Reallllly stretching the definition of “modern” here, but I wanted to bring this up in some form anyway. Back in the grim darkness of July 1900, Pearson’s Magazine ran an article by Herbert C. Fyfe and illustrated by Warwick Goble. It was somewhat ominously titled.


The article in question covered a whole bunch of a different catastrophic ends that could befall the world (and specifically humanity), with a lot of reference to H. G. Wells, of course. Below is Goble’s rendition of the “loathsome animals” inhabiting the frozen world of the far future. They’re not so loathsome to me though, considering they look like The Muppet from the Black Lagoon. Cute actually!


But the most memorable image from the story is what I’ve come to call the Lobsterpocalypse, or “the extinction of man by the enormous increase and spread of a lower order”, or otherwise a really odd misunderstanding of evolutionary timescales. And the most terrifying creature that could do this? A crab.

Fossil remains of crabs, 6ft. in length, have been discovered, and such enormous creatures might – owing to some cause or other – multiply exceedingly.

If we imagine a shark that could raid out upon the land, or a tiger that could take refuge in the sea, we should have a fair suggestion of what a terrible monster a large predatory crab might prove. And, so far as zoological science goes, we must, at least, admit that such a creation is an evolutionary possibility.

Then there are the cuttlefish, the octopus, and other denizens of the deep, any of which might conceivably grow in numbers, and extinguish man.

Goble, however, draws neither crab nor cephalopod, instead placing a huge monster lobster (mobster?) front and center about to make sashimi out of well-dressed turn-of-the-century beachgoers. Accompanying it are a sea serpent and – horror of horrors – a Galapagos tortoise.


I for one welcome our new crustacean overlords.

Hound“Now wait a darn minute!” you may find yourself asking. “The Freybug isn’t a modern monster, even if it’s obscure. It’s the Norfolk black dog. It got itself a starring role in William O’Connor’s Dracopedia series (which you should review) and even got name-checked as a Hound in Final Fantasy (pictured). It even got its own Wikipedia entry!” You’d be right as usual, good reader. But I would like to draw attention to the dearth of information regarding this Freybug. What is it? Where did it come from? Why was it used in the Dracopedia and Final Fantasy?

It’s all about the name really. Final Fantasy needed another black dog name, and the Dracopedia needed something fancy and frightening for the letter F. Besides, it has the words frey and bug. Two great tastes that taste great together.

As with many obscure creatures, Giants, Monsters, and Dragons is the ultimate source. What does GMaD tell us?

This is the name of a monster in the medieval traditions and folklore of England. It took the form of a monstrous black dog that patrolled the country lanes at night terrifying late travelers and making them flee in horror. It is mentioned in an English manuscript of 1555.

There is only one reference provided, which hilariously is Rose’s other book, Spirits, Fairies, Gnomes, and Goblins. And SFGaG says the following.

This is the name of a demon of the roads in English folk beliefs of the Middle Ages. It was described as a Black Dog fiend and referred to in an English document of 1555.

References? None whatsoever. Dead end. I know I’ve complained about it a lot but I’ll say it again.





This is the only freybug reference I can consistently find. I have no idea where the Norfolk thing came from, considering Shuck is the Norfolk black dog. And Shuck wouldn’t take well to competition, I’d wager.

As things stand we have only Rose’s word for it that the freybug is from an “English manuscript” from 1555. One that’s conveniently uncited. Unless further evidence surfaces (and I have no doubt Rose has access to all sorts of cool manuscripts) I’m inclined to consider this a Borgesian literary in-joke. And if it is, it certainly would be a modern creature. Quod erat demonsterandum.

Who remembers Atari? That’s a rhetorical question because, despite being in the right age bracket for it, for a number of reasons I’ve never actually played on it. But I knew it existed. And I knew some ads for Atari games. One of them really fired up my imagination. That’s right, I’m here to talk about Space Cavern.

Images from Atarimania.

Space Cavern ran an ad in magazines that looked a little something like this.

How awesome is that? Judging by the description that thing is a marsupod. Does it have four eyes or are those spots of bioluminescence? Is that its brain? Is it a demon sauropod that zaps you with lightning? Who knows, it’s metal as all hell. And it scared me somewhat too – I didn’t want to become a skeleton!

Electrosauri are nowhere in sight though. I always though they must look something like pterosaurs. Electric pterosaurs.

The official description calls marsupods “shaggy”. That… thing… up there does not look shaggy. Unless you’re being charitable about its chin danglers. Still no visual representation of an electrosaurus (?), which makes me sad.

Of course there was a bit of artistic license taken in the art. Actual gameplay looks a little something like this.

The electrosauri are the Space Invader things floating over the horizon, while the marsupod is the evil Pacman emerging from the right-hand side of the screenshot. I don’t know how they got a demon sauropod out of that, please don’t ask.


Who remembers Starsiege? When it came out in 1999 it was my favorite computer game ever, and it still is. Which makes it even sadder that it got upstaged and replaced by Tribes, and even Starsiege 2845, the much-anticipated update, petered out and died with a whimper.

It’s a pity really, because Starsiege was an amazing game. It’s not just the big fighting robots you get to pilot, the meaty boomsticks they use to blast each other to dust, or even the hero brothers both voiced by Mark Hamill (although those are all significant factors…). One of the things that most captivated younger me was the bad guys. The rogue AI. The evil robots. The “cybernetic hybrids”, or Cybrids, who call themselves the NEXT and are also known by the racial slur of “glitch”.

What sets the Cybrids apart from the 4,955,381 other instances of rebelling murderous artificial intelligences? What makes them worthy of the title of monster? Let’s find out.

Images and quotations are either from Starsiege‘s manuals, in-game screenshots, or taken from the Starsiege Compendium, which is an awesome site and you must visit it. Copyright their respective creators.

For one thing there’s the combat vehicles, or warforms. Cybrid vehicles are organically grown and modeled with the intent to strike fear into the hearts of humans. And this isn’t just show, as Cybrids are equipped with radiation guns, arachnitron mines, railguns, nanite eaters, particle beams, and other engines of death.


The Adjudicator is one of the pinnacles of Cybrid warform technology. Its appearance was created through “focus-testing” on captive humans, and was designed to have as terrifying a silhouette as possible. Adjudicators are usually deployed for cleansing//purifying population centers.


Executioners, or “potato bugs” as humans have come to call them, are all business. I love the fins and articulations look Cybrid vehicles have going, and given advanced enough graphics tech we could have seen some really cool alien stuff. So in terms of vehicles alone Cybrids are pretty darn monstrous.

prometheus-cybermatrixLike all good robots, the Cybrids were originally created with the best of intentions. The first Cybrid made, shown here, was Prometheus. IT was the first true artificial intelligence, and IT was tasked with creating more of ITS kind. This new generation of cybrids went on to fight the wars of humanity, up until Prometheus decided that IT could do a better job running the planet, and that humans were a blight that had to be eradicated. You can’t blame IT really. Then followed the Earthsieges and, eventually, the Starsiege, in a series of events that are far too detailed for me to describe here.

Instead, I’ll point out something about the subtleties of Cybrid communication.

Cybrid thought links concepts in a multilayered structure of ideas and “harmonics.” Hence, the term “human\\animals” communicates the primary identifier “human,” while “animals” provides a clarifying harmonic that further details the original concept. Action-oriented concepts or active principles receive a “dynamic” harmonic (represented here by //) whereas passive or object-oriented clusters receive a “grounded” harmonic (shown as \\).

Some terms – such as vehicle designations – contain both active and passive concepts and thus include both types of harmonic, but this use is unusual. names use the same conventions, adding a distinguishing sub-packet to designate a name (A name is represented by ). Cybrids also add an identifier packet when referring to themselves, e.g., or .

So, for instance:

Preliminary studies suggest that 85% of human\\animals will hesitate before offlining//injuring >>children<<.


One of Prometheus’ biggest discoveries was that the NEXT needed to have free will and intelligence of their own. It’s not very useful if your entire army can be destroyed just by blowing up one control center (more would-be conquerors should be aware of this). So instead each Cybrid is a full-blown personality, with thoughts and dreams and aspirations just like a human, kept in line by a Byzantine system of castes, hierarchies, and sects. And at the top of it all is Prometheus, holding sway via a cult of personality that sees IT worshipped as a living god.

Starsiege is chock-full of little news snippets and communications briefs – chatlogs, if you will – that give an idea of how the Cybrids (and humans, for that matter) think. This ScanX has virtually no effect on the game and can be easy to miss if you’re just in it for the big robots blowing each other up (which is loads of fun of course).

On the development of a bio-engineered nanite plague. Note the completely detached, clinical observations.


Observing//reporting. Nanophage infection of animal units in [location-designate:::
Vancouver] yields//shows promising results. However, rate of human flesh\\meat consumption\\necrosis fails to match//equal Dissector Sect estimates. Combat//tactical utility remains minimal.


Suggest//query. Decrease nanophage fatality schedule. Increase//lengthen dormacy phase. Expand vector via infiltrator Addendum = infect human\\animal remains and launch//accelerate carrier remains into animal-infested zones\\cities. Optimize broad-band killing efficiency.


>>Nanophage<< infiltration uses non-human\\animal vectors [ref. >>cats-dogs-rats-birds<< with superior\\acceptable efficiency. Non-human\\animals do not require conversion, merely infection and subsequent release\\targeting. Theses units successfully enter human habitats and evoke// receive >>sympathy<<.

In the human campaign, there’s a plot thread that was apparently dropped from the final game. ScanX notes read:

This is Melanie. I’m the only one left, and I’m scared. Is there anybody out there? Please answer! I’m so scared…

Melanie? We can’t get a trace… Where are you?

Here! I’m on Europa! Please help!

We’re on our way, sweetheart. Hang tight, ‘K?

And that’s it. You can play the human campaign and kick Prometheus’ iron posterior, but you never hear about Melanie again. Then you see the same exchange on the Cybrid ScanX.

This is Melanie. I’m the only one left, and I’m scared. Is there anybody out there? Please answer! I’m so scared…

Melanie, honey, hold on! Help is on the way. Can you just give us a tracer signal so we know where to find you? Good girl …

This is <Shaper-of-Endocrines: Sixth>.

Initiating ‘Siren’ program. Concealed warforms standing by for human\\animal intervention. Human\\animals projected to find program difficult to resist …

This is Melanie. I’m the only one left, and I’m scared. Is there anybody out there? Please answer! I’m so scared…

You have no idea how much this conversation freaked me out when I was littler.

The average Cybrid isn’t evil as much as pragmatic to a fault and utterly amoral. It’s less about “I want to kill people because I can, mwahaha” and more about “I wonder how long a human can survive in a vacuum if its lungs are filled with fluoroantimonic acid”.

Audio recordings of human\\animal subjects in custody\\experiments of Dissector Sect are now available\\ready for downloading to warforms. Recommend//suggest <units> broadcast//playback these noises at maximum volume when moving through animal warrens\\urban zones.

Use of individual live animals attached to chassis of warforms shows interesting\\promising results in disrupting human\\animal response time. Erratic performance\\tactics is noted in 42% of animal opponents who confronted//faced >>hostage<<-equipped warforms. Recommend variance of age and gender of >>human shields<< to determine optimal configuration.

And each Cybrid has its own personality and motivations. For instance, Eats-only-heads has a, er, head fetish and is fascinated with the feeling of “taste”.


Tyranny probably has a tumblr somewhere.


Corinthian-blue was a e s t h e t i c before it was cool.


And pLaGUe-DoG was rebooted multiple times. He’s… unique.


I could post Cybrid communications all day, but just a couple more before moving on. The <Machinator Sect> runs the Trojan Horse infiltration program. Their spies try to blend in with humans, and you can actually see them getting better at English over the course of the game. Early attempts at communication are a bit more awkward.

Stepanovna Base is still not responding. Solar interference in our sector has diminished to negligible levels. Mercury commlinks remain down. Raveler teams report GLORIA is down in Mercury sector. Admiral Hasegawa orders precautionary upgrade of SITREP to Amber Nine. Combat wings are now on standby alert. Resend status queries to Mercury.

Stepanovna base here… Negative … Colonel. <We>, ah,we have experienced… technical problems downside, acknowledge? have our … young men… out redacting … commlinks\\antennae… No worries for you, acknowledge? Everything’s moderately low temperature.

They can’t quite get idioms.


Surrender or we make leather of you! We are kind of nice.

Surrender//submit, human\\\\creator\\\\worms! You will inevitably lose//fail//submit anyway. <We> have you by the short rabbits. Unless you submit//kowtow, we will be forced to tan your epidermis and reduce your offspring to carbonized slag chips. However, <we> are kindly to the disposed of and will treat you efficiently if you cave//roll over now.

human-watchWhat defeated the Cybrids? The human campaign has you killing Prometheus, but it’s strongly implied (and confirmed in the additional material) that it wasn’t just that that finished off the glitches.

Turns out that with free will came dissent. Some Cybrids, calling themselves Metagens, decided they didn’t believe in Prometheus’ doctrine of cleansing the Earth and taking it for their own. They weren’t human-friendly either – at best they respected humans as fellow killers, like we’d respect a tiger or a shark. Others thought humans and Earth were a waste of time, and Cybrids belonged in the stars. They sabotaged Cybrid efforts from within, leaked plans to human forces, and defected en masse when news of Prometheus’s death came through. In the end it was infighting that collapsed the Cybrid invasion.

That isn’t even the whole of it, and the story of Starsiege is not a happy one. The Chase outlines just how brutal the war was, what its lingering effects were, and other such depressing points. But that’s another story…

I had the opportunity to reread George MacDonald’s The Princess and Curdie (TPAC for short) and it wasn’t much fun. MacDonald was the precursor to Lewis and Tolkien, and his moralizing is ham-fisted and unsubtle. It’s a sequel to the superior The Princess and the Goblin, one which focuses on the miner boy Curdie. Our Hero is empowered by one of the vanishing few female mystical figures in Christian fantasy (she’s Gandalf or Aslan, if you will); specifically, she gives him the ability to assess souls by shaking hands. Good people have baby hands, bad people’s hands feel like animal paws.

You see where this is going. (*SPOILERS* I guess for the rest of the review) TPAC is drenched with praise for the divine right of kings to rule and disdain for the disgusting greed of the lower classes. Curdie visits a comically evil town where, apparently, people wake up in the morning every day and decide to be bad. He acts like a jerk, destroys the plot to kill the kindly old king, tortures some plebeians at length (so much that it gets uncomfortable) and eventually becomes king himself because – surprise surprise – he has royal blood in him and so is fit to rule. But then he and the princess die without offspring and the unrepentant sinners of the town mine deep enough that everything collapses. Everyone dies. The end!

I didn’t remember any of that. What I remember from reading it as a child was the monsters.

Ohhh, those monsters. Nobody’s quite sure where they come from. In The Princess and the Goblin they’re the descendants of “regular” animals bred by goblins for subterranean life. In TPAC they’re apparently people whose sinful lifestyle transformed them according to their nature, and they’re now making amends for it. I say apparently because it’s mentioned a few times but not really expounded upon. I loved them to bits at any rate and scribbled them all over my school notebooks at the time.

Let’s see what they are, shall we? The images I’ll be sharing here are by Charles Folkard, Helen Stratton, and Dorothy Lathrop, and will be credited accordingly. All quotes are from TPAC.

monsters helen stratton

Our first and most notable is the one that accompanies Curdie throughout the book. Her name is Lina, and she is the one in the foreground of the image above by Helen Stratton. Her appearance is striking.

She had a very short body, and very long legs made like an elephant’s, so that in lying down she kneeled with both pairs. Her tail, which dragged on the floor behind her, was twice as long and quite as thick as her body. Her head was something between that of a polar bear and a snake. Her eyes were dark green, with a yellow light in them. Her under teeth came up like a fringe of icicles, only very white, outside of her upper lip. Her throat looked as if the hair had been plucked off. It showed a skin white and smooth.

Of course, Lina accompanies our hero, fights and protects him, and is generally a Good Dog. At the of TPAC she apparently dies happily by incinerating herself in a mass of burning magic roses. Yay?

lina dorothy lathroplina paw dorothy lathrop

I must admit that Dorothy Lathrop’s version of her (two images above) is adorable.

Lina then serves to marshal an army of monsters with which to torment the sinners of the town. Just some of them are shown below in Lathrop’s rendition.

…until at last, before they were out of the wood, she was followed by forty-nine of the most grotesquely ugly, the most extravagantly abnormal animals imagination can conceive. To describe them were a hopeless task. I knew a boy who used to make animals out of heather roots. Wherever he could find four legs, he was pretty sure to find a head and a tail. His beasts were a most comic menagerie, and right fruitful of laughter. But they were not so grotesque and extravagant as Lina and her followers.

monsters dorothy lathrop

Probably the most memorable of the monsters is the “legserpent”.

One of them, for instance, was like a boa constrictor walking on four little stumpy legs near its tail About the same distance from its head were two little wings, which it was for ever fluttering as if trying to fly with them. Curdie thought it fancied it did fly with them, when it was merely plodding on busily with its four little stumps. How it managed to keep up he could not think, till once when he missed it from the group: the same moment he caught sight of something at a distance plunging at an awful serpentine rate through the trees, and presently, from behind a huge ash, this same creature fell again into the group, quietly waddling along on its four stumps. Watching it after this, he saw that, when it was not able to keep up any longer, and they had all got a little space ahead, it shot into the wood away from the route, and made a great round, serpenting along in huge billows of motion, devouring the ground, undulating awfully, galloping as if it were all legs together, and its four stumps nowhere. In this mad fashion it shot ahead, and, a few minutes after, toddled in again amongst the rest, walking peacefully and somewhat painfully on its few fours.

Imagine Archeops’ desperately flapping wings stapled to a python, and you’re already halfway there.

legserpent dorothy lathrop

The legserpent helps Curdie and friends cross a chasm (image above, Dorothy Lathrop), and participates in enacting grisly vengeance on the Lord Chamberlain…

Now his lordship had had a bedstead made for himself, sweetly fashioned of rods of silver gilt: upon it the legserpent found him asleep, and under it he crept. But out he came on the other side, and crept over it next, and again under it, and so over it, under it, over it, five or six times, every time leaving a coil of himself behind him, until he had softly folded all his length about the lord chamberlain and his bed. This done, he set up his head, looking down with curved neck right over his lordship’s, and began to hiss in his face. He woke in terror unspeakable, and would have started up; but the moment he moved, the legserpent drew his coils closer, and closer still, and drew and drew until the quaking traitor heard the joints of his beadstead grinding and gnarring. Presently he persuaded himself that it was only a horrid nightmare, and began to struggle with all his strength to throw it off. Thereupon the legserpent gave his hooked nose such a bite, that his teeth met through it—but it was hardly thicker than the bowl of a spoon; and then the vulture knew that he was in the grasp of his enemy the snake, and yielded. As soon as he was quiet the legserpent began to untwist and retwist, to uncoil and recoil himself, swinging and swaying, knotting and relaxing himself with strangest curves and convolutions, always, however, leaving at least one coil around his victim. At last he undid himself entirely, and crept from the bed. Then first the lord chamberlain discovered that his tormentor had bent and twisted the bedstead, legs and canopy and all, so about him, that he was shut in a silver cage out of which it was impossible for him to find a way. Once more, thinking his enemy was gone, he began to shout for help. But the instant he opened his mouth his keeper darted at him and bit him,and after three or four such essays, with like result, he lay still.

… and the priest on “Religion Day” (image below by Charles Folkard).

At this point of the discourse the head of the legserpent rose from the floor of the temple, towering above the pulpit, above the priest, then curving downwards, with open mouth slowly descended upon him. Horror froze the sermon-pump. He stared upwards aghast. The great teeth of the animal closed upon a mouthful of the sacred vestments, and slowly he lifted the preacher from the pulpit, like a handful of linen from a wash-tub, and, on his four solemn stumps, bore him out of the temple, dangling aloft from his jaws.

legserpent charles folkard

Then there’s a whole bunch of other absurdly adorable monstrosities which barely get time to shine. There’s a Scorpion the size of a giant crab, and a three-foot-long Centipede. The sharp-nosed “tapir” and “Clubhead” work in tandem to destroy a rock wall…

At the very first blow came a splash from the water beneath, but ere he could heave a third, a creature like a tapir, only that the grasping point of its proboscis was hard as the steel of Curdie’s hammer, pushed him gently aside, making room for another creature, with a head like a great club, which it began banging upon the floor with terrible force and noise. After about a minute of this battery, the tapir came up again, shoved Clubhead aside, and putting its own head into the hole began gnawing at the sides of it with the finger of its nose, in such a fashion that the fragments fell in a continuous gravelly shower into the water. In a few minutes the opening was large enough for the biggest creature amongst them to get through it.

The tapir puts its nose to gruesome use.

The tapir had the big footman in charge: the fellow stood stock-still, and let the beast come up to him, then put out his finger and playfully patted his nose. The tapir gave the nose a little twist, and the finger lay on the floor. Then indeed the footman ran, and did more than run, but nobody heeded his cries. […] The master of the horse Curdie gave in charge to the tapir. When the soldier saw him enter—for he was not yet asleep—he sprang from his bed, and flew at him with his sword. But the creature’s hide was invulnerable to his blows, and he pecked at his legs with his proboscis until he jumped into bed again, groaning, and covered himself up; after which the tapir contented himself with now and then paying a visit to his toes.

“Ballbody” is probably the silliest.

…he had neither legs nor head nor arms nor tail: he was just a round thing, about a foot in diameter, with a nose and mouth and eyes on one side of the ball. He had made his journey by rolling as swiftly as the fleetest of them could run. […] …he could do nothing at cleaning, for the more he rolled, the more he spread the dirt. Curdie was curious to know what he had been, and how he had come to be such as he was; but he could only conjecture that he was a gluttonous alderman whom nature had treated homœopathically.

And then there’s the giant spider, which inspired at least two pieces of art, first by Charles Folkard.

spider charles folkard

For the attorney-general, Curdie led to his door a huge spider, about two feet long in the body, which, having made an excellent supper, was full of webbing. The attorney-general had not gone to bed, but sat in a chair asleep before a great mirror. He had been trying the effect of a diamond star which he had that morning taken from the jewel-room. When he woke he fancied himself paralysed; every limb, every finger even, was motionless: coils and coils of broad spider-ribbon bandaged his members to his body, and all to the chair. In the glass he saw himself wound about, under and over and around, with slavery infinite. On a footstool a yard off sat the spider glaring at him.

spider helen stratton

And then by Helen Stratton. I cannot properly express how much I love the above image. You can just imagine the spider glaring crossly at the poor guy, all like òÒÓó

Well, that concludes our retrospective through MacDonald’s lovingly designed monstrosities. If TPAC had been only about their adventures it would probably have been far more fun.

Okay, I’m cheating a little. Those aren’t exactly obscure or modern – in fact, they’re some of the best-known, oldest, and most enduring mythical creatures. But they are unique renditions of those creatures, and have influenced modern views of them in surprising ways, including providing the answer to a mystery that has plagued DnD scholars.

In its April 23, 1951 issue, LIFE Magazine ran a short (4 pages) article titled “Mythical Monsters”, subtitled “These Beasts Existed Only In Man’s Imagination”. It featured seven mythical creatures illustrated by another of my favorite illustrators, Rudolf Freund (I really need to do an effortpost on LIFE artists including Lewicki and Freund). They are beautiful, detailed, and feature some… unusual design choices.


The depiction of the su is representative of Freund’s approach. Reading a mustached woman’s face, palm-frond tail, tiger stripes, frog babies, and ample udders into the description is definitely a first.


The griffin, on the other hand, is standard, although modern artists would give it eagle’s forelimbs. Pedants would argue that this isn’t a griffin but an opinicus. They’re wrong.


The yale in particular looks like it could actually exist, and I love the dynamic pose it’s in.


Going to go out on a limb here and claim that this here is the reason why so many basilisks today are drawn as lizards instead of little crowned snakes or freaky reptochickenmutants. Nothing in the text suggest anything lizardy either, so Freund may have been elaborating here.

Disclaimer: the break in its middle is because it’s spread across two pages.


Looks familiar? That’s right, LIFE used Topsell’s gorgon (itself a renamed catoblepas). In turn, I humbly suggest that this was the inspiration for Dungeons and Dragons’ gorgon. You can stop worrying about where Gygax got his gorgon from and start sleeping easy.


Freund’s manticore is scarier than anything else. It’s also the most dapper of manticores. Check out that handlebar mustache and the slicked hair! I suspect the manticore in Page and Ingpen’s encyclopedia of Things That Never Were was based in part on this. References to this manticore pop up in odd places, including…

JLA manticore

… that one JLA comic where a manticore and a griffin double-team our heroes. The manticore is yellow, of course.

I always thought that was a cop-out weakness too.


The last and best is this spectacular unicorn. I love the different colors and the mismatched elephant feet. This is exactly what unicorns should look like – garbled third and fourth hand accounts of rhinos.

Who remembers TORG? I do but I never played it. I remember this RPG because one of the primary gamebooks – The Living Land sourcebook – somehow found its way into a second-hand bookstore in my third-world country, so of course I had to go forth and talk about it.

The premise is that Our Earth has been invaded by bad guys from various realities, and they’re forcing their realities on ours. North America has become a lost world of religious dinosaurs. France has become an alternate history version of itself where the Avignon Popes won, developed cyberware, and turned the place into a Catholic cyberpunk dystopia. Egypt is now run by pulp pharaohs and weird science. Southeast Asia has become a new Victorian England populated by Gothic nightmares. California is a cyberdemon-infested hellscape. More than usual. It’s a really cool concept but the only thing I know about it is what I could get from the books. I have no idea how it plays out. If you’re interested the current holders are kickstarting an update.

I don’t pretend to be a connoisseur of RPGs, but I do pretend to be a connoisseur of creatures, and TORG has plenty from different areas. There’s the standard Tolkien-ripoff fantasy world (yawn), but I do appreciate this adorable muppety Cockatrice.


As well as this kelpie.


The Living Land was my introduction to TORG, so you can imagine my dismay when I found out it was the least popular setting. But… dinosaurs? TORG came out pre-Jurassic Park so the dinos are all inaccurate lumbering lizards (and unfortunately, the remake has stated “our raptors don’t have feathers either”. Gah!) But it has so much potential! It’s like Stephen King’s The Mist except it’s dinosaurs. And they could easily have advanced biotech instead of nonliving weapons…. but I digress. One of the coolest sapient races of all are the stalengers, which are flying stained glass fuzzy starfishes. Yes.


“You okay there buddy? Speak to me, bro. Speak to me.”

Then you get things like cyber-enhanced hunter-killer insects like these adorbs little things.


That’s right, if you hadn’t guessed by now, Tharkold and the Cyberpapacy are the cosms of METAL. \m/

tar pit ghul

Undead subfossil La Brea creatures? Why not?

I don’t know about you but one of my life’s goals has been to become a flying disembodied brain with cyber enhancements. I’m glad TORG has made this a reality. I want to be a ziggit. Called Stardust. I can see it happening.


The gamemaster’s paradise is surely Orrorsh, where anything and everything is a disguised Horror ready to kill you. Children’s toys? Medical instruments? Household objects? They’re all Horrors, and they will make you Die Horribly. Have I mentioned how much I love anything OF DOOM?

pop weasel
doctor's little helper

Of course I saved the best for last. This is it. Unironically my favorite of all creatures. Nothing I do will ever compare to this image of perfection.


I love everything about this.

What I’m saying is that if you can’t appreciate how wonderful a ROTARY MOWER OF DOOM is then you’re a shriveled joyless husk, thank you and good evening.

The Unprecedented Discovery of the Dragon Islands (or TUDDI for short) by John Kelly and Kate Scarborough is a book which I remember very fondly. I first saw it as a child in a bookstore that no longer exists, and my memories of it got so fuzzy that I eventually became convinced I had dreamt it up. Searching for “realistic dragon book”, “living trap monster”, and similar terms led nowhere. Eventually, by some quirk of fate I searched Amazon for “dragon island” and checked the results for the 90s… and there it was. I hadn’t imagined it after all. And since it’s mostly pictures, I’m covering it under Obscure Modern Monsters rather than ABC Reviews (needless to say I give it 5 gigelorums).

You needn’t search for it as you can buy it here and here.


TUDDI is a big, colorful coffee-table book for children of all ages. It presents itself as the illustrated diary of young Lord Nathaniel Parker as he and his ship get lost at sea, and end up finding a fabulous archipelago where dragons and sea serpents exist. Lord Parker writes to Belinda, his main squeeze, and a lot of TUDDI’s humor comes from his stuffy aristocratisms. The book ends all too quickly and suddenly – sequel hook? It certainly feels like the authors could fill several more “episodes”, but sadly I don’t think they have (if you’re the authors and you’re reading this, take note).

The main reason you would want to read TUDDI as fans of ABC, mythical creatures, speculative biology, speculative evolution, and all-around great art, is the creatures. Some are new takes on old classics, while others are completely new organisms with no equivalents. Even speculative insects and plants are painted in loving detail.

Above you can see TUDDI’s take on the sea serpent. An enormous, sea-going reptile convergent on the whale, complete with baleen. Lord Parker and his friends find a dead one on the beach with ominous sucker markings on its body…


I’ll just give a small sample of what’s inside. There are unicorns. There are griffons, which hunt in packs, feed on the unicorns, and make a go at our heroes. There are giant ratites with faces that look like the old duck-rabbit illusion. There are carnivorous plants. There are Cambrian relict arthropods. There are aquatic-adapted shrew-things.


The gorgon is an all-original creation and one of the things I remember most from the book. It’s literally a living bear-trap, one that lies camouflaged amid tree roots and snaps shut on whatever steps on it. It’s a nasty piece of work, and I like that a lot of it is left to the imagination. We’re not even sure what it evolved from, but I’m guessing some kind of primate?


Of course, it wouldn’t be the Dragon Islands without dragons, would it? The dragons themselves are marvelous organic balloons, big pink bloated floating translucent fire-breathing plankton-straining gilled soarers. They’re exactly as awesome as they sound.

A short and quick entry for today’s interlude. It’s also reaaaallllllyyyy stretching the definition of “modern”, but this is a) not something I’d be giving a complete entry to, b) I’m not listing all the instances of creature usage in art, c) I wanted to share this with you regardless, and d) this is my website, YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO DAD.

Of course, as ABC readers you’re acquainted with Gustave Moreau’s 1876 masterpiece Hercules and the Lernaean Hydra.


But did you know that the hydra has the heads of actual snakes? As part of his research, Moreau consulted books by Bonnaterre, Cuvier, and Wagler at the Paris Natural History Museum’s library. He then used seven snakes for each of the hydra’s heads.

Going by his study below, the snakes are, clockwise from bottom left to bottom right: the neotropical rattlesnake, the puff adder, the European adder, the Egyptian cobra, the boomslang, the horned viper, and the Mexican anaconda.

hydra head taxonomy

Will ABC’s hydra entry use a similar true-to-life approach? Who can tell…


Lacambre, L. (1998) Gustave Moreau. Dossier de l’Art Hors-serie No. 51.

Today’s obscure modern monster comes from the pages of Thorgal, a fantasy/science-fiction BD series by Jean van Hamme and Grzegorz Rosinski. In it our titular hero Thorgal Aegirsson, a space-faring alien raised as a Viking (long story), and his long-suffering wife Aaricia face insurmountable odds and enemies like the brutal Viking chieftain Gandalf-the-Mad, the sleazy Volsung of Nichor, the sinister Shardar of Brek Zarith, Nidhogg the Serpent, and, of course, Kriss of Valnor. You get the idea.

In Géants (Giants), one of his many adventures, Thorgal finds himself on a journey to Jotunheim in order to recover the memories he lost in the Invisible Fortress (long story). His guide, a Valkyrie, drops him off at the border and warns him of the Guardian. So, for our purposes this story begins here, with Thorgal exploring the barren wastes surrounding the land of the Giants.


That’s when he is hailed by an unfamiliar voice…


… and he turns around to find a sort of fluffy shih-tzu type critter, clearly demanding that Our Hero show some ID and justify his existence.


Naturally Thorgal is enamored of the cute doggo, and obligingly gives it head skritches on demand. He asks if the creature is the guardian, whereupon it responds that we are the guardian.


That’s right, the little furballs are everywhere.


“They’re so cute!” exclaims Our Hero. “I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting such a charming welcome…”






Of course Thorgal manages to escape by the skin of his teeth and goes on to his exploits among the giants, which include befriending a not-so-little girl and escaping the clutches of a two-headed falcon (long story). For the return journey he benefits from the same cop-out ride home started by Tolkien, namely eagles a Valkyrie swan. The poor Guardian is left thoroughly nonplussed.


I feel your pain, little head.