SMELLS

The Romancier’s Guide to Netflix, Part II

I admittedly neglected Netflix for a period of almost a year after I signed up for a Disney+ subscription. I find myself having no regrets about that year of neglect whatsoever. The Mandalorian alone was well worth the price of admission.

…and that was just the appetizer.

Just before that year started though, there was one Netflix original series which stood out for me as a must-see. Still streaming as of the time of this writing, last time I checked. The Midnight Gospel. Co-created by Pendleton Ward, best known as the man who gave us Adventure Time.

The series follows the adventures of a “spacecaster” (something vaguely similar to a podcaster) who lives in a trailer in a rural area of some alternate (virtual?) reality resembling a hybrid of a Roger Dean painting and the titular ringworld of that old Matt Damon flick Elysium. He has two live-in companions: a white Tibetan terrier(?) who has a portal to the vacuum of space in her belly for some reason (frequently used as a garbage disposal), and a sentient computer system called the Universe Simulator that takes up about half the trailer, like a psychedelic non-evil version of HAL 9000. One with a distinctive triangular touchscreen, and a peculiar five-foot-tall pear-shaped component with a vertical orifice in the side of it, where the spacecaster inserts his head.


…which looks something like a…

Upon merging with the simulator, the spacecaster is taken to some virtual planet where he assumes a non sequitur physical form that differs significantly from his usual guise (e.g. a giant chicken, or man with a fishbowl for a head). He interviews a local resident of said planet, whose appearance is more often than not more bizarre than his. Some heavy philosophical concept is always the topic of the interview, usually one rooted in Buddhism or Eastern mysticism in general, although earth-based magick and mystical varieties of Christianity are also touched upon.

The interview topics frequently take a back seat to the visuals, however. The Midnight Gospel employs the same zanily surrealistic animation style that characterizes Ward’s more well-known series. A series that made quite an impression on me when I first saw it. I was visiting a friend of mine in London one eventful long weekend (not the British capital, but a Canadian city that was named after it) who owned an unusually large smoking implement I have affectionally dubbed Bongzilla. Unfortunately I didn’t take a picture of Bongzilla, because those were quainter times before I started carrying a smartphone. But she was a sight to behold nonetheless. As tall as a petite woman, requiring two people to operate her, her mouthpiece more like a facepiece. Ripping her but once produced one of those intense existential highs that all but convinces the experiencer they’re due to drop dead from a heart attack any second. It was in that kind of mental state when I was first exposed to Adventure Time, courtesy of the same friend’s DVD collection.  



My mind was blown clean off when that DVD started playing. I was transported to a world that seemingly had its own laws of physics, inhabited by strange creatures who had evolved to inhabit that world. Some of those creatures had an ethereal quality to them, others were not so much creatures as they were collective intelligences. The fact that it was as hilarious as all shit was just icing on the cake. I wasn’t sure whether to be awed or amused. I got that same kind of vibe from The Midnight Gospel, although it’s a different kind of awe and a different kind of amusement. Compared to the animated sitcom format of Adventure Time, The Midnight Gospel is more like a podcast with pictures. But what pictures! The podcast is pretty interesting to boot.

I’d be lying through my teeth if I were to say that Adventure Time‘s Land of Ooo was in no way influential on the fictional world I created for my own stories. Although I found out the hard way with my last work in progress that throwing strange visuals in there willy-nilly just for the sake of throwing in strange visuals doesn’t really translate to a literary format. Not only does it make for a longer word count, but it also results in the narrative getting bogged down with a lot of unimportant details that ultimately distract the reader from the plot. So I’m taking more of a less-is-more approach with the book I’m writing now. Keep the focus on the story, but include enough incidental references and casual mentions of fictional things to create an overarching impression that the story is not set in our world in the present day. The reader gets the sense that something about the story’s world is off, they’re just not sure exactly what.


The Zen of SILVER BROWN

Ding-Dong, The 🍊❄🤡 Is Dead!

The great comic genius Terry Jones left us earlier this year. In the months since his passing, it dawned on me that a certain re-election bid (you know which one) bore a slight resemblance to one of the more underrated offerings from the mind of a Python — Jones’ hidden gem Erik the Viking. There’s one scene in that movie that never fails to crack me up…


The Zen of SILVER BROWN

The Ultimate Social Distancing Sport

Actual people exist who practice chess as a high science. A few of them I’ve met. In person, to boot. I’m more the other kind of player, though. The kind who play the game strictly for shits and giggles. There’s probably a slight ring of truth to the high science bit methinks, after having played against opponents from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds hailing from multiple countries (ain’t the Internet grand?). This is a truly universal language, like mathematics. No matter what flag they hoist or what tongue their mama spoke or what god(dess)(e)(s) (or lack thereof) they believe in, all the world loves a good chess game.

Not all chess players are created equal, of course. The feeble and weak-minded ones are the least fun to play against. Prone to automatically resign from the game without so much as a moment’s pause the second their queen gets bumped off. Often with all or most of their remaining material intact, like it never dawns on them that other pieces exist aside from the queen. I imagine this person to be of the emotionally brittle type who would go berserk and rob their neighbourhood liquor store at gunpoint if they should happen to lose their car keys.


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Players of a slightly-higher-but-not-the-highest calibre play with the skill and cunning of a master swordsman up until the final moves of the middlegame, when they abruptly quit in disgust after their opponent offs somebody vital to their whole checkmate strategy, like their last rook. These players can handle their stress, but you get that sense they don’t really understand what the game is about. They treat it like it’s a union gig or an office job, refusing to do any task that might endanger them.

The best players are the warriors. The gung-ho ones who never say die and fight until the bitter end. They make up about five percent of all the people I’ve ever played against. In a perfect world, I would always play against a warrior. Alas, a more typical opponent is somebody like the gentleman playing Black in the figure below, who reacted rather whimsically to my checking his king and sentencing his queen to certain doom…


gg_bastard


I don’t always win. Nobody’s invincible. But even when all hope is seemingly lost, I rest on the knowledge accrued through a great deal of practical experience that this game punishes pride almost as ruthlessly as it punishes incompetence. You can eliminate all your opponent’s material and still bugger yourself by getting drunk with power and ending the game in an accidental stalemate. Like this guy did with his five queens…


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