In what became an internet sensation, an ornithologist once wrote about a colony of sparrows who, due to a genetic mutation exacerbated by the founder effect on their small offshore island home, could not sing within the range of other sparrows’ hearing. Forced to inbreed, their population grew smaller and smaller due to infertile eggs and the slow arch of time.

These birds–the “loneliest sparrows on the planet” were the subject of a documentary, a Kickstarter, and even some internet innovations aimed at making their high-pitched songs understandable to mainland sparrows (who could presumably then flit over and add fresh new blood to the isolate population dynamics). But the sparrows proved elusive; the island often varied from description to description, and those islands matching the descriptions often contained no sparrows. Those that did typically featured thoroughly natural birdsong audible to human and bird alike.

There was a reason. The ornithologist’s piece had been a fabrication–they claimed it was a piece of fiction, though they’d had no qualms about basking in the adulation of internet denizens.

The elusive sparrows were in fact illusive sparrows, more a metaphor of the longing of human nature to fit creatures into anthropomorphic narratives than anything else.

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Oh yes, I promised you a puzzle, didn’t I?

Over the last month, I’ve had a bit of fun with this ridiculously pretentious blog. Some of it’s been overt, some of it’s been covert. Look at the various posts I messed with, subtly or in-your-face. There were five, all in the same month and the same year.

So if they were all in the same month and all in the same year, wrap your monkey brain around what digits might serve to distinguish them. D0n’t f0rget the zer0es, naturally, and don’t bother counting this missive–it is, after all, a new month for everyone but the Samoans.

But that’s not quite enough, is it? Numbers are a paltry thing, though I do so enjoy laughing in the face of mathematicians claiming them to be somehow more pure or less relative than the rest of the phlegm coughed up by your psychotic, self-important apes.

No, assuming you can get the right numbers, they need to be incorporated into a URL. I work on FTL fiber-optic ansibles of pure awesomeness, and a URL is a bit like trying to carve quadratics into stone, but it’s a necessary concession to your meager capabilities.

Naturally no ordinary URL will do. I doubt that you can handle anything but an extremely tiny one.

There’s your puzzle then, as promised. If I made it any simpler I’d be spelling it out in mile-high neons, but even so I wonder if even one of you miscreants will solve it.

I’ll be amused regardless. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and be amused by both.

0nes and zer0es,

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Theirs was a world of tranquil waters and still air.

The waters ran to a glassy and infinite depth, and none who had swum deeper than a few breaths had ever returned. Therefore, they did not concern themselves with the depths save for what they could fish from it or the distances one could travel.

The still air was infinite, and rare was the day it was not lit by an even glow that flared and faded at regular intervals. The occasional crimson-tinged clouds appeared on the horizon around sunset, but those who set of in pursuit thereof never returned. Therefore, they did not concern themselves with the skies save what they could catch from it and how long it carried a shout.

Betwixt water and sky were their homes, great orbs of soft and malleable material that bobbed placidly in the waters. The orbs were easily worked, and if carefully laid out to dry pieces of them could be used to make doors or even boats. In time, they were hollowed out, with many generations of the same family sharing a sphere. Subtle tides amid the waters were always bringing together and breaking up groups of spheres, and it was in that way that they spread far and wide.

One of the oldest and hollowest spheres returned from a long sojourn across the drifts with a curious passenger atop its apex: a portal through which a bright golden light continually shone. It was quite unlike the portals they used to enter and exit the bobbing spheres, which were always circular or oblong, and it always remained at the top of the elder sphere even after curious gawkers worked together to turn it.

But, like the depths of the sea and the horizons, those brave few who ventured through it never returned.

However, unlike the depths or the horizons, one day something ventured into their world from the other side.

Inspired by this.

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“What’s your family like?”

“It’s…blended. My grandpa and grandma divorced, and my grandpa remarried and had more kids, so I have three sets of grandparents and a bunch of half-aunts and half-uncles.”

“Three sets? Did your grandma remarry?”

“No, not officially, but she has a…a friend. They’ve been together so long.”

“Aw, that’s cute.”

“Yeah, they’re really cute together. Especially when you remember that he’s shivving her in secret.”

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The lands of Haymet, crossroads between the oasis-hopping trade routes between the vast interior deserts of Rutas and the fertile valleys nearer the its coast, have been fought over for millennia. It was a motley collection of city-states and petty principalities when Islamic invaders swept through the area led by the great emir, and later self-appointed Caliph, Karim Al-Usman. The Usmanid Emirate embraced Sufism to an extent unrivaled elsewhere, and was therefore viewed as schismatic or bid’ah by other emirs and rival Caliphs, each of whom had good reason to covet Usmanid lands.

Haymet was also among the earliest conquests by Hamur, the great unifier of the orcish peoples and promulgator of the Hamurabash code under which most contemporary orcs live. Orcish memory halls are still rife with references to ancestors who fought at the great battles of Alyd, Garyssh, and Al-Khopesh, at which the Usmanid armies were annihilated and the last Emir, Tariq Al-Usman III, was captured and executed.

Hamur therefore inherited lands with a centralized administration and an institutionalized religion. Hamur himself was an atheist and his Hamurabash allowed private worship but harshly punished proselytizing. This was a problem for Haymet in particular, as the new orcish rulers found themselves suddenly in charge of an overwhelmingly human, and overwhelmingly Islamic, population. Hamur took an indulgent route, with relaxed standards on what he considered proselytizing; only areas that resisted the imposition of orcish rule had their imams massacred and their mosques converted for use as orcish memory halls.

After the death of Hamur, betrayed and murdered by his lieutenant Ramuh in his moment of victory at the Battle of the Kyssel Pass, Haymet was ruled by one of the cadet lines of his house headed by his son Aluhamur. In the years that followed, however, the fragmented Islamic rump states on the coast of Rutas were reunited and energized by the Fahimid emirs. The Fahimids launched a series of lengthy assaults on Haymet and gradually brought more and more of it under their control. This resulted in considerable strife on both sides: the orcs who had settled in the areas, as well as humans who had begun adhering to the Hamurabash, discarded Hamur’s tolerant stance and began aggressively seeking to suppress Islam in their territories. For their part, the Fahimids refused to consider adherents of the Hamurabash as Ahl al-Kitab, People of the Book.

As a result, anyone following the Hamurabash in the reconquered lands was viewed not as a dhimmi who was eligible for protection so long as they paid the jizya tax. Instead, such humans were regarded as apostates and orcs as musrikun, idolaters, who were required to convert or face execution. These two stances–the orcish authorities’ increased persecution of Muslims as “proselytizers” and the Fahimids’ insistence on the Hamurabash as apostasy and idolatry–led to an unprecedented slaughter and wave of violence throughout Haymet.

Though the Fahimids managed to conquer 85% of Haymet at one time or another, and counterattacking orcs in turn retook up to half of their former lands in return, the conflict eventually became known to both sides as “the open wound,” inflicting ruinous violence and occupation costs on both the Aluhamurids and the Fahimids. In time, both states collapsed; the increasing desertification of the interior of Rutas ruined the orcish state, which had no solid access to the coast, while the Fahimids fragmented in a series of dynastic struggles and were eventually all but occupied by foreign powers.

But the “open wound” of Haymet remains–a patchwork of orcs and humans, Hamurabash and Hadith, both hardened by centuries of warfare and massacres on both sides. Rivers of ink have been spilled over who was in the wrong, who was the aggressor, and who ultimately owns the rich and fertile lands of Haymet. One thing remains certain, though: it remains both a focal point and a sore spot in relations between the largest factions of orcs and humans on the continent of Rutas.

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White white. Endless frigid, colorless expanses, its desolation sparkling in crystal. All the more pale, all the more cold, all the more colorless for the few shades that try to color it, snowy white wearing fresh-ground dirt. Endless in all directions, the doom of the ill-prepared.

What’s that? A blizzard? No, I was talking about the Oscars.

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“Over 150 murders, most of them with no known rhyme or reason,” said Special Agent Johnston.

“Sixty-seven prior arrests and sixty-six subsequent psychological evaluations,” added Special Agent Smythe. “Each reporting more complexes, syndromes, and shades of outright insanity than the next.”

The Snickerer, terror of Cityopolis, had been brought to the interrogation cell in a straitjacket and bite mask. Just recently recaptured, he still wore his trademark motley cap and bells, though it had been checked for sarin nerve gas and other explosives. “Thank you,” he chuckled. “I’m touched you’ve been keeping track.”

“Why’d you do it, Snickerer?” cried Special Agent Johnston, pounding the table. “What was it that drove a former chemical engineer to go so bad and commit such acts?”

“I think it’s time you knew the truth,” snickered the Snickerer. “It was…a wooden banana.”

“A what?” spat Special Agent Smythe.

“A wooden banana. I saw one for sale once, and…why? Why would anyone make such a thing? It served no purpose. You couldn’t eat it, and who’d want to display it? It was an object with no rhyme or reason.”

“A wooden banana? Really?” Special Agent Johnston said.

“If something like that could exist…why, then all bets were off. Anything was possible, all rules were repealed, and there was no reason not to do whatever you wanted. If a wooden banana with no purpose could exist, why…the universe was ultimately meaningless.”

“People put them in bowls,” said Special Agent Smythe. “They’re wood so they don’t rot in decorative fruit bowls.”

“Really?” said the Snickerer. “I had no idea.”

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