robotnik2004: (Default)
First, I need to apologize to those of you reading this LiveJournal for my wordy and shall we say remedial series of blog posts this week on Playful Historical Thinking. I'm writing those a) to figure out for myself what is worth saying about the topic and b) to find the language to talk about play with an audience whose playing muscles are a little more atrophied. But the people reading this LiveJournal, I'm pretty sure, already get the idea of playing with history without a whole lot of wordy hand holding. Several of you are black belt playful historical thinkers if not world masters.

Which is why I could use your input.

So I know that many of you are familiar with that thing that happens, that pattern recognition / apophenia / confirmation bias thing, when you're doing playful historical research, especially for an RPG you're playing or running or planning to run. You start flipping through books, and Google and Wikipedia, concocting some deranged historical theory, and then suddenly you start finding facts and evidence that are too perfect, that seem to confirm the very goofball theory you just yourself made up! [livejournal.com profile] princeofcairo  has written a bunch of "how to" columns on the subject, Umberto Eco built a whole novel around it, and [livejournal.com profile] mgrasso  seems to have it happen about once every three days.

What I'm trying to do is to concoct some kind of game, activity, or demonstration exercise for a group of, say, 6-12 academics that would in the space of 30 minutes or so let them have this experience themselves. Basically I want to turn sober professional historians into paranoid conspiracy theorists. Temporarily.

I thought about giving them a bunch of interesting and allusive historical sources and asking the group to come up with a theory connecting all of them, but I worry that if I choose the sources in advance it will seem like I'm stacking the deck, and they won't get that uncanny "nobody planned this and yet clearly somebody planned this" feeling. At the other extreme, I thought about hitting the Random Page link on Wikipedia a few times and asking them to connect all the things that come up--but the random pages on Wikipedia can be extremely random and farflung and it's quite possible they could not be connected. I also wonder if it would help to frame the exercise inside a mini-roleplaying game, but that's a level of artificiality that my audience just might not go for. Maybe I should just run a session of InSpectres?

Anyway, that's my current conundrum. And I know your playful historical kung fu is extremely advanced. Any ideas, suggestions, warnings, conjectures?
robotnik2004: (Default)
IT IS THE END OF TERM and I continue to totally lazy-Web my own job. Still, there's an interesting anecdote in it for you about magic and spies.

A student of mine writes the following in an email. He irritatingly neglects to name the book he's talking about.

Magic, Mulholland, and MK-Ultra )
So, there are people on this f-list who know their CIA history, and their magic history, and lots of other things besides. Can I get a ruling on how for real any of this is? How about suggestions in general as to books on the CIA that are detailed and interesting without being written by kooks? (This latter question comes up a lot when my students are writing papers, actually.)
robotnik2004: (Default)
Does anyone reading this still play any of the Sid Maier Civilization games, or even just have them on their computer?

I posted earlier today about my science & technology course. The first lecture back in January, I'm going to be talking about the industrial revolution and the Needham Question. Crudely put, the Needham Question asks "why didn't the industrial revolution happen in China?" Slightly less crudely put, the Needham Question asks, "why did an industrial revolution happen in England?" Less crudely put than that, the question involves me yammering on about coal deposits and opium and counterfactuals for three hours or so. (There is a twenty minute break.)

So I thought I'd use Civilization as a way of getting in to the question. Not just because you can play out alternate histories where the Sioux get the bomb and the Mongols discover the secret of cheeseburgers, but because I figure I can use the Civ tech tree as a metaphor for technological development, contingency, and determinism. What I'd like to have is a couple of screen shots from Civilization that I can use for slides. I especially want one of the discovery screens that says "Chinese Wise Men Discover the Secret of Industrialization" or however it's worded. But I could also use a handful of images of, say, ironclads putting the hurt on phalanxes, or really anything from the game. I've Googled around and found various screen shot collections but none of the discovery screen for some reason. (Did they drop it from the later versions? I thought I remembered it from Civ 3 but maybe my memory is playing tricks on me.)

If you're wondering why I don't just dig up a copy, reinstall the damn thing, and get the screen shots myself--well, that's a little like asking a former junkie to throw together a heroin kit for old times sake. Anyway, I can certainly get by without the screen shots, or with ones I pull together from the web. But if you were looking for an excuse to kill 36 hours over the holidays...
robotnik2004: (Default)
It's the twenty-fourth* of May,
The Queen's birthday!
If you don't give us a holiday,
We'll all run away!



Happy Victoria Day! Or, as Canadians of more republican sympathies call it, "May Two-Four." *Even though this year the actual May Two-Four has been annexed by Memorial Day weekend and so is being observed on May One-Nine instead. Confusing.

Perhaps some of you have noticed me piping up in the comment pages of your LiveJournals recently and surmised that the school year must be over. It's true, this is the time of year I go from being grossly overmatched by my duties to just mostly overmatched. In that spirit, I'd thought I might write up a bunch of Alternate Queen Victorias to mark the day. But I'm out of practice, and inspiration eludes me. So I throw it open to you, my clever friends. Alternate / Eliptonical / Secret / Weird Victorias. What springs to mind?

If that question doesn't grab you, here's another one. How might you go about illuminating / eliptonizing / secret historicizing the War of 1812? There's no shortage of Napoleonic weirdness, but I don't know if I've ever seen anything on North America's 1812. Any suggestion on books to check out or promising historical nuggets to begin with? Just something I'm playing with in my head.
robotnik2004: (Gilligan)
This is mostly directed to [livejournal.com profile] bryant, though maybe somebody else has answers also:

[livejournal.com profile] themoniker's post today, in which Umberto Eco weighs in on the great game between zeppelins and bicycles (!), inspires me to ask: are all the various wikis & lexicons lost when innocence.com exploded gone for good? Are recovery efforts truly "in progress"?

I know Unknown USA was retrieved and hermetically sealed and I'm grateful for that. But I don't have any other copy of my For Want Of A Nail contributions or any of the Dungeon Majesty wiki, and that makes me sad. Even if you don't want to repost/rehost all that stuff (and I can totally understand if you don't feel like weeding the spam off five-year-old wikis until the end of time) is it in any retrievable form that you could send to me? What I'd really like in the short term is "Gernsblack," but the other stuff would be nice to have too.

Will gladly repay with some kind of old-style nostalgic gaming post: an episode guide for the first season of that 1970s Warren Zevon inspired Buffy game you once proposed? five unknown deleted scenes from Unknown USA? my requisite Lost rip-off (nb: cannot guarantee it involves miniaturization)?

Lazy Web

Jun. 15th, 2007 09:21 pm
robotnik2004: (Default)
Anyone have a link to that Photoshopped picture that went around a while back with George Bush and his cronies seemingly playing D&D around a White House conference table? Google keeps finding the wrong kind of Bush pictures.
robotnik2004: (Default)
So I recently read this book: The Cult of Alien Gods: H.P. Lovecraft and Extraterrestrial Pop Culture, by Jason Colavito. Colavito is an alternative archaeology debunker - he writes articles and runs a website dedicated to discrediting/debunking von Daniken style theories of ancient astronauts and UFO cults and the like. More power to him--didn't I make von Daniken a baddie in my retro-pulp game?--though I'm not convinced that a few nutbars appearing on In Search Of in 1976 constitute "the demise of the Western rationalist idea itself."

Anyway, the argument of his book is this: that our man Lovecraft was the originator of the ancient astronauts meme. Not that H.P. believed in alien astronauts, just that Lovecraft's fiction is where the idea came from: that nobody else before him had floated the idea, in fiction or non, that alien astronauts visited Earth in the distant past and spawned myths of ancient gods. My first instinct was to call bullshit. Surely somebody, some Blavatsky-style Theosophist or Donnelly-style catastrophist or Moonbat-style hoaxer cooked this idea up before the 1920s? But I realized I don't actually know of any. Maybe he's right? If only I had some friends who knew a thing or two about Lovecraft, or old pulps and fantastic fiction, or just general weirdness... Any thoughts, folks?

Whether or not you buy that central argument, the book's a breezy enough history of ancient astronaut hokum. The main part that was unfamiliar to me was the French connection: Colavito pinpoints two French writer-fans, Louis Pauwles and Jacques Bergier, as the missing link between Lovecraft in the 1920s and the von Daniken types in the 1960s and 1970s, and also the point where the ancient astronaut meme jumped the rails from fiction to alleged non. I can't say it didn't make me want to run a game about French New Wave-style filmmakers in Paris 1959 delving into Les Choses Qu'On N'est Pas Censé Pour Savoir. Kind of a Jean-Luc Godard meets Jacques Cousteau thing: The Life Eldritch with Steve Zissou?
robotnik2004: (Default)
I’ve been talking about moving away for so long now, you might be starting to wonder if I’m ever going to leave. How does that Ben Folds song go? “We thought he was gone, but he’s come back again, last week it was funny, but the joke’s wearing thin.”* But D-Day, or M-Day, or L-Day, whatever, is Sunday, June 26th, two weeks and three days from today. Last night I was informed between great crashes of thunder and wuxia human sacrifice that I’d better get on the ball in organizing some kind of social event before I go.

I don’t really want to throw a party for myself. I feel weird doing that, and it puts a lot of pressure on one night. What are the odds I’d get all the people I’m going to miss so much (that's you) lined up in one place on one day? But I really do want to see you all before leaving. I guess what I’d like best is to plan one semi-official night at Doyle’s or some similarly low-key establishment with all you Ephemeral Circus / LJ / gamer / etc. friends. And then to also make it to as many other outings as possible in the next two weeks. And if any of you want to invite me over to your homes or anything else before I go, well, that would be swell too.

So, when should that semi-official shindig be? Assuming we wanted to do something on a weekend night, I have just three weekends left and one of them is tomorrow. I had thought next weekend (the 17th or 18th) would be the best one, but that got disgruntled mutterings last night. So I guess I have to do the poll thing. I hate this because I know I should have done this a month ago and many of you are already pretty booked up and there’s going to be like three positive responses and the little red “poll result” bars will look soooooo pathetic. So, with all that sexy self-confidence out of the way...

[Poll #509509]

And like I say, keep me posted on other things that are going on. Like this guerilla croquet thing. I don't actually think I'm the core demographic for it—at least I doubt I can do Edwardian—but I can't even decipher from the six posts about it what day it is on.

*And yeah, I am making plans already to revisit Boston this summer. I can't stay away from you, giant sandwich.
robotnik2004: (Default)
Today is my last day at the Academy. A year goes by fast when it's only nine months long. What a great, great experience it's been. Odd coincidence department: [livejournal.com profile] allegedly had a job interview at the Academy yesterday. I think I may have seen her in the morning, looking professional and bobbed, and managing not to look too intimidated by the humongous portrait of John Adams they left her sitting under. So, digits are crossed for her. Fitting if she got the job just as I was packing up. One enters, one leaves. That's the Circle of Life, isn't it? Whatchacallit, Hakuna Rwanda.

I have exactly one month left in Boston. Today is May 27, and I'm going to drive to London in advance of our stuff on June 27 or 26. Which is, coincidentally, when it is scheduled to stop raining. (HEY-O!) Since it's Friday, I'm going to make like [livejournal.com profile] rollick and do a fill-in-the-blank:

One thing [livejournal.com profile] robotnik should definitely do before leaving Boston is ___________.

Comment below. I welcome suggestions of restaurants or museums or bars or spots you love, activities you feel are quintessentially Boston, invitations to parties or social events or games (but no, I'm not running Starchildren), or just orders to return things I've borrowed over the years. Help me make the most of my last month here!
robotnik2004: (Default)
[Poll #450423]

BE HONEST! Or try to lie convincingly. We're all friends here.

Edit: Hmm. I think, based on the time that usually elapses between a post and its comments, some of you might be deceiving yourselves. No shame in that. I know I'd rather read what all of you are up to than work on the paper I'm presenting in Delaware next week. But I've been procrastinating a lot lately and I'm going to try to segregate my working and email/LJ/weblog time much more strictly in future.

Related Links:

Death Star

Feb. 20th, 2005 09:51 am
robotnik2004: (Default)
So NSTAR was working on the power lines in our neighborhood on Friday night, and there was a scheduled power outage in the middle of the night. But there must have been some kind of a surge when the power came back on, because my desktop, which was off, and which has what I thought was a pretty hefty surge protector on it, turned itself on and apparently cooked its brains. It won't boot up now, it just freezes on the Windows welcome screen. I tried the limited repertoire of tricks I know: booting in Safe Mode and booting from the original Windows disks, but those just brought me to different screens to freeze on.

We had to be out the door on our way to Canadia (where I am now) and so I had to leave my baby in its busted state. Which felt like leaving a sick child; I fretted about it for most of the drive to Westport, thinking of all the things on my hard drive that aren't backed up anywhere else. (Oh, except for when we got caught in a blizzard on this crazy little back road near Booneville, New York, and I fretted about crashing the car and freezing to death.) Anyone have any ideas or advice on how to resurrect the thing, or at least retrieve my data? Or, if your only advice is to take it to a professional, anyone have any place or person they particularly recommend? It's a Gateway (yeah, I know) if that makes a difference, its warranty long since expired.

Edit: "It was the invisible pixies. They roll like that sometimes."
robotnik2004: (Default)
What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.
Herbert Simon, way back in 1971

When I admitted to [livejournal.com profile] jeregenest that I still haven't read word one of the Harry Potter books or seen any of the movies, this poll occurred to me. There's actually a number of geek culture touchstones that have slipped by me. Not because I'm avoiding them, just because I haven't gotten around to them yet. But time and attention are scarce: so I invite you to help me be a better, more efficient geek in 2005. (I've given you check boxes rather than radio buttons, but please use them judiciously. If you just click on everything, you haven't made my life much easier at all.)

[Poll #412488]

Thank you for your support.
robotnik2004: (Default)
There's lots and lots I could or should be posting about, but may never get to. Including, in reverse chronological order: A send-off dinner last night for two friends moving to Chicago, who will be greatly missed, though they don't read LJ, so why go into it... A great weekend visit from my long time amigos Sean and Chris, very fun and very much appreciated. And they do read LJ, as [livejournal.com profile] sneech515 and [livejournal.com profile] gammafodder, so thanks again for coming down, guys... Starchildren last week, but alas (for me) no Age of Paranoia... Another great weekend in Toronto... A very relaxing week at Wolf Lake (is there any other kind?)... The Canadian Election and the Westport (pop. <700) Pride Parade... Enough books to keep you in ARFFF! posts for the rest of the summer...

But before I get to all these topics, I need to canvas you, the Robot Army, for advice, server space, and carpentry tools:

1. One of my modest goals for this summer is to step into the mid-1990s and finally get around to constructing my academic self a website. Just the standard job hunt stuff: CV, conference papers, maybe a weblog that is only partially devoted to alien funketeers. Anyone have advice on domain name providers, web hosting, and weblog software? I know this has been hashed out before by many of you.

2. Do any of you in the Boston area have a plane I can borrow? The shaving-down-wood tool, not the flying vehicle. Another of my modest goals for this summer is to start working through the list of minor home repairs I made when I first moved in to my place in September 2001. What can I say, I must have gotten sidetracked by 9-11 and the War on Terra. But now the Iraqis are living happily ever after with full sovereignty and all, I can at last get back to painting the trim in the living room and fixing that sticking door on the liquor cabinet. So: anyone have a plane?
robotnik2004: (Default)
Many thanks to you, LiveJournal readers, for:

1. Loading me up with punchy quotes about "cyberspace" and the "information superhighway." Don't you love my facility with those cutting edge buzzwords?

2. Many fine username suggestions. I went with [livejournal.com profile] robotnik as you can all see—the faux Russian was just too fun to pass up. But there were many gems suggested, with King Robo and Robautry probably my favorite also-rans. Your friends lists have all changed my alias over automatically—if you do happen to have some manually typed link to me as kingfloyd somewhere, I believe it will only work for another couple of weeks.

3. Making that D&D club picture our most commented post evah. Hee hee. The past is funny.

I'd like to catch you all up on what's been going on in my life, but it's mostly job market stories, and it's probably not a good idea to post those. Suffice to say my immediate future remains in a Schroedinger's Cat-like state of uncertainty.
robotnik2004: (Default)
There's a nice quote by William Gibson that goes something like: "Every technology has two uses—what it says in the instruction manual and what people actually do with it." Except he says it better than that. I need to use it, or something like it, for a course catalog blurb, but I can't remember where it came from or how it goes exactly. (Googling has not yet revealed it. I eagerly await the search engines of the future, the ones that will let us enter queries like "what was that website, you know, with that guy, the one where he like, said some stuff, about that thing?")

Can anybody point me to that quote OR to any other similar quote by someone sort of hip and cyber-sexy? It can make the same point or the opposite point or something totally different, as long as it is about technology, especially communication technology, or social and technological networks, and what we do with them or how they change us. Ideally, it would come from someone with some cyber-geek-sci-fi cred like Gibson or Neal Stephenson or Bruce Sterling or Cory Doctorow or Douglas Rushkoff or Howard Rheingold or, hell, Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. (I don't think I'll bother providing URLs for Jobs or Gates.) Like I say, it's for a course catalog blurb, but the key is, it has to put geeks in seats. Think Sexy! Proactive! Synergy! In Your Face! Like Poochie, but Better!

My eternal gratitude and/or crazy loving, as desired, awaits you.

Edit: That was fast. [livejournal.com profile] mcroft, who I don't think I even know, got it in one: "The street finds its own uses for technology." There's yer power of social networking technology right there, true believers! Funny how far that was from what I thought I remembered. But I'm STILL canvassing the rest of you for more quotable quotes in this vein. Plenty of eternal gratitude and/or crazy loving to go around!!
robotnik2004: (Default)
Lots of anniversaries today. Eighty-five years ago, the Great Powers signed an Armistice ending the First World War.



Tangent #1: I was walking around Harvard today wondering why nobody was wearing poppies. Do people not wear poppies on Armistice/Veterans/Remembrance Day anymore? Or, is it just a British Empire thing and it's taken me EIGHT YEARS HERE to notice they don't do it in the U.S.? Jeez, absent-minded professor much?

Tangent #2: The difference between the phrase "War to End All Wars" and the phrase "War on Terror" (sorry, "Terruh") is that one war had been over for several years before its nickname started sounding hollow and pathetic.

But enough prattling on about all that... let's talk about me!

Four years ago today, I asked Lisa out for our very first date. (Four years ago yesterday was the party at which we met, so in calling her the next day I was moving much more quickly than my romantic MO prior to that point would indicate. I do in fact know a good thing when I see it.)

And one year ago today, I posted the first throat-clearing little entries in this LiveJournal. Which is actually the point of today's post. Let's see. In one year, I appear to have made 71 journal entries. That strikes me as a fairly anemic rate of posting. 71 entries is about what [livejournal.com profile] bryant or [livejournal.com profile] mizalaina will generate in a fortnight.

Of course, I'm a busy, busy lad—and handsome, and well-dressed, too—but aren't we all? I'd like to think that I can come up with clever things to say, at least when I've gotten a good night's sleep. But I don't think I've fully embraced the Zen of weblogging, the proper "throw it at the Internet and see what sticks" abandon, the "if you write it, somebody will care." I'm always nixing entries before I write them, thinking "aw, nobody wants to read about that."

So what have those seventy-one posts been about? To quote an obscure but humorous television program featuring a family of jaundiced wisecracking urchins:

Bart: "Grandpa, why don't you tell us a story? You've led an interesting life."
Abe: "That's a lie and you know it!! But I have seen a LOT of movies..."

Or, in my case, "I have read a LOT of books..."

What can I say. My life does not generate a lot of thrilling LJ-able drama. Note: That is not a complaint. I'm an even-tempered guy. I don't have many rants in me. I'm far too happily married to generate dating drama a la (for example) the Accordion Guy's entertaining if often highly protracted serializations of his romantic misadventures. (He's an old college crony of mine, I kid because I love.) And I don't party enough or in hip enough area codes to do my man Gamma Fodder's atomic raver about town thang. L&I do go out fairly often for young marrieds—he said, defensively—we just don't stay out very long when we get there. I could write about my work, of course, but is the world really craving a weblog about the competitive era in early telephony? I don't have coworkers or even a commute to bitch about. I'm not writing a novel this month. I usually avoid comment on current events until I've had a century or so to gain perspective. And I firmly believe what my mother told me as a child: "Robbie, nobody cares about your dreams."

Thing is, I quite like reading all that stuff in everybody else's little cyberdiaries. Just can't bring myself to do it yet.

So this week, I'm going to take requests. What would you like to see in this space? More books? More gossip? More gaming? More chimps? Alternate history? Actual history? Personal history? Nothing at all, thanks? Should I dish about the people on my Friends list? Shall I remember/concoct embarrassing stories out of my past? Interested in what I had for lunch? Would you like to see my Which Carol Burnett Show Cast Member Am I? quiz results? Want to know how I would improve The Rockford Files if it were up to me? Should I regale you with tales of my job search? Maybe keep a running FOAD count in one corner? Want to hear about my hat for D02? Would you like to hear about the competitive era in early telephony? Or the social construction of technological systems? Want me to tell you just what the fuck your problem is? Now's your chance.

Anyway, thanks for reading. We know you have choices when you surf around reading stupid shit on the web and we value your support.
robotnik2004: (Default)


Are you the best crack team of culture vultures on the internet, or are you the best crack team of culture vultures on the internet? It takes a certain kind of person to answer a goofball query like "What was the first cowboy zombie?" with straight up answers like:

[livejournal.com profile] jeregenest: "I instantly think of Lucio Fulci's work in the late 1970s when it comes to westerns and zombies."
[livejournal.com profile] ratmmjess: "I could get a good article out of that, if I had the resources to investigate it thoroughly."
[livejournal.com profile] ivan23: "This, good sir, is a worthy quest for such as we."

Plus Chris T representing with his beloved super-apes, and Sean D stepping up to suggest EC Comics (of course!), and not one person even suggesting that this is a ridiculous question to ask, let alone get worked up about. I tell ya, the Planetary field team's got nothing on my Friends list.

Now, then. Chris' sick obsession with hot clockwork-on-corpse porn notwithstanding, he is right to remind us that there may be no single smoking zombie. The super-ape phenom is a good sister example of the sort of thing we're talking about: a visual trope that's practically a cliche within the subculture and practically unknown without. (Although, was the super-ape boom really in the 1960s? I would have guessed it was the early 1970s, ie post Planet Of The Apes. Which could then have provided the Ur-Super-Ape. Obviously intensive further study is in order. And funding for same. Quickly, to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada!)

[Edit: Intensive further study has been completed, and Chris was right, I was wrong. The Ape Age of Comics apparently dates all the way back to the 1950s.]

"Hey, I heard we're going to Ape Island!"
"Yeah, to capture a giant ape. I wish we were going to Candy Apple Island instead."
"Candy Apple Island? What've they got there?"
"Apes. But they're not so big."


All that said, I'm certainly prepared to give the first horror western award to the mighty Robert Howard, especially on the double say so of Jess & Jere. (The other "Jess," and Jere, that is.) But my guess is we probably won't find many bona fide cowboy zombies in the 1930s pulps, because I don't think (but please do correct me if I'm wrong) the zombie qua zombie was really realized in pop culture until a few decades further along. When Val Lewton made I Walked With A Zombie in 1942, to most people "zombie" still meant "doped up Haitian" rather than "brain eating corpse." I think.

Sean might just win the cookie for his suggestion of pre-Frederick Wertham EC Comics. Not as the originator of the horror western, surely, but as a key vector that burned the image of the cowboy zombie—the dessicated corpse, the snaggly teeth, the tattered Confederate uniform—into the soft little brain tissue of the baby boom kiddies who grew up to seed it all over our culture.

Say, that reminds me. There's a cowboy zombie story in the McSweeney's / Michael Chabon Treasury of Thrilling Tales by none other than Sherman Alexie. It's as nasty and moralistic as any of the EC Cryptkeeper's yarns, and simultaneously one of the most straight-up genre pieces and one of the most memorable stories in that oddball collection.
robotnik2004: (Default)
Howdy, pardners. Hunker down by the campfire, I got a serious question for y'all:

Cowboys and zombies. What gives?

I was reading this book, see, Zeppelins West, by the hyper-prolific Joe Lansdale. Nothing to write home about, just your basic weird western alternate history with cowboys and zombies. Well, it does feature gay sex between Frankenstein's Monster and the Tin Man of Oz, and Buffalo Bill Cody's disembodied head floating in a jar. One of my basic rules of life is, you damn well better read or watch anything that features a living disembodied head floating in a jar. Not sure where my basic rules of life come down on hot tin-man-on-reanimated-monster action.

Anyway, cowboys and zombies. Zombies and cowboys. Within the circled wagons of geek culture, it's a recognized trope, right? Even a cliché? Jonah Hex, Tex Arcana, Deadlands.... Apparently the Dust Devils RPG took Gen Con by storm last year in part because it was "a western without zombies," and people found that so refreshing.

Lisa asked me what I was reading, and I told her, "just your basic weird western alternate history, with cowboys and zombies." And Lisa says, "Anon?" Which is old western talk for "What the hell you talking about, Mabel?" (See the novels of James Fenimore Cooper if you don't believe me.) Never mind what Entertainment Weekly tells you, la culture de la mainstream and la culture du geek are not yet interchangeable.

But all this leaves me cogitating. Where did this mini-genre of weird westerns—and specifically, of cowboys and zombies—come from in the first place? How far back does it go? Tex Arcana was in Heavy Metal in the 1980s. Jonah Hex was a DC comic character in the 1970s, but I think back then he was pretty much just a Clint Eastwood Man With No Name pastiche. No zombies that I know of.

Is there a really obvious work I'm missing? The fact that it's always zombies and cowboys—never vampires and Indian braves, or werewolves and grizzled prospectors, or flying polyps and saloon girls with hearts of gold—suggests to me that all these works might have one single pop cultural ancestor among them. The African Eve of cowboy zombies, if you will. Or of zombie cowboys. Whatever.

How about it, geek culture polymaths? [livejournal.com profile] jeregenest? [livejournal.com profile] ratmmjess? Anyone have any ideas?

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