Cambrian III: Acceptance

So Cambrian reaches the culmination of its plot when Hot Lady Scientist, having had enough of being molested by sex machines and otherwise subject to abuse, transforms herself into some sort of spiky blond valkyrie-demon, breaks out of her bonds, slays Junior Mad Scientist, forces Bad Girl to flee into a conveniently-large airshaft, and then liberates Nerdy Assistant, who had been chained up and subjected to abuse by Bad Girl for some reason.

There is then a meeting of the minds.

Hot lady scientist

This is what I am. Can you still love me?

Nerdy Assistant stands up, then kneels down, grasping the spike growing out of Hot Lady Scientist’s crotch. He points the spike at his own throat, and speaks.

Nerdy Assistant

If it’s destined….

The surprisingly understated scene that follows is an exterior view of what we know (from its having been established earlier) of Hot Lady Scientist’s laboratory building. It would seem that we are being invited to write our own ending in our imaginations here, but at the same time it seems like a moment of acceptance, of embracing what you are (or someone else is) even if that seems monstrous.

And that, dear readers, is what puts Cambrian just a little bit beyond just another tits ‘n tentacles story, at least for me.


Anwei transformation art by Bokuman

Here in the Northeastern United States we’ve been enduring some rather frigid weather and short, dark days of late.  What better way to find relief for ourselves than to journey to some warm tropical beach somewhere?  Well, we can do that in imagination at least, with the help of the prolific Peruvian artist Bokuman, who’s drawn for us the epilogue scene from The Apsinthion Protocol.

(Click on the image to see it in larger size. Creative Commons License
Anwei Transformation by Bokuman and commissioned by Dr. Faustus of is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.)

The scene Bokuman is illustrating is this one:


Corwin and Anwei stand on the beach, which is otherwise deserted.


This is very risky of you to attempt, Anwei.


However risky, if there’s even a small chance that Nanetta and Moira succeeded in doing what you think it was they were trying to do, then this has to be done.


Try to re-establish contact with Howard’s species. Get their trust back. See what of Nanetta and Moira might have made through. But do you really think you can succeed?


I have been through many iterations of the Apsinthion Protocol since we first improvised it for that…emergency. My body has absorbed a lot of apsinthion chemistry in that time, and I feel I am beginning to undergo certain…changes that might make it possible for me to survive out there.

Anwei holds up her right hand.

EXTREME CLOSE UP: anwei’s right hand

Larger-than-normal webbing has is to be seen between her fingers.

back to scene


It still seems somehow very uncertain.


I can’t not do this, Joseph.


I agree.

Anwei disrobes completely, folds her clothing, and hands it to Corwin.


I am ready.


Go then.

Corwin kisses Anwei gently on the forehead.

Anwei wades out into the surf, then dives in and disappears.


I’ve always greatly enjoyed Bokuman’s illustrations, especially the voluptuous attention he gives to female figures, but what pleases me most about what he has done here is the attention he paid to Anwei’s facial expression and body language. The illustration presents an interpretation of the story, and a most interesting one as well. Anwei has predicted her transformation from a land creature into a sea creature. She has accepted it intellectually. But now that it’s actually happening it’s implications are beginning to come home viscerally, and she is registering a moment of awe, surprise, even fear as they do, even as Anwei is about to dive in.

I think Bokuman is really clear on the concept, don’t you?

A philosophical digression

This really is a philosophical post, so if philosophy is something that bores or annoys you today might be a good day to wander off, fix yourself a nice beverage of choice, and perhaps enjoy the fine fall weather (or, if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, the fine spring weather) and see you tomorrow.

Metaethics might seem like a very strange thing to post on at all in a blog entitled Erotic Mad Science.  Or it might seem very strange until you reflect on defiant pronouncements like the one that appeared below the fold in yesterday’s post in response to an imagined critical interlocutor:

Finger-wagging moralists will doubtless appear to tell me that I need to feel really bad about myself.  (Or would, since I think anyone answering to the description of “finger-wagging moralist” who attempted to read this site would quickly have to retire with a case of the vapors.) But I think I’ll decline this invitation.

“But Faustus,” you might say, “how could you possibly feel free to decline that invitation.  What if you’re just wrong?”  Well folks, it’s like this:  after a long time sitting on the fence on the moral realism versus moral anti-realism question I’ve decided to hop off the fence and spend my time frolicking in John Mackie‘s garden.  Yes, having already come out of the closet as a thaumatophile, I feel a need also to out myself as a moral error theorist.  Like Mackie, I think there are no objective values.  I’m simply unpersuaded by the attempts of people who believe in the existence of objective moral facts to deal with the reality of human moral diversity, and I find the notion of moral prescriptions somehow woven into the fabric of the universe to be impossibly queer.

(Painting Antonio Allegri da Correggio (1489-1534), Allegory of Vice, ca. 1530.  Found here.)

Even I can’t bring myself to be so boring as to discuss the matter at length.  One way of getting to error theory (which I personally find persuasive) is explained in a five-step argument by Richard Joyce in his The Myth of Morality (2001).

  1. If x ought morally to φ, the x ought to φ, regardless of whether ve cares to, regardless of whether φing satisfies any of vis desires or furthers vis interests.
  2. If x morally ought to to φ, then x has a reason for φing.
  3. Therefore, if x morally ought to φ, then x has a reason for φing, regardless of whether φing serves vis desires or furthers vis interests.
  4. But there is no sense to be made of such reasons.
  5. Therefore x is never under a moral obligation.

Finger-wagging moralists can therefore go suck it:  their views aren’t true in any possible world.

Readers who are interested in (or enraged by) this argument are urged to follow up by reading either John Mackie’s classic Ethics:  Inventing Right and Wrong or Joyce’s book.  There’s also a fine new just-published anthology called A World without Values edited by Joyce and Simon Kirchin, although since it’s published by Springer you might have to take out a second mortgage if you actually want to buy a copy.  You can also peruse the “Thinkers” links to the right hand of the page for links to Joyce’s website, as well as to that of Richard Garner (under “Beyond Morality.”)  I aim to provide useful information here…

(Correggio, Allegory of Virtue.)

The implications of moral error theory are startling and, if you’re in the right mindframe, liberating.  It’s as exhilarating as losing your religion all over again, as recent moral de-convert Joel Marks has remarked in a recent essay.  And there are even rather cool atheological implications, as Jordan Howard Sobel (may he rest in peace) shows in Logic and Theism.  (Sure, theists are wrong.  That’s old news.  But many atheists — ones like Sam Harris certainly and many other probably — are also significantly wrong.)

Right.  Enough philosophy. Possibly going there was tedious, but it was something I had to get off my chest.  More proper mad science tomorrow, I promise.

A Ph.D. in horribleness!

It’s perhaps inevitable that I’d be posting on Joss Whedon‘s freaking awesome musical Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, so here we go.  Neil Patrick Harris plays Billy/Dr. Horrible, a mad scientist who aspires to join the Evil League of Evil.  Also to work up the courage to ask out the cute girl he keeps seeing at the laundromat.  He is opposed by his nemesis Captain Hammer, played by Nathan Fillion from Firefly (and who appears here to be having the time of his life hamming it up in this production).

I won’t try to summarize the story much (a detailed summary can be found here), but there’s all kinds of awesome going on, even when Neil Patrick Harris isn’t singing.    On my own preferred interpretation (obviously not the only possible one) the story is a mad scientist’s Bildungsroman where Dr. Horrible goes from something like this:

To this:

Awesome.  Plus he has an evil laugh, a time-freezing ray, a death ray, and a “Ph.D. in horribleness.”  Since I also have a Ph.D. in horribleness (my death ray needs a little work, I’m afraid), I can kinda relate.

Now one perhaps might wonder what this musical has to do with erotic mad science in particular.  (I mean, aside from the obvious fact that one of the principals here is Neil Patrick Harris, who by his very presence brings Teh Sexy.)  To be sure there are some cute superhero groupies as well:

But perhaps the real erotic mad science connection comes in at a deeper thematic level, which is the mad science is motivated by erotic frustration.  Dr. Horrible might be able to build a death ray, but his nice-guy alter ego Billy can barely bring himself to strike up a conversation with girl in the laundromat.  And when he does, he finds out that she’s fallen for Captain Hammer, who isn’t just a nemesis:  he’s also pretty much a complete jerk as well.  The science nerd shoved out of the way by the jock.

We’ve seen this before a lot.  Remember:

That’s from Metropolis, the ur-mad science movie.  The woman represented is Hel, the love interest that Rotwang lost to wealthy industrialist Joh Frederson, a source of unending grievance for Rotwang of course.

There seem to be two cardinal mad-science motivations:  Prometheanism and Woundedness.  (Note that they are not exclusive:  they might both be present in a single character.)  The Promethean I’ll discuss in later posts.  The Wounded is someone turned to mad science because of  some terrible frustration or failure or lack.  That lack need not necessarily have anything to do with erotic frustration or romantic failure.  But it seems to turn out that way surprisingly often.  And Dr. Horrible like Rotwang is a prime example thereof.

In a way Woundedness is the flip side of much of what Erotic Mad Science is about:  instead mad science leading to erotic gratification, it’s about erotic frustration leading to mad science.   Mad science is the revenge of the nerd or vis compensation.  One either uses it to get power that gets the girls (in song Dr. Horrible fantasizes about winning his dream girl’s heart by presenting her with “the keys to a shiny new Australia”) or one simply end-runs the tedious romantic process entirely:  hence all those tube girls and created women and sexy robots.  Why venture into the minefield of humiliation that is human courtship when you can bypass it with your shiny jetpack or matter transporter ray?

There’s another Erotic Mad Science theme here, but it involves a spoiler, so I’ll run it beneath the fold.

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All hail Dr. Impossible

If you want to see a really excellent addition to the canon of mad scientists, allow me to commend to you attention Dr. Impossible, from Austin Grossman‘s Soon I Will Be Invincible (2007).

Soon is a superhero story, basically.  It’s a book for grown-ups, but unlike other superhero books for grown-ups like Watchmen it doesn’t so much deconstruct the superhero genre as take its characters seriously and write a story around them.  Since most of the superheroes and supervillains therein are sort-of humans or at least used-to-be-humans, this means that like any literary characters, they have lives and stories and goals and loves.  And hurts.  Lots of hurts.

Dr. Impossible is one of the two viewpoint characters:  he’s a supervillain, a mad scientist who keeps trying to take over the world.  His tragedy is that even though he has an IQ of 300 he doesn’t realize that the world he inhabits is made of stories rather than atoms, and the rules that govern these stories make it such that he the “good” guys will always foil his plans for taking over the world.  But this doesn’t at least prevent him from almost succeeding a lot of the time, and in the process generating one of the most thoroughly-imagined mad scientist characters out there.  He has internal monologues that really hit the right notes.  (My page references are to the U.S. Vintage edition).

I remember those nights, planning technologies that didn’t exist yet, outsider science, futurist dreaming, half-magical.  The things I could do outside the university setting, now that I didn’t have to wait for the pompous fools at the college!  I was building another science, my science, wild science, robots and lasers and disembodied brains.  A science that buzzed and glowed; it wanted to do things.  It could get up and walk, fly, fight, spout garish glowing creations in the remotest parts of the world, domes and towers and architectural fever dreams.  And it was angry.  It was mad science. (76)

Yes!  Though at the same time, Grossman is really good at showing how difficult and lonely it would be to actually have to be someone like Dr. Impossible.

But if that alone isn’t enough to qualify as Erotic Mad Science (and for me at least, that alone would be, but then I have rather unusual values), then consider the two female characters.  The other viewpoint character is a cyborg named Fatale (much appeal there, especially for the technosexual), and then consider the awesome blue girl who appears in the background of the (much cooler) UK cover illustration to the novel.

(Image source this Forbidden Planet blog.)  This character has a bit of self-narrated backstory that has an erotic embrace what you are character.  Since it has a hint of a spoiler about it, I’ll run it below the fold:

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Willy Wonka Mad Scientist IV

In the 1971 adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, once each of the horrid children tumbles into their appropriate near-death trap, they drop out of the story and are not seen again.  We get only a verbal assurance from Willie Wonka that they will be okay.  (Should we trust that he’s telling the truth?)

The 2005 adaptation does things a little differently.  We get a brief scene of the horrid children leavening the factory with their mortified guardians.   Some have undergone…changes.  Violet in particular, after having been blown up into a blueberry and then (off camera) “juiced,” isn’t quite the same girl who went in.  She’s changed color, for one, and for another is now really, really flexible.

She actually seems rather pleased with her transformation, a sentiment which would fit rather well with the ethos of the Gnosis College fictional world.

Fetish fuel for a new generation, indeed.

Embracing what you have become

Quoth Cleo as she walks deeper into the rain forest shedding clothes “You needn’t bother collecting, unless you want it for yourself.  I for one will never be needing it or any other clothing again.  I take a straightforward visual inspiration from Me Me Lai, who would get naked as could be in any number of Italian jungle cannibal movies, including Ultimo mondo cannibale, whence these screenshots come.

If we can tear our attention away from naked jungle frolics for a few moments, we might wish to ask ourselves what on earth is going on here.  The answer, I guess, comes not from the frolics but from the satirical speech Cleo gives to Aloysius and Jireen:  “I would work hard, get some sort of professional degree, then some sort of boring professional job.  Get married to some boring professional guy.  Live in a suburb in a McMansion with a brace of S-U-V’s and perhaps a brace of kids going to soccer practice. “

I suppose that Cleo’s rather astonishing rebellion mirrors ones I’ve had.  Cleo is doing exactly what she should not.  I’m not a huge admirer of David Brooks, but I must say that his Atlantic magazine piece “The Organization Kid” is rather on the mark.   Our elite colleges swarm with compliant, hard-working kiss-asses — and boy do I know, because I taught a lot of ’em. The last time they rebelled against anything was during potty-training, and since then they have been building their resumes.  They accept the system (easy to do, I suppose, when you have such a privileged place within it) and look forward to their professional degrees and professional jobs.  I taught quite a few of them, and after a while I rather began to long to teach someone with a little fire in the belly for a change.  So maybe Cleo involves a bit of personal wish-fulfillment for me, and not just because she’s so cheerful about getting naked out of doors. I mean, leave college to turn into an immortal spider-goddess?  Talk about rebellion!  You’ll never get a job with Goldman Sachs that way, young lady.

At a deeper level, I suppose, Cleo’s serenity at her own change might reflect another conviction, the one I put in the Thaumatophile Manifesto, which is that if you want a worthy life, you ought to embrace what you are (or have become) rather than trying to suppress what you are, even if other people will think it’s gross.  You’ll surely die with regrets if you live any other way.