrees from north. In 900, it was 6.7 degrees from north. We know the sky that they saw, but it’s different than ours. Add in light pollution, planes, and satellites, and it’s very different.

Unlike the stories of time machines, Chaco won’t ever give full answers. In science fiction, we imagine peeling back the fog of both future and past. The lack of answers is really the motivation, though. Science fiction is an expression of human response to things we can barely imagine. It’s an act of exploration, and Chaco reveals how much there is to explore.

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A map of how the celestial north pole moves with time. I never realized how briefly Polaris had been close to north.

Writing prompt: this day in history, the first Ringling Brother’s Circus

Time: 10 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

This day in history: Ringling circus premier (see this list of Days in History)


Macy heard a low rumbling on the horizon. She continued grinding the grain, staring in the direction of the noise. After a while, an electric humvee came over the horizon. It was painted bright pink and blue and it played a merry tune.

“Dan, come out here!” Macy called.

“I’m not done yet—” her brother protested, for once invested in his chores.

“It’s a circus truck, Dan!” she said.

He ran out, hands still red from handling the meat.

The truck inched forward along the road, the music growing nearer. When it finally arrived, it pulled to a stop.

“Hey kids, have you ever been to a circus?” the man inside said. His face was painted white except for a red nose and blue around the eyes. Macy could see a scar across his lips. His left eye was glass. On the ceiling behind him, she saw a large gun. No doubt he had more closer, but the ceiling one was for show. It wasn’t safe to be a traveling salesman. A desperate man could get a lot for the battery’s in the circus man’s car.

The children shook their heads.

“Well you’re in for a treat!” the painted man said. “Never in human history has there been such a rich display of freaks and oddities. Ringling and Barnum would have blushed to see such things. Fallout and gene wars have finally given back to the human race. We have a two-headed baby, a man-sized venus fly trap, a goat that glows in the dark, and a Christmas Tree with legs.”

Macy stared at the painted man, awestruck and silent.

“Come to Hilldale City on Saturday and see the show in the big red and white tent! Can’t beat some classics! Admission’s just 5 bucks!”

Macy and Dan sagged. Hilldale City. Grandma would never allow it.

Writing prompt: Designer babies

Back in Virginia, our writing group had what we called a Pint and Prompt. A group of friends hit the bar, have a pint, and write for a few minutes on a writing prompt. Then you read your responses to one another. It’s really great to see the variety of responses, and it’s a good time with friends. Recently, they got together and did a Pint and Prompt, and my friend  Keith at Strange Things Done posted his response.  So I added mine, though it’s a bit too early for the pint yet.


Time: 10 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“designer babies”

“Designer babies!?” the headline shimmered in her mind’s eye. She engaged the article and read further. She shouldn’t, she knew. Nothing good ever came from reading media coverage about your own research. The journalists would never understand the science, and accuracy came second to eyeballs. The strategy worked, she mused, as even she was looking at the article.

“The FDA recently approved the so-called Designer Baby program at Johns Hopkins,” the article began innocently enough. Anitra scrolled down through the background, seeking what she knew would be there inevitably. “The program has drawn a number of ethical concerns. It’s hard not to share those concerns. Say you splice in elephant DNA to have a child that will never forget, but then that child will be terrified of mice and always gain weight. Or a child with the DNA of a cat will be lithe and clever, but doomed to be a jerk.

“In seriousness, though, the program raises the question of what it means to be human. If humans and oragutangs share 99.9% of their DNA, how much fiddling will fundamentally rob a child of it’s humanity? The program guarantees fertility and a variety of other qualities in its embryos, but there is no known measure of a soul.”

Anitra mused to herself that it always came down to souls with these people. People who politically wanted to go to war and wanted to punish bad eating habits in children were worried about the godliness of the embryos. It was always just an excuse to muck around past their intellectual depth.

But… well the concern mongering, as ill-informed as it was, she kept reading it because there was something at the edge of her own mind. A concern she couldn’t quite articulate after interacting with dozens of designed children from age 1 to 6. She kept reading these articles because each time she hoped this one would cast the light into the shadow of her mind that she could not see. Alas, not this time.

The delightful illustrations of George Barbier

I am two years into a project of science fiction illustration inspired by Hiroshige’s 100 View of Edo. I’m working on 100 views of Vironevaeh. I’ve completed 75 line art drawings, and am satisfied with 44 of them. It’s a project that ebbs and flows, and I constantly seek new sources of inspiration. The floor of my office is littered with books tabbed with post-it notes—a photo essay of the Koreas, French war illustrations from World War I, a Western photo essay, amongst others. This weekend I found art deco master George Barbier.

I’ve written about my interest in art deco and art nouveau before. (see: Victor Horta’s architecture, Alphonse Mucha’s posters and Walter Crane’s childrens books.) When I found a book of George Barbier illustrations on my shelf, purchased over a year ago, but forgotten in a cross-country move, I found inspiration.

The book is the top Barbier hit on Amazon, though it is mostly in Japanese with some original French. Barbier was one of the top artists in France after World War I, but disappeared largely after his death in 1932, a fate that seems to happen to many of the commercial artists of this period. Blissfully, he is in ascendance, even if the most accessible manifestation at the moment is an unreadable rendition in metallic blue. The illustrations are good enough that that doesn’t matter.

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The book has hundreds of illustrations from what seem like a variety of sources. The impenetrable Japanese let my imagination run wild. Below are just three.

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One inspired me rather directly. Can you tell? Time to take my scattered brain back into the world of inspiration.

 

Writing prompt: A pint and prompt!

Back in Virginia, our writing group had what we called a Pint and Prompt. A group of friends hit the bar, have a pint, and write for a few minutes on a writing prompt. Then you read your responses to one another. It’s really great to see the variety of responses, and it’s a good time with friends. Recently, they got together and did a Pint and Prompt, and my friend  Keith at Strange Things Done posted his response. And once I had a pint, I joined in the fun.


Time: 7 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“She appraised me, canted her head and shrugged apparently disappointed.”


There was something synthetic about the motion, but maybe I was just looking for it, looking for a reason to discount her reaction.

“I know what you’re thinking,” she said. She straightened. She was waiting for a response.

“Oh?” I said, trying to sound coy, but feeling more self-concious than I liked.

“I see it all the time. My kind makes you nervous. Without the veneer of plastic pores and synthetic hair, you can’t dehumanize me.”

“You aren’t human,” I said.

“Which is why you wanted me. I can do things women can’t do.”

I coughed and looked away.

“You want to feel better than your partners. I can give you that feeling.”

“Well, why don’t you? Why haven’t you?”

“Maybe in addition to my hair and my cuticles and my lips, my feelings are less synthetic than the last model too. Maybe it’s shit doing business all day with people that want to take you down a peg.”

I felt bad. It is what I had wanted. “Maybe this isn’t the line of work for you.”

“I got debt. I was made with it. And this pays the bills.” She looked away and undulated her shoulders. She stretched. When she turned to look back at me, her eyes held a different look. It was like a different woman. I could see the hunger in her, calling to me.

Writing prompt: Submarine day

Time: 7 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“Submarine day” (Inspired by this list of silly holidays.  Because St. Pat’s would be too obvious!)


The sub was beginning to stink. It reeked of sweat and mildew. Jansen had been short-circuiting the timer on the air-lock. It was his fault, I knew it. We wouldn’t get fresh air for another month, and the filtration system was already going at max.

Something long and tentacled swam past my window. I knew why Jansen rushed the air-lock—there was something wrong about this planet. The little submarine felt like an oasis in a wet desert, a safe space in a world of monsters. The survey had revealed some large native lifeforms, but our sub, which apparently resembled a good meal, brought them out in numbers we couldn’t anticipate.

But the company said it was alright, and we had signed contracts, so we would stay until the next crew arrived.

Construction was behind schedule. The initial design specs were insufficient in light of the lifeforms in the ocean. If one of the large ones rammed the base, the original design wouldn’t take that.

Another creature, head like a folded umbrella, long like an eel, swam by. Several of its eyes blinked. I wondered if it could see me.

Writing prompt: Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk Day

Time: 10 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“Don’t cry over spilled milk day” (Inspired by this list of silly holidays.)

The warning message on my phone had been accurately dire. Only the charred beams of the house remained. I saw Bella and Sadie out in the yard, doting upon a firefighter with a bag of treats. I pulled up behind the firetruck.

“It’s a total loss, ma’am,” one of the firefighters approached me, bearing forms.

“So the message said,” I sighed. “Do you know what caused it?”

“Electrical short, we think. We won’t know until the simulation results are in, and they run overnight. You probably know what I’m going to ask next.” He looked apprehensive. He glanced at the dogs, and back to me.

“I back up every week,” I said.

He relaxed noticeably. “Thank goodness. You don’t know how many fires I see where the family hasn’t backed up in five years. It’s devastating.”

“I bet.”

“Do you know how to initiate the rebuild?” he asked. I shook my head and he walked me through the process.

“By next week, your house will be back at the state of your last back-up. A few details might be less current, say you hadn’t scanned a closet for a while. The insurance will put you up at a hotel until it’s ready.”

I looked over the ruins of my home, ruins of my memories. In a week, they’d all be back. Maybe not the same piece of paper I’d received at graduation, not the same toy my dogs loved to fight over. But nearly. I sighed.

“Are you all right ma’am? It’s a lot to take in,” the fire fighter said.

“No use crying over spilled milk.”

Writing prompt: create a vacuum day

Time: 10 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“Create a vacuum day” (Inspired by this list of silly holidays.)

 

“Aren’t you the asshole that wiped out Charlottesville?” the woman said, spotting me from across the diner. She walked over.

“Well, technically no, it wasn’t me,” I rubbed my arm. I felt eyes study me from all around.

“Your work then. Whatever. I didn’t think I’d ever see you in person, or at least not without a fake beard.”

“I’m not ashamed of what happened,” I said. “Regretful, yeah, but not ashamed.”

“How do you work that out? Wiping out thousands of homes and businesses because you did something stupid?”

She looked genuinely curious. I was used to being berated. But maybe she would understand. I launched into the speech I’d recited in my head so many times. The speech no one ever let me speak. “Have you ever seen a vacuum chamber setup? A real, scientific one? For trying to create nothing, the suckers are enormous. And chock full of specialized equipment, like pumps that can literally be destroyed if they have to push thousands of atoms rather than tens. Frankly, I thought it was all a mess. I thought I could do better,”

She cocked her head to the side. She looked like she thought I was nuts, but she didn’t look angry.

“It was a wild idea,” I continued. “So wild I didn’t tell my advisor. But I didn’t need to tell him, I had the materials to get it done on the cheap.”

“Yea, yea, yea,” she waved her hand. “You decided to make a black hole in one instead, I watch the news. And trust me, no matter how you tell that part, it won’t sound clever to someone who lost a house to it.”

I looked away. “I can’t do anything about that now. I ran simulation after simulation that looked fine. I still don’t know what happened.”

“You got it wrong.”

“I really don’t think I did,” I said. “And I’m not afraid to be wrong—really, go find my undergraduate biology professor. I don’t have any data, it all got destroyed, but something other than just a black hole happened that day.”

She frowned. “You got it wrong. Apparently you are afraid to admit it. How sad that you can’t even see that.”

She walked away.

“Excuse me,” an elderly woman with a colorful scarf said from a booth nearby. “I can’t help but have overheard your conversation. And I have a theory about what went wrong that I’ve entertained for a while. Are you willing to try to reproduce your experiment?”