Friday, July 6, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: The Tower of Babble




This is one of the oldest apocalypses, though the most recent that had signs of deliberate and divine intervention. This is at least thirty apocalypses ago, and there’s precious little record of it. Still, no matter how true it is, it’s quite popular, especially on this side of the Uncanny Valley, where the government isn’t so popular.

It came about because of a construction job. They were one of the first empires in the history of the world, maybe the very first. A little club of warlords, of gremlins and satyrs and humans, the most pernicious critters in the west, got their peoples together. No two tribes spoke the same tongue, and no dissidents were permitted within their tribes, so they didn’t know what they were doing until they showed up.

High in the Cloud Hills, the tallest mountains anyone’s ever climbed, they carried stone slabs. Some were so huge we still can’t figure how they got them up there, but there they still stand. They enslaved the nine-legs and dorads and centaurs, and the vampires to labor at night. They spread the infection so as to have a more active nocturnal construction crew, which soon outpaced the daytime one.

No laborer knew anymore than where he was putting his block. They couldn’t discuss it, and so it was weeks before they realized their slabs were coalescing into the shape of tower. And though the peoples were ignorant and hungry, they took pride in their grand structure, for every day it stretched taller than any person had ever been. It pierced the clouds, and laborers perished walking through thunderstorms. Others froze from the ethereal climate. There seemed to be sudden and wicked weather up there, as though the sky was fighting back. The stairs grew increasingly narrow and soon slick, such that centaurs could no longer navigate them, and new diseases brewed at those terrifying heights, traveling down the tower and out into the world.

But it wasn’t a plague that ended this tower-building reign. It was a miracle, or a metaphor, depending on your bend. One morning all the species of the world awoke speaking the same language. Centaurs awoke beside slave-satyrs to find they fully comprehended each other, and their human overlords, and their gremlin architects. Our sources attribute the one language to serpentine gods, which hints at which species wrote the sources.

The first news was the common language, a tongue reporting on itself. But the second story to shoot down the tower were details of what was being constructed, at its base, and at the top, and what for. This tower was a conduit to control the sky, from which their rulers could lob lightning across the entire continent, or deny rain to anyone’s crops, and otherwise ensure expansion of the empire. Plans ran down the tower faster than any pair of feet, such as those to annihilate unruly tribes, many folk of which had come to help build this as a peace offering.

An informed public can be hazardous to tyrants. When that informed public grossly outnumbers you and is already inside your monstrous tower, they are potentially more hazardous. That morning workers at the foundation looked up to see it raining politicians.

The laborers usurped their labor, and with influence over the winds, there was a golden age of agriculture. Species that had fought each other witlessly for centuries now comprehended and cooperated. Or so they say. Everyone understanding each other seems to have created more problems, at least in the modern age. We don’t know what wiped out their unilinguistic utopia. We only know there’s very little of that tower left up there.

35 comments:

  1. Like all great towers, they topple the hardest. I loved this line 'There seemed to be sudden and wicked weather up there, as though the sky was fighting back.' It was very visual to me.

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    1. Thanks Helen! That whole bit is my favorite of the paragraphs. It's when the story seemed to click in my tired head.

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  2. Nice job of turning the tower story on its head and some great political commentary.

    This sentence doesn't look right to me: "Plans to annihilate unruly tribes ran down the tower faster than any pair of feet, such as those to annihilate unruly tribes, many folk of which had come to help build this as a peace offering."

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    1. It doesn't look right because it's a mess. Thanks for pointing it out, Tim. Hope the corrected version is coherent to you.

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    2. Yup. And now, of course, the whole thing is brilliant.

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    3. Haha, well thank you, kind Siree.

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  3. Some tight writing here (sentence above excepted). Loved the raining of politicians and the opening line. And even though you insert these fantastical elements, the story itself, grounded in political and social reality, has a concreteness to it that gives it believability. An Atwood mentality. Peace...

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    1. The Atwood comparison is a little flattering, Linda! Though I think she'd drop this story at the first whiff of satyrs. Glad it spoke to you, and that you found the writing tight. Did anything hit you as particularly snug?

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  4. Ah, to continue on ignorantly we would....well, continue on. So much for comprehension. Great visuals throughout, very well told story John!

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    1. Any visuals you particularly enjoyed, Deanna?

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  5. Nice inversion of the story, and good way to say that communication is at the bedrock of pretty much everything.

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    1. Hard to write stories without communication. I know. I've tried.

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  6. It's hard to insult someone when they don't speak the same language as you.

    In para. 4, did you mean "convalescing" or "coalescing"?

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    1. You bet I did. I appreciate you and Tim catching these. Had the idea all day, but only wrote it at midnight as I was about to pass out. Suboptimal performance timing.

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  7. The tags suggest this is part of the mythology of your book? Cool. Nice inversion of the Babel story, and loved the line about raining politicians. (Seems the weather turned intelligent for a moment.)

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    1. It is indeed. This and the Sunrise Apocalypse #fridayflashes are from the history of the world both my WIP-novels are set in. Thanks!

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  8. ah, the parallels :) another great story, beautifully crafted.

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    1. Thank you kindly, Sylvia. What felt beautiful in its craft for you?

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  9. "We don't know what wiped out their unilinguistic utopia," loved that line. "Unilinguistic utopia" almost feels like an oxymoron to me as I've always been intrigued by languages I don't understand. This felt to me like set up for a longer tale, so it's interesting to learn from the other comments that this is part of the world in which your novels are set.

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    1. Yes, I've got a fairly long history for this world. Since I've been spending so much time writing and editing novels set in it, some days it just seems proper to go into some of its major events. The poor continent has seen a great number of apocalypses, one incidentally setting up the next.

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  10. Great writing, as always John.

    The idea of "Raining politicians" pleases me very much. :)

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    1. I figured some people would get a grim kick out of that...

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  11. I liked how you used vampires to work the night shift. "That morning workers at the foundation looked up to see it raining politicians." Was my favourite line.

    If your WIPs are anything like this I'm sure they're going to be very good. Talking about the tone and the vividness of the world.

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    1. I'll admit the tone of the novels is different from this, as they're more entrenched in the particular experiences of people in their given ages. Even the tones of the two novels differ drastically from each other, but it all rests on the very same, wide world. Thank you for the kind words, Craig. I hope you'll enjoy them as they come up for air.

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  12. Cool mythology and brilliantly done.
    Adam B @revhappiness

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Adam! Any particular element of the execution you enjoyed?

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  13. I'm all for more apocalypses! I like this twist on the tower of Babel myth.

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    1. It's a twist I'd been thinking about since I was a kid. I'd seen enough fights, as I'm sure you had, that were facilitated by people speaking the language.

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  14. William Burroughs was right, language is viral. And the problem we have today is I think the opposite of this, we have regressed to the Babel Tower state instead of a shared tongue, I think because we can no longer agree on any absolutes to anchor language, value and perception round. But equally as you show, a unity of tongue would probably just initiate different power mongering stratagems anyway...

    marc nash

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  15. I loved this one, particularly the metafiction bits.

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  16. Brilliant blend between fiction and politics. The words are flowing better into my mind now that I am not tired like last night.

    I have to agree with Marc. Metaphorically or not the unity of tongue is the missing element in a society so divided.

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  17. I love the idea of the language story being flipped on its head so that a common tongue is a bigger problem than diversity.

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  18. If it did rain politicians, I'd roll out my welcoming spikes.

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  19. As always with your work, there are so many levels of interpretation operating all at the same time.. universal language, mythology, politics, religion.. the only theme missing is porn.. har har...I love the way the tone shifts too.. from folksy to near-biblical..It also reminds me of Ayn Rand ...without the nazis!

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  20. unilinguistic utopia -> I like. Also like the idea about night time vampire labor. LOL

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