Category Archives: The Idea Mill

The Idea Mill #27

It's time to revisit the old Idea Mill. This involves a selection of stories I've gleaned across the Internet, and feel like they could make some great speculative elements in your fiction.

For those who want to kick the Muse a little harder, The Idea Mill is a category in my sidebar. Being as this is the 27th edition, you can probably find something to use in one of your stories.

The first story involves a chemical cocktail that settled over London. The amazing part is that it happened in 1952. There was a smaller event documented in the 1960s.

Basically, it was cold. An inversion settled over the city, and everyone lit their coal stoves. I'm a few years (okay decades) removed from high school chemistry, but I know temperature and pressure can influence the outcome.

I dug a bit deeper, and found where scientists were able to duplicate the process in a lab. It appears the perfect cocktail left behind a cloud of sulfuric acid. Officially 4000 people died, and it may have been as high as 12,000 because not all deaths were immediate. The city officials didn't even know it was happening until the florists ran out of flowers for funerals.

One of the reports that stuck with me involved a movie theatre that gave refunds because the patrons inside the building couldn't see the screen because of the cloud. Read the article here.

I'm shocked that this went on in the 1950s and 1960s. To me this screams steampunk, which calls for a Victorian setting. I'm relatively certain this happened then too, but probably wasn't as well documented.

I don't know about your areas, but inversions happen all over the American West. I think you could probably tailor this to some kind of chemical warfare. It might lend itself to a mad scientist story pretty easily. It might even make a good origin for your superhero story.

Out next story should get filed under the “What Me Worry,” category. It appears that scientists have recovered a 17th century strain of smallpox virus from a Lithuanian mummy. My understanding is the goal is to determine when smallpox first jumped from animals to humans. Read this story here.

Okay, I understand the curiousity of scientists, but I'm an author. What could possibly go wrong? It's my job to make something go wrong. The obvious idea is that an older strain isn't influenced by the vaccine. These things mutate and evolve rapidly. It gets loose and kills people on a global scale before your CDC hero can come up with a solution.

This one can also be the basis for a biological weapons story. It plays right into some kind of zombie tale for those who love them. You can easily change the settings to make things more creepy. Maybe a catacomb type environment where the mummy is discovered.

Finally, we have a dinosaur discovery. This one involves a small Dino called coelurosaurus. Scientist found a tiny section of its tail preserved in amber, and this section has feathers. The feathers aren't flight worthy and it seems like they are more like marabou feathers used in boas. Traces of color are still there, and it seems likely that blood is available too. Here is one of many stories I saw on this one. Link.

Obviously, this could lead right into a Jurassic Park type story. But what if it led to designer pets and a battle for the coolest Christmas present of the year. Add in some militant animal rights people, a patent battle, perhaps a greedy Kentucky Colonel type who thinks they're finger lickin' good, and you have a story.

So part of the Idea Mill shtick is for me to rough out a corny story using all three elements. Let's see what I can come up with:

It's the Christmas season, and colorful coelusaurs are the must have gift of the season. The patent battle is settled, and Dino Labs is mass producing these pets to meet the demand. Meanwhile, across town scientists are researching the ancient strain of smallpox virus. It gets loose on the city, just as the biggest inversion in history descends. The polluted cocktail mutates the virus into something unstoppable. People start dying by the thousands. The coelusars are not completely immune to the disease, they get sick and their eggs are mutated.

Soon the city is overwhelmed with new and nastier dinosaurs, and the humans are too sick to fight back. One brave Kentucky Colonel has a solution, and his solution is finger lickin' good. Eating the Dinos provides an immunity to the virus, but getting one isn't as simple as it sounds. The Dinos think we're finger lickin' good too.

I think that outline fits the traditional bill for these posts. What would you do with one of these elements? Tell me in the comments.

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The Idea Mill #26

Sometimes the articles come faster than others. I've seen it take months to get enough articles for an Idea Mill post, this time it took about two weeks.

For all the new followers, I get these articles from various sources and share them here. They are a great source of inspiration for those who write speculative fiction.

Let's look at the first article. It appears chimpanzees have a ritual. Nobody really knows what it means, but speculation is that it looks like religion. The chimps throw rocks at trees. It isn't limited to one animal or one troop. It usually involves the same tree, and occasionally there are piles of rocks found as if this has gone on for a long time. Read the article here (Link)

They say bigfoot likes to whack trees with a club. An article like this could give some credence to your bigfoot story. Maybe old BF is throwing rocks at trees instead. Maybe the chimps have a specific reverence for that tree. A tree church if you will. Maybe the rocks are prayers, or a tribute to an ancestor.

I'll probably do some assessment of my blog activities as part of the year ending. Various primates have been pretty prominent in the Idea Mill posts. From baboons who might be domesticating wolves, monkeys who may be chipping flint, and now chimps who may be developing religion. Seems to me the setting is ripe for some hyper evolution type science fiction.

This next article is the kind that shows up occasionally. Someone discovered a possible cure that we'll never hear about again. It looks like some wasps from Brazil have venom that kills cancer cells but not healthy tissue. This all involves some complicated way the cancer cells outer membrane differs from healthy cells. Basically, the wasp venom makes the membrane rupture and the cancer cells pop like tiny balloons. Here is the story (Link)

What can we do with this one? It sets the stage for a jungle adventure pretty easily. It also lends itself to a corporate espionage type story using rival pharmaceutical companies. Of course you would need a crazy wing-nut type character to expose it all. Nobody listens to him until the facts become overwhelming. Maybe you want to write about a desperate family trying anything to save a loved one. It seems to fit with an environmental warning pretty well too. Loggers are destroying the jungle, and there is a desperate race to save the wasps before the cure is lost forever.

There is no reason you couldn't write about a wasp wrangler trying to deliver a colony of lifesaving wasps to a new colony in a distant galaxy too. When his ship gets boarded the wasps get used as weapons against the invaders. It distracts them long enough for the wasp wrangler to get to the weapons vault. Good thing wasps eat meat.

Finally, this one is just friggin weird. It's called sokushinbutsu; the practice of self mummification. It was practiced by monks in Japan in an attempt to become Buddha. It involves eating a special diet of bark and twigs, restricting water intake to dry out your innards, and basically meditating in a box your friends bury in the ground. It only takes three years, but it doesn't work every time, presumably because the monk wasn't suitable to the mission. Read about it here (Link)

For the record, I will not be attempting this. No pizza, no beer, no wonder they wanted to die. It will probably become the next hot diet book: The Mummification Diet.

So what can we do with this one? I'm a little bit stumped, but maybe I'm just dumbfounded. What if it were a form of hibernation? A kind of stasis that could last for centuries. You just need a little time in the hot tub and some Doritos to come back to life. What about something like the terracotta warriors in China? Someone stashed away an entire ninja army, just waiting to put them into action. Lends itself to secret societies, covert plans, and some kind of takeover attempt for your hero to foil.

These mummies could fit right in to a fantasy world too. The creepy old temple where only a few caretakers remain. Treasure hunters show up and the caretakers put a few mummies in the shower to help them out. Why not make them Sleestack type characters?

So how about a story using all three? The last Idea Mill stumped me, but I might be able to come up with a corny story with these.

Your hero needs to retrieve a colony of cancer-curing wasps from the jungle. We're going to have to move the jungle to one that has chimpanzees. He discovers chimpanzees exhibiting ritual behavior, but only around an ancient ruin.

There is competition from a more ruthless competitor, and they use bulldozers to knock down the jungle in hopes of stirring up the wasps. Your hero learns the chimpanzee ritual is the secret to finding the wasps, and if he can figure it out he'll have more than enough wasps for his purpose.

Before he can figure it out, the competition pushes through to the ancient ruin. This awakens the sleeping mummies who begin a campaign to wipe out everyone that isn't a reverent chimpanzee. The chimpanzees show your hero the only way to avoid the killer mummies is to start the self mummification process himself.

The killer mummies pass him by, revenge is extracted on corporate greed. He gains enough time to solve the Chimpanzee riddles and walks out with a pocket full of wasps. At the end he'd kill for a bag of Doritos and a hot tub.

Okay, all three elements – check. Corny – check.

What would you use one of these stories to create? Tell me in the comments.

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The Idea Mill #25

The articles have piled up once more, and it's time to visit the old Idea Mill again. There are a lot of new followers of Entertaining Stories, and for you these are intended to inspire your imagination. Maybe you'll see something to include in your next speculative story, maybe it will inspire a whole series. Again for the new folks, there is a category in the sidebar if you'd like to check any previous posts.

Our first article involves monkeys and evolution once again. We had one where the theory was that a species of baboon had trained a species of wolf to help them in foraging.

This time capuchin monkeys are banging rocks together. Probably not huge news in itself. They use the rocks like tools to get minerals or food. The interesting part is the monkeys create concoidal flakes from the process of striking the rocks together. Archaeologists are questioning some of their evidence of early humans, because monkeys are creating something that had been attributed as being solely human activity. You can read the article here.

That's interesting, and calls into question the source of some early flaking activity, but this is a speculative fiction blog. It isn't a huge leap of the imagination to have one monkey start using the sharp flakes he creates. Before too long, monkeys enter the stone age. Sounds like a good basis for a lost world type story to me. Imagine exploring a place where arboreal monkeys rain down spears tipped with flint heads upon you.

Maybe it doesn't fuel an entire story. Maybe scientists spend the summer documenting this unusual activity only to encounter something worse. Maybe they find other signs of early human activity, like using the flint to make fires. It might make a great story similar to a mashup of Watership Downs and Lord of the Flies, where the monkeys make teams and fight for dominance.

The second article involves a sunken German submarine from World War One. This thing is on the bottom of the ocean, just off the coast of Scotland. There really isn't too much remarkable, but it's pretty interesting. The interesting part is that some of the crew survived. The captain said they lost the ship when they were attacked by a sea monster. Read about the discovery here.

Now I'm reasonably sure the guy is full of crap, but why not make it part of a story? You could take it as is, or make the statement into the catalyst for an adventure to look for evidence of a sea monster. Heck, it's close enough to Scotland to make the Loch Ness Monster part of your story.

Finally, this article was sent to Lisa Burton, my assistant, by Planetary Defense Command. The Commander is friends with Lisa on Facebook, and he thought we would like this article. It's about a dedicated train line to carry the dead, and their mourners, to the cemetery. (And back, you know, for the mourners at least.) It seems that London, like most old world cities, was running out of places to inter the dead. The line was met with some resistance, because horse drawn hearses were the preferred method of the day.

They acquired a massive amount of land outside the city, but it was too far for funeral processions and horses to deal with. Thus, the train line. The article is full of good period specific information about storing and shipping the bodies too. Even the photographs are wonderful. It would make a good setting in your Victorian crime novel. Characters who work along the project would also be very interesting. I can see detectives from Scotland Yard riding along to catch a Jack-the-Ripper type character. Maybe your character is one of the caterers who work at the cemetery to feed the mourners. It seems like the perfect setting for a ghost story too. Ghost trains, haunted stations, modern apartments built in the old buildings that still have ghosts in them. Maybe a grave robber ring. There are so many possibilities.

It's a great article without any fiction. It includes the Nazi bombing that put it under, and how automobile hearses replaced it. Thank you Commander for this great article. Do yourself a favor and read it here.

This is the place where I outline a corny story that includes all the elements. Submarines and sea monsters I can weave into a lost world with stone age monkeys. German subs and sea monsters, can work into the haunted railroad with sailors trying to escape by stealing the train. I just don't see how I can get stone age monkeys and a haunted railroad into the same story. Maybe I can borrow the London zoo, but I'm not feeling it. I'm running up the white flag on this one.

Tell me in the comments if you can figure out how to do it.

What kind of stories would you use these elements in. Maybe you like your advanced primates on another planet, or your funeral train is a spaceship to bring space pioneers back to Earth for burial. Let me hear it folks.

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The Idea Mill #24

My blog tour seems to have an empty slot today, and that's a good thing. While all of those posts were individually written, and provide unique content, they all have the same underlying theme.

I like to provide unique things here to keep interest up, and it's time for another visit to the old Idea Mill.

Our first article is kind of short. It involves the discovery of an old shoe inside the walls of a house. It was the house of the Headmaster of Cambridge University, and was placed there 300 years ago. So what? I'm sure if they dig out my ductwork someone would probably find a plastic GI-Joe or two. This kind of thing happens everywhere, right?

In this case, it seems as though the shoe was placed on purpose to keep evil spirits out of the house. It was located near the chimney, a likely place for those spirits to enter. This one is more cool points if it's included in a story, but to me, the story is why it was placed in the first place. It might be a good story about a haunted house, that was only resolved by placing the shoe. Maybe it's a new construction, and family lore-masters neglected to tell the new homeowner about the family curse. Terrifying nights lead Grandma to visit, tell the story, and place the shoe. You can read the article here.

This next one almost qualifies as a cryptid, except those are always an animal of some kind. It's an article about the Black Knight Satellite. Rumor has it that Tesla first detected its signals from his base in Colorado. It orbits the Earth's poles and emits a cryptic signal. The fact is that humans didn't place it. It's a good article, and you should read it. Here is the link.

Like all amateur investigations, someone is obviously drawing conclusions, then looking for evidence to support the conclusion. Still, there is enough controversy out there to really make something cool out of it. The government coverup theory is already in place, so run with it. Is it a spy from an alien civilization? Is Earth just a reality show for bored aliens somewhere? Maybe Earth is an experiment to study human evolution and this is the broadcast source. Maybe we sent that postcard into space all those years ago as an answer to the Black Knight's message. It sounds like there could be any number of good short stories involving this one. As a novel, it would have to be a piece of a larger puzzle.

This next segment is actually based upon two articles. There is a lot of overlap, but some items are unique to each article. Here are the links: Article One and Article Two.

It's basically a list of things on a timeline for comparison. I liked the idea that there were still wooly mammoths around while the pyramids were being built. The idea that France was still using the guillotine when Star Wars premiered is also kind of a mind bender. How about America hot rodding around on the surface of the moon in the same year that Switzerland gave women the right to vote.

These are harder to deal with in the scope of a blog post, because each of them could be their own mini post. A little mind bending can add something to your fiction. Honestly, I included them so I wouldn't lose track of them.

Finally we have this one. The French Red Zone is still off limits to people 100 years after World War One. There is so much unexploded ordinance here that it's almost like a minefield. Hell, some of it probably is a minefield. This includes things like several kind of poison gas. Read the article here.

This one amazes me. Humans are pretty good at cleaning this kind of thing up. I'm writing this on September 11th, and the twin towers have been completely removed and reclaimed. In my mind, this doesn't make anyone lazy, it just means it was so much more horrible than we can imagine. They still wash out skeletal remains after a big storm. Plants are dying off from all the toxic waste. One-Hundred years later folks. Let that sink in for a bit.

Need a wasteland for your post-apocalyptic novel, start your research right here. Westley and Buttercup fled into the Fire Swamp and fought Rodents of Unusual Size. I'll see your Fire Swamp and raise you Verdun. I'm sure the chemicals can explain any number of monsters your plucky heroes might encounter. Maybe you want to make it a border to keep people away from your secret military base. Someone cleaned up the middle and now it's Area-51 European style.

Those are the articles. I included an extra one this time, because part of it was just a list. What would you create using something here as inspiration?

Part of the fun is outlining a corny story using all of the articles. This isn't going to be easy, but I like a challenge.

Cavemen responded to a signal from the Black Knight satellite and civilization began, they started building the pyramids and the Great Wall of China. The world's governments learned the truth, and World War One broke out to gain the secrets for the victor. It appears Black Knight has more secrets to share. Deep in the forest at Verdun is a secret base where the research is kept, but they had to place an old shoe in the walls to keep the Black Knight Satellite from driving the researchers mad.

Let's hear it folks; are you inclined to try a story based on something you learned here? Do you find the Idea Mill helpful at all? I've collected them into a category in my sidebar for easier research. Feel free to use them when your Muse needs a kick in the pants.

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Let’s all Speculate, Part 2

There were a lot of pictures yesterday, so I'll tone down today's post. This corner of Idaho actually has it's own interesting history. The Idaho National Laboratory (INL) has gone through many names over the years, but that's the current one. It played a pioneering role in the dawning of the nuclear age.

It isn't as explosive a history as White Sands, in New Mexico, or Jackass Flats, in Nevada. This has to do with a more peaceful use of nuclear power. (That's subjective though when you consider the nuclear Navy.)

There were accidents, and they tell me there are three people buried out there in lead coffins. Think about that for a while. Maybe you want to write about a nuclear powered superhero or villain.

There have been over fifty nuclear generators built at INL. These include the first nuclear submarine, the USS Nautilus. The little town we are staying in, Arco, was the first city on Earth lit entirely by nuclear powered electricity.

There is a conning tower in the city park that reflects upon this era. The name of the ship is there, but it isn't important for this post.

The ship's number isn't lost on me either, but I don't get a paranormal vibe about the place.

Saturday afternoon we stopped at the camper for a sandwich. Then we went to a pseudo ghost town called Atomic City. The name appealed to me more than anything else. What a great name for a science fiction town.

Hee Haw reference, “Atomic City, Idaho. Population 29. Sal-oot.”

This appears to have been a place for workers at INL. It has a definite fifties vibe. There are even homes that look like the old cinder block barracks buildings. There is still a kind of biker bar here, but not much else. Check out these two abandoned buildings:

I can just see a stranger in a black suit pulling into town in a black Hudson Hornet. He gets fuel at the station, then stops at the bar where he meets a girl. What kind of trouble can they get into?

INL still requires a security clearance, and most of it is posted No Trespassing. There is an ancient train track into the facility, and it isn't hard to imagine a black train, accompanied by black helicopters, shipping some top secret item out. Of course there would be an anarchist or something screwing it all up.

There is an atomic museum further down the road, but we chose to pass. It makes me sad, but you don't leave a puppy in a hot car. You just don't.

Maybe the “man in black” and the waitress have to flee through Craters of the Moon. Want to write a late 50s or early sixties Cold War story, start your research right here. Maybe you want to try a diesel-punk story with some older technology.

I've had a drink at the Little Alie-Inn in Rachel, Nevada. This is where Area 51 is. I've also trekked through the mountains about fifty feet beyond the nuclear test site outside Las Vegas. These places get over used though. This is an area that has a lot of potential.

What would you do with this setup? I'll schedule this to go live on Sunday, since I have to hook up the camper and head home.

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Let’s all speculate, Part 1

I'm back at the campground after a day of trooping around. I took some cool pictures to share with everyone, and they get my creative juices flowing. They were taken with my phone, so quality might vary.

We got to Craters of the Moon National Monument while it was still cool this morning. If I were more dedicated, I would have gotten there for sunrise when the light is best for photography, but sleeping in was nice too. Since there are photos, I'm going to break this into two posts to spare you on loading time.

As we drove over, my wife turned on the radio. My truck displays the song title, but only has so many characters. Sometimes a title runs off screen. We started our day laughing like idiots at this:

Yeah, we're that kind of couple.

We stopped off at the visitor's center to get a map. We wanted to see as much as we could. My wife walked the puppy while I stopped inside.

They had those neckerchiefs with some kind of plastic sand inside them. You soak it in water, it swells up and acts like a swamp cooler. I bought one for Otto, and it works great.

Speaking of Otto, the canine ambassador for the bulldog breed had fun greeting people outside the visitor's center. I held the leash so my wife could use the restroom. People stopped, pictures were snapped, and his little butt wiggled like crazy.

This volcano involves continental drift, and plate tectonics. The hotspot that caused all this is now under Yellowstone National Park. This doesn't mean Craters is out of the woods. It appears to erupt every 2000 years. That's the blink of an eye in geological terms. It's actually 100 years overdue.

This volcano acts more like the Hawaiian kind. It leaks, it fountains, it leaves behind interesting features. There are multiple lava flows from various eruptions. I think the surface of Yellowstone must be harder than Craters, because there is one hell of a caldera in Yellowstone. It's more like the Cascade volcanos that atomize everything with a huge explosion.

The National Park Service takes good care of the place, and the campground looks great. Too bad it isn't open yet.

Great is subjective, but I'm talking about the new asphalt and touched up picnic tables. Craters of the Moon actually looks like this:

I'm an old desert rat from way back. I find beauty in desert environments. This old tree could be a marker along some journey a character has to make. An author could make it resemble something, it wouldn't have to look exactly like this.

One of the tricks to a place like this is to “look small.” The vistas are wonderful, but sometimes the more interesting thing is right under your nose. This kind of lava flows, makes a skin on top, and flows again. It leaves some interesting features:

It actually looks like roots or some kind of wood. Does anyone else see the monstrous fingers of some beast woven together?

Maybe your character is following up some local legend, finds this and decides the monster is no more. Oh how wrong he is…

This stuff even forms what looks like knotholes.

I thought this one was pretty interesting. Lucifer's taffy pull anyone. Again, you have to look small or you'll walk right over this kind of thing.

The NPS seems to have it in for cute bulldog puppies. We brought his leash and harness, bags to clean up after him, and even a wagon in case the rocks were too hot for his feet. Every trail is paved, but no dogs are allowed. I had to limit myself to the short trails and hurry up while my wife watched the puppy.

She really doesn't get into this like I do. I'm kind of a volcano junkie. She was content with the beautiful vistas and blue skies. Let's look at one of the broader images. I took several, but this is where the iPhone has its limits.

Nearly a hundred miles of razor sharp rocks. In some cases the rubble is the size of a pickup truck and piled so tightly you couldn't walk through it in a million years. If you tried, you'd need extra boots, bandages, and some decent insurance.

Does anyone get the idea of Mordor here? Check out this next one for a closer image of the rubble.

This window formed as one of the cinder cones collapsed over the centuries. Random thought: need a fantasy obstacle? How about a Wind-Doe? The cinder cone reminded me of the surface of the asteroid in the movie Armageddon.

I took a short trail to look down a cinder cone. Check this out:

This hole is about 30 feet deep. The lava fountained, when it cooled it left the hole behind. Vermithrax Pejoritive was the best dragon name ever. Can you see this as the opening to her den? Can you see this whole area of devastation surrounding her den?

Walking back, the sun was shining perfectly into this small hole. It's as deep as my arm. (Sorry about the shadow in the image.) Is this where the mechanism to the hidden door is? Maybe the first volunteer has a bad encounter with a rattlesnake or a scorpion.

NASA trained astronauts here for the moon landing. They gave up when it proved too tough. Those with “The Right Stuff” couldn't handle it. Lava fields don't actually resemble meteor impacts anyway, but it gives you an idea of how harsh this area is. It's also filled with little yellow sulfur butterflies and wild flowers.

This environment can work in many kinds of stories. Imagine running for your life in this kind of place. You might just say, “Go ahead and cut my throat it will be more merciful.”

Captain Jack and the Modoc Indians hid out in a similar place in Northern California. They evaded the US Cavalry for years by using secret trails, and lava tube caves. The trail to the caves here was over a mile (each way) and that isn't fair to Otto or my wife. We enjoyed the vista from the trailhead and moved on.

There is also an area where the lava flowed over trees and left perfect casts of them when they burned out. Mt. Vesuvius did something similar to living humans.

These environments are real places. That adds credibility to your fiction. Need to look for old Snuffy's secret gold mine? Maybe your Western needs an impenetrable robber's roost. Need an area of devastation around your dragon's den? How about access to the underworld in your Greco-Roman fantasy?

Maybe you need an alien planet. I'm sure landing here would damage your space ship.

I've been getting back into pulp stuff lately. Someday, I might write one about a lost world. This would be a great place to follow the map and find the entrance. It would be easy enough to discover some dinosaur remains that looked like those ropy lava flows. What world building skills would you take from a place like this?

I reduced the size of the pictures and I hope that made them easier to load. Tomorrow's post is going to be from here, it's going to be completely different, but still allow for some speculation. I'll tag them under the Idea Mill category if you want to find them again.

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The Idea Mill #23

It's been a while since I ran one of these out, but the news has been a little bit slow lately. I collect articles that pique my interest as a writer of speculative fiction. I have used some of the things from these posts, and might will use some of the stuff I bring you today.

Let's start out with the Tree of Death. The manchineel tree is a tropical plant that can even be found in Florida. This thing has more defenses than the acid filled creatures in Alien. It appears that everything about it is toxic; its fruit, sap, bark, leaves, everything.

It is written here that natives used to stake people out under the trees as a form of torture. The frequent rains would wash across the leaves and an drip onto the victims causing acidic type burns. Read the article I saw here.

From my point of view, this becomes a great murder weapon. Murder happens in all kinds of fiction and isn't limited to just mysteries and thrillers. It also lends some credence to any kind of alien environment you might want to create. These trees could also play into a global warming kind of story. They push their way north and south of the tropics to drive the people away as nature tries to recover some room for itself. Could be an interesting magical ingredient too.

The next section is a combination of two articles. Neural Dust is the name given to tiny implants into potentially human brains. There are two hopes, the first one being a way to treat some impairments like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. The second part appeals to me, where it may allow some patients to control various robotic items. Here is the link to the first article.

The second article doesn't seem to come right out and name the technology, but appears to be the same idea. It puts a different spin on things with a warning about protecting our own brains from hackers. Here is the link to the second article.

These two really appeal to me, because I outlined a novel last summer about bio-hackers and grinders. I have a hunch these ideas will work their way straight into that book. (I just need to get finished with The Yak Guy Project.) It also fits right into something I was working on yesterday about a futuristic baseball league called The Enhanced League.

So what would you do with these? There are any number of mind control ideas that could happen. Need an innocent person to pull of the heist of the century, drop off the ransom, commit a terrorist act. Here's the reference point to make it work. It gives a whole new spin to date rape drugs, political puppets backed by corporate entities, or even a cyber-zombie outbreak when long term implants go wrong.

Finally, the US has authorized researchers to implant human stem cells into the brains of animal embryos. They've even dubbed the creations as Chimeras. Again, the hope involves various brain disorders and extends to growing transplantable organs. Read it yourself, right here.

What could possibly go wrong? Let's explore that. Need some science to back up your Planet of the Apes science fiction, here it is. Need spies to infiltrate a secure government facility? How about some human intelligent rats, or aerial ravens. Nobody would look twice at the sparrow outside the White House.

Part of these posts involves me describing a schlocky story using all the elements. This is always tough, but this one comes with special problems. The Enhanced League and the Grinders novel are screaming at me, and I don't want to spoil anything. Top that off with the manchineel tree not fitting into the science fiction base of the other articles and it gets exponentially tougher. Let's see where this goes…

Iguanas are immune to the poisons of the manchineel tree. A group of genetically enhanced iguanas are forced to plant the poisonous trees around a perimeter to build an invasion camp. Might as well use Florida since they already have iguanas.

The President's brain has been hacked via the national security Neural Dust chip he is required to have. He authorizes a secure facility inside the perimeter where evil scientists will create an army of chimera cyborgs who control their weapons via their own neural chips. Imagine cyborg gorillas and minotaurs marching upon Washington.

The only hope is an ethical scientist who must break her personal code and accept her own Neural Dust implant before it's too late.

Okay, that sucks, but individually there are some great story elements here. They might not drive an entire novel, but a couple of them could. I know I'm going to use neural dust in one, if not two, stories. I may use chimeras too if only as designer pets to do some world building.

What would you do? Manchineel smoke in your voodoo? Designer organ farming for the super rich? A cultural rift between those who are all born lithe and beautiful due to embryo manipulation and those who have to take what God gives them? Let me hear it in the comments.

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The Idea Mill #22

It's been a while since we visited the old idea mill, and to be honest with you, it's because there haven't been that many interesting articles coming through.

I finally have three, and let's see if we can spark your imaginations.

This first one involves a bunch of old Egyptian papyrus scrolls that were discovered over a hundred years ago. Someone finally got around to looking at them, and found out they contained spells. They are written in Greek, so it must have been after some transportation entered the world.

One instructs the caster to burn some offerings in a bathhouse, and write on the bathhouse walls the desire for the Gods to “burn the heart” of a woman who scorned the caster. Men have been writing on bathroom walls ever since. Ladies, you've been warned.

The other spell tells the caster to scratch out some magical words onto a small piece of copper. Then a fix the plate to the clothing of the target victim. The victim will be forced to obey the commands of the caster. This article is silent as to what the words are, but I'm betting the word is “Imperio.”

I used a kind of Roman curse/prayer in Panama. This one involved turning a grinding stone while praying. I am aware of scratching out curses in lead, but copper is a new one.

How about it authors? Do you have any characters that need cursing? Maybe a woman scorned your character and he needs to get even. This could be even more fun because they are written in Greek. This means fraternities and sororities to me. I get an idea of a magical version of Animal House, where the locker room substitutes as the bathhouse, and Needermyer has to obey Bluto's bidding. Here is the link if you want a tiny bit more info: Curses.

The second article involves stalagmites and Neanderthals. Stalagmites are the ones that grow up from the floors of caves. Somewhere around 170,000 years ago, Mr. Neanderthal decided to kick down a bunch of these and build some stone walls. This may not seem like much, but 170,000 year old human construction is kind of impressive. They look kind of like nests to me. Check them out here: Neanderthal Construction.

Maybe these guys were so primitive they competed to actually build the best structure to impress the ladies. This is similar to nesting behaviour in other creatures. As a fiction writer, they could be anything though, including what remains of an ancient portal to another time or world. Some science cadet might figure it all out and recreate it, or predict some looming disaster. What would you do with this?

Finally we have what's being called a brain-to-brain interface. This involves wearing a fancy hat, while your friend wears another fancy hat. The lead researcher is able to control the other guy's movements by thinking about the motion. There is some interesting result with animals as well. Read a better, but longer, description here: Megamind.

I've kind of been in science fiction mode and this one gets me going. I remember a cuteish old movie called The Doberman Gang, (and one sequel) where the main character trained dogs to pull off a bank heist. This would be so much easier if I could skip the training and control them via brain-to-brain interface.

I have to admit, controlling my enemy via a curse scrawled on copper sounds a lot easier. Although, I dig a good hat, so I'm torn.

What would you do with this one? Here is your chance to mix in a little of The Fly, in an experiment that exchanges part of the mind when it goes wrong. Now you have your very own Gorilla Grod. Maybe you want to split out the good character and the bad character. The good one winds up in a Chimp who can't talk and tell someone what's wrong. The bad one goes on a rampage.

Part of this shtick is that I rough out a story using all of these elements. This is going to be a tough one, because the items are so far apart. Here goes nothing…

A sorority girl scorns a fraternity boy. He uses the whiz-bang fancy hat from the science lab to make her pay. There would certainly be towel snapping shenanigans in the girl's locker room, as verified by the geekiest of fraternity brothers and some kind of pervy spy hole.

Our heroine is mortified, and isn't participating in the dig inside the cave. She's spent most of her college career working on Neanderthal studies, and is blowing the biggest chance of her life. Fortunately, the Sorority sisters catch on.

They make her scrawl a curse onto a copper disk and slip in into the guy's underwear. Now under their total control, they make him don the fancy hat once more, and force the instructor to change her grades to something more acceptable. Maybe they also force him to streak the alumni banquet, because it is a college story. Ultimately, they force him to fall for the wallflower sorority sister that he wouldn't have spoken to otherwise.

I never said these were good stories, but I think I hit all three elements. What would you do with these?

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The Idea Mill #21

It's about time for a trip to the old Idea Mill. This is a regular feature of my blog where I discuss ideas that come to me in the news.

I set up a bunch of push feeds and get news I might be interested in pushed my direction. When something clicks with me, I save the link until I have enough to make one of these posts.

The idea is that maybe it will pique your imagination too. Some of these ideas might make a great story element, others might fuel an entire novel.

Let's dive right into our first story.

We start with an outbreak in the American Midwest that's probably over by now. At the time of this article the body count is at eighteen. It involves a rare bacteria called Elizabethkingia.

This is what appeals to me. I really can't let go of a character named Elizabeth Kingia who turns out to be patient zero in a disaster story. She's a modern day Typhoid Mary who spreads a disease everywhere she goes. It wouldn't be hard to turn her into a supernatural character if that was your mindset. Maybe she's the daughter of the horseman, Pestilence.

I just love the name. I'm sorry about the real life situation, but this kind of thing lends a bit of realism to a plague story. This is a real bacteria. It's really called Elizabethkingia. It's really causing problems. You can read the article I saw here.

In this story, a mummified sailor was found floating on his yacht. It is believed he could have been dead for up to seven years. A genuine ghost ship in the modern era. Police say he split from his wife, and believe she died of cancer. He was last documented in 2009.

This kind of story can lend some real authority to any ghost ship story. There are any number of Flying Dutchman type stories, and this story gives them legs.

When I think about this story, the sailor isn't the problem. What killed him is the problem. You could put him on a spaceship, a train, or whatever you want. I see him as the opening scene in the story though. Read the article, with a picture, here.

Finally we have curses. I was first exposed to this in a television show called Rome. Curses were scratched out on sheets of lead. In this case, they had to get to the underworld, and they were placed in someone's grave. I suppose this made whoever's grave it was into some kind of afterlife messenger.

This television show caused me to research until I found the prayer/curse stones I used in Panama. Counterclockwise for a curse, clockwise for a prayer.

The story is that someone didn't like a barkeep and his wife very much. Here is the translation:

“Cast your hate upon Phanagora and Demetrios and their tavern and their property and their possessions. I will bind my enemy Demetrios, and Phanagora, in blood and in ashes, with all the dead…”

“I will bind you in such a bind, Demetrios, as strong as is possible, and I will smite down a kynotos on [your] tongue.”

One of the things that appeals to me from the article is the idea of a professional curse writer. I can imagine that writing wasn't a common skill, and that sheets of lead weren't something easily procured either. This means a professional curse writer could probably charge a steep fee. I want to be a professional curse writer in my next life. Maybe this writing gig could be more profitable then. (Just joking… Not really, I want to be a professional curse writer.)

I can imagine a husband and wife working in a city. He is a professional curse writer, she sells counter curses, like the eye amulets or phallic symbols in previous Idea Mill posts. They might make fun main characters in a con job type story. Read the story yourself here.

These are fun, because there are recent news stories to support them. Part of the Idea Mill is me coming up with a corny story that incorporates all of the ideas. My goal is to spark your imagination.

Let's say Elizabeth Kingia is spreading a disease around … Let's use Southern Europe somewhere. A professional curse writer causes her so much trouble that she flees the country on a chartered boat.

Authorities in a new country find the boat run aground. The only person aboard is the mummified captain. There is no evidence of who his passenger was, or what cargo he was hauling.

Elizabeth Kingia is free to spread the plague to England, America, Australia, wherever you want to send her. You'll have to come up with some kind of hero to chase her down, but this is the root of a story. I would probably make my hero the professional curse writer and bring his wife along for color and backup.

 

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The Idea Mill #20

The Idea Mill posts are based off of cool things I find online. I have some push feeds that send me data that I'm interested in. This saves me time in endlessly surfing for these things.

They aren't all gems, and I comb through them pretty fast most days. When I find something cool, I save it in a file to make these posts.

These things are great for speculative authors like me. Sometimes an idea can drive a whole story. Other times, they become interesting elements inside a different story. I can't use all of them, so I share them here. Even if we pick the same things, our stories will come out differently.

The first story is an archeological find from England. This tiny piece of shale is about the size and shape of a guitar pick. There is a hole drilled through it, and it looks like it could have been worn as a necklace of some kind.

The interesting part is a sequence of grooves and divots that look like they were made on purpose. Scientists think it could represent a tree, a leaf, or even a tally of some kind. I think the best suggestion was a map. Check it out for yourself here. What if the owner had to hold it up against the sky? When the marks lined up with some geological points, like islands or peaks, they were standing over the treasure. How about if the marks lined up with stars? When you're in the right spot, looking through the the hole would show you the star where the mothership calls home. Could the length of cord tied through the hole be important? You have to hold it exactly that far from your eye, or you'll dig in the wrong place.

The next one was all over the Internet recently. You may have seen it. It involves a colorblind artist who implanted an antenna into his own skull. The antenna holds a camera that recognizes colors, and converts them into specific vibrations. Different color equals different frequency. He still can't see colors, but he can hear them now. Here is a link to the article.

My regulars know I created a rough outline for a science fiction story last summer called Grinders. Grinders are people who experiment on themselves. Think Dr. Jeckyll stuff here. This is exactly the kind of thing the grinders do. Maybe you want a story about trying to get something similar FDA approved to help people. It could still be pretty dramatic. What if the guy adjusted it to detect micro expressions instead. He'd almost be a human lie detector with the right programming. You could have him get kidnapped and forced to work for some black ops organization. Why not smells, or even pheromones?

Finally, we have some more stem cell research. There are some places in the body that cannot repair themselves. It appears the damage from a heart attack is one of those places. Attempts to use stem cell seeding haven't worked out, until now. Someone figured out a way to freeze the stem cells at a specific growth point, and in my mind, reprogram them. It appears we may be able to repair the damage from heart attacks very soon. You can read the article here. How far away can repairing brain damage be?

This looks like a good chance to write one of those pioneering medical patient stories. I still remember the retired dentist who received the first mechanical heart. This happened in Utah, and that was the news we got in Nevada. It was on television every night. I'm not going to Google it, but I believe his name was Dr. Barney Clark.

It could also be the way to screw things up and create your own superhero or super villain. All you need is something to contaminate the process along the way. Maybe it's a virus and you create a CDC medical thriller/horror story.

These are cool articles this time. Part of these posts involves me laying out a corny story using all these elements. I write this bit on the fly, so let's see where it goes:

Our hero is navigating across the wilderness to find a CDC refuge area. The cities are much too dangerous, because of the canabalistic mutants left in the wake of the disease. An attempt to create a cure for those with severe head trauma got contaminated by the Zika virus. Everything collapsed and a few holdouts are mankind's only hope.

He reaches the coast, and holds up the pendant his mother gave him. A sequence of scratches carved into a piece of aluminum can. The islands all line up, and a different island is visible through the hole in the pendant. All he has to do is steal a boat, and deliver his mother's last bit of research.

That's when his pursuer attacks. The man works for the research lab that caused the outbreak, and is also looking for the refugees. He's been tracking our hero using implanted antennae to see into the infrared spectrum, and follow his scent. It's fight or flight time, what would you write? (Actually, that one isn't too bad compared to the corny stuff in past attempts.)

How about it authors? Would any of these items enhance your speculative fiction?

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