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Dear Duke Lothario,
If you are receiving this correspondence, it is because you have successfully stolen Degas’s The Bellelli Family from Musee D’Orsay in Paris and have found our note taped to the back of the canvas. Congratulations, monsieur, on your successful heist and be assured that our fence, Madame Noir, shall be by tomorrow at midnight to take possession. This note, however, will be stolen off your person by tomorrow morning by the one and only Chat Mauve. Do not try to stop him; you will only embarrass yourself.
Why have we gone to such lengths? It is to inform you of an unparalleled opportunity developing in the United States of America. As you may have heard, inveterate fool and consummate imbecile Donald Trump has managed to achieve the White House (thanks, in no small part, to our meddling, we assure you – your service fees at work!), and now, friends, our true work begins. A golden age of kleptocracy is about to begin in the US of A, and we would love for you to be part of it!
Let it be known that we are contacting every hustler, grifter, sneak-thief, footpad, brigand, con-man, cat burglar, extortion artist, cutpurse, second-story man, bandit, robber, and pickpocket in our network that, once Trump takes office, we are declaring open-season on any and all American goods, artifacts, or government assets. We are buying military equipment, real-estate, physical assets (e.g. gold), and artifacts. Grab all you can carry – we are absolutely certain that the FBI, NSA, and CIA will be entirely too worried tracking down Hispanic farm workers with unpaid parking tickets to bother stopping you from filching weapons-grade plutonium from a government lab. Their eyes will be so fixated on signing unassuming Muslims up on some fascist database that not a single person will notice if the Washington Monument goes missing. Trump isn’t even living in the White House, so the whole damned place is basically unoccupied except by those glorified rent-a-cops in the Secret Service and, let’s face it, you are just three or four high-end strippers away from having the run of the place!
Just to give you a taste of the things we’re looking to purchase off the ambitious villains willing to pull it off, here is an incomplete list:
- The US Constitution (an easy grab, since we doubt it will be seeing much use)
- The Declaration of Independence (note: do not look for any secret treasure maps)
- Lincoln’s Head from the Lincoln Memorial (rest of statue optional)
- The VA Hospital system (the whole thing–no partial buys)
- A Commissioned Aircraft Carrier (deliverable to our offices in Arkhangelsk, Russia)
- Minuteman missiles (for our mad-scientist clients–demand is high, so prices are too!)
- Trump’s Toupee (careful–it might bite)
- Mount Vernon and/or Monticello
- The US Interstate Highway System (suffering from some disrepair, so be delicate)
- Mount Rushmore (Teddy Roosevelt only)
And on and on and on…
Friend, the possibilities here are literally endless, but act quickly – Trump’s minions are going to be pawning a lot of this stuff off soon, so supplies are more limited than you think!
Good luck, Duke Lothario! Remember: your success is our success!
Financial Operations and Underwriting Limited (FOUL)
The Union of Stars: The Thraad
And now it comes time to discuss our own species – the Thraad. If it has taken long for me to reach this topic, it is not without reason. We Thraad understand that to know oneself, you must first understand others. If this seems counter-intuitive, give it time. You are young yet.
We are an evolutionary descendant of gastropods, though we are a significantly more complex organism than most common snails or slugs. We have a functioning circulatory system, for instance, and a six-chambered heart. Over the aeons, we have lost the ability to grow thick shells (artificial shells are worn instead, as clothing). Our locomotion is still by means of our single, muscular foot and made easier by the secretion of waste slime to reduce friction. We have two eyes on muscular stalks that can rotate and can even look in two directions at once without distress. Beneath our chins are four tentacles we use for the manipulation of objects, both fine and coarse. We are omnivorous and are hatched from eggs.
By the standards of other species in the Union, we are foul-smelling, slow, and ugly. But they know well enough not to underestimate us. Our home planet, Thraador, is very large by the standards of the Union and we evolved in an environment of extreme gravitational forces. Though we usually stand no more than 150 cm from foot to shell, we are the tallest and largest creatures on our world, which is flat, wet, and hot. Bipeds and quadrapeds never evolved on our world, as standing upright requires too much strength and affords too few advantages. When a fall of a few meters is fatal, walking on two or even four feet is risky. We Thraad are steady on our foot – we seldom falter and we never fall (remember this always, as it speaks not just to our physiology, but to our culture and heritage as well). Furthermore, thanks to the intense environment of our home, we are extremely strong by the standards of the other species. Though slow, we are unstoppable. Though ugly, we have wisdom.
We Thraad are a more unified people than most. Long ago we cast off petty nationalistic rivalries or affiliations of House or Cartel. Introspective by nature, we seek consensus in all things. Perhaps thanks to the harsh environment of our homeworld, we are disinclined to take action unless absolutely needed and not until it has been deeply considered. We are not flighty or given to impulse.
Our government is decentralized and simplistic: a council of elders of no specific size meets to decide things and, should the deliberations be wise, the people follow. This sounds chaotic to other species, but they do not understand our temperament. Wisdom is wisdom, no matter who speaks it. If the elders are wise, and history shows that they are, then they will speak well and we would do well to take their counsel. We are not a species of rebels or petty criminals. In the rare instance that one of our number is committed to folly, they are simply ostracized and cast out of the community. It is that simple.
This, of course, has its disadvantages. Though scientifically curious and always willing to learn, our society changes slowly and our capacity to react to calamity is limited. This makes other species think of us as harmless “armchair academics.” But our anger is no less bright than others. Our weapons, though perhaps not as flashy as those of the Dryth, are no less deadly. History is filled with the plague-ridden corpses of those who underestimated us.
We do not maintain distinct family units, even though we are a sexually reproducing species. Eggs are hatched centrally in any given community. The care of young ones is the equal responsibility of all – hence my speaking to you now. It may be that some of you are my biological children, but we Thraad make no distinctions between such things. If you are young and a Thraad, you are my offspring, to be treated the same as any other. If female, you will one day make periodic visits to the hatchery to lay. If male, you will make periodic visits to fertilize. That is all.
There is a sense among us, I feel, that we are cheated by our nature. Some of us look out from our flat world to gaze with envy upon the doings of the other Great Races – the romance of the Lhassa, the passion of the Dryth, and so on. But, in the end, all Thraad return to Thraador. After some years adventuring in the light gravity of the outside world, we long to return to our swampy homes. We are sensible like that.
Thraad civilization began some 16,000 sidereal years in the past. There is too much to know to sum up in this precis, but suffice to say that we took our time developing our cultures, our technologies, and our knowledge. There were wars, yes, but they were primarily waged by proxy: animals and plants and microbes we had trained or engineered to pursue our interests in one way or another. We are, of course, famed for being the masters of what is called “ecological warfare.” It is a slow way to defeat one’s enemies, yes, but quite effective in the long run.
We sought the stars, as all species do in time, but not because of the damage we had done to our environment (like the Lhassa) or because of our desire for conquest (the Dryth). Rather, we left our planet to learn. To explore. The history of our species is one of slow, gradual exploration – the meticulous building of a body of knowledge. We are a curious people.
Of course, our steps into the stars were not without problems. We warred with other species and lost. We discovered that our technologies and our habits were too slow to compete with the likes of the Dryth and Lhassa and Lorca. By luck, we “met” Skennite, and found in it a kindred spirit. The period of our history known as “the Hastening” began – we discovered the secrets of slipdrive, we expanded our influence. When again war came, we were ready. Our biological and chemical weapons were terrifyingly effective, our well-planned strategies invincible. We made the galaxy tremble. Of course, we are not a warrior people in the manner of the Dryth and we are not so numerous or prolific as the Lhassa, and we in time lost again. But we had secured ourselves a place as one of the Great Races, a privilege we continue to enjoy.
We joined the Union gladly, happy to escape the endless wars that ravaged the stars. Now our role is as diplomats, scientists, and merchants, not warriors. We are happier this way. Let the Lhassa and the Dryth and the others struggle in violence and pain for their pieces of the universe. We Thraad shall stand by, patiently, for the opportunity to squeeze ourselves into somewhere essential, just as we always have.
Important Notification Re: Your Hero Insurance
Dear Doctor Monstrosity,
This is an important notice regarding your Hero liability coverage in your FOUL Insurance Policy. You must read this document immediately and in its entirety, or our coven of witches currently on retainer will place a hex upon you that will result in you no longer being able to absorb fluid without vomiting, which means a painful and grotesque death by dehydration will await you. Feel free to take notes. Please eat the message when you are done, as that will guard against the curse. As usual, please understand this is meant as a safety measure to ensure your privacy, our privacy, and the privacy of our other customers.
Notification of Policy Change
As of this writing, FOUL will no longer cover the costs of heroic interventions against your operation that are perpetrated by orphans of your former enemies.
Furthermore, any pre-existing coverage offered for orphans created by accident or negligence are likewise null and void.
FOUL will also be increasing premiums by 50% on any liability coverage for heroic acts of revenge stemming from the loss of even ONE parent to your actions.
Finally, FOUL will disallow any further coverage against liability as a result of actions by those persons who believed they were orphans until they discovered you were, in fact, their only surviving parent.
Statistics have shown that those who have left the progeny of their foes to live have a 65% greater chance of being undone by those self-same offspring, even after an intervening period of apparent calm for decades. It seems apparent that the loss of parents is in some way traumatic (we are as surprised as you) and stands to create a kind of manic obsession with revenge which has proven costly. The claims FOUL has been forced to bear as a result of our clients’ own sloppiness has seriously tested our financial security as an organization.
So, some quick do’s and don’ts:
-DO NOT abandon your enemies’ offspring in a wasteland or in the midst of a storm and expect them to perish.
-DO NOT expect the power of love to crumble before your overwhelming might and grandeur.
-DO NOT, under any circumstances, sell your victims’ progeny into slavery of any kind.
-DO NOT gloat over the child of an enemy or underling or endeavor to teach them any kind of lesson whatsoever.
-DO encourage your underlings to bring any and all errant children to you for re-education.
We at FOUL are happy to serve you for any of your evil financial needs and hope to do business with you in the future. Just try not to create orphans anymore.
My Blog: Dramatis Personae
Had a book signing last night at Pandemonium Books in Cambridge. It was a ton of fun. Turnout wasn’t exceptional, but I certainly wasn’t there by myself and I probably sold between a dozen and fifteen books, which ain’t too bad for an author nobody knows about. I totally forgot to take pictures, so you’re just going to have to take my word for it. A big thanks to the folks over at Pandemonium, especially Sarah, for giving me the time and space to sit there and talk about writing and D&D and fantasy and even sing a few bars from Disney’s Tangled.
Anywho, in conversation with my friend Kevin Harrington (who is a masterful networker), I started thinking about this blog and the purpose it serves and what kinds of stuff I do here. I’m not going anywhere, don’t worry (to the extent that anybody would ever worry about the disappearance of another author blog), but I guess I kind of just want to codify and explain this weird little thing I’ve got going on.
Blog Voice #1: Me
Most of the time, the voice you hear on this blog is that of myself. I talk incessantly anyway, so talking here is just an extension of my chatty nature. I tend to write about fantasy and science fiction properties, kid’s shows, Disney, my own work, the art and craft of writing, and whatever happens to cross my path. As a literature professor, I analyze pop culture stuff a bit more deeply than I probably ought to, and I don’t regret it one bit. I also stray off into talking about Role Playing Games (the pen-and-paper kind) and all kinds of other gaming, too. Basically, if you’re a writer, a geek, or some combination, you and I should get along just fine. Either that or become mortal enemies. Time will tell.
Blog Voice #2: FOUL (Financial Operations and Underwriting Limited)
I stray into parody a fair amount here, and one of the chief avenues of this is my FOUL posts. These are essentially me imagining the kind of financial and administrative and legal apparatus that would have to exist if there really were supervillains and evil masterminds in the world. They are pretty silly – very much along the lines of the Bank of Evil in the Despicable Me movies.
Blog Voice #3: Vrokthar the Skull-Feaster
Vrokthar is a dour, bloodthirsty barbarian of the Conan type, dwelling in some fictional wasteland just north of wherever you are. He is constantly angry, and bellows his threats from his throne of skulls. I use Vrokthar sometimes to vent about things that piss me off, since him venting is ridiculous and comical, and me venting is petty and mean. As Vrokthar is an absurdist caricature of a person, he says and believes things I do not, so there is a fair amount of distance between the things he might threaten to do or the things he finds insulting and the things that *I* do, but the stuff he’s complaining about is somehow related to what’s bothering me (even if I’m using Vrokthar to be sarcastic). Anyway, it’s just nice to have an angry barbarian come in sometimes and threaten to disembowel those who defy him.
Blog Voice #4: World-building Stuff
I also use this blog to flesh out settings for my novels. There’s a pile of old documents on Tvyian’s world under the Saga of the Redeemed tab, some stuff on the Union of Stars, some stuff on Nyxos, and more, besides. I mean, assuming you’re into that kind of thing. I have no blessed idea if anybody actually enjoys reading that stuff (it tends to get the fewest hits), so I try not to do it very often.
Blog Voice #5: Guest Posts!
I know a bunch of authors, and so many of them I invite to come on the blog and share excerpts from their new works or guest posts about whatever they feel like sharing. I should note that I don’t want to deal with unsolicited offers of guest posts just yet (I’m not so huge a platform I’d be doing you many favors, anyway, and I’m about as busy as I want to be here), but perhaps one day, if I’m able to quit my day job and write full time.
(Pause here for laughter)
Anyway, that’s basically what’s going on here. Oh, and there’s a few other things, too. Like that time I wrote about One Eyed Willie from Goonies, which has been very popular, or that time I channeled HG Wells for a silly joke, which is one of my favorites.
Well, long story short (too late), I’m curious as to what you folks like to read here and what, if anything, gets you coming back. I’m not saying I’ll change my behavior, mind you, but I’m curious. How is all of this going? Let me know!
Hail Fantasy, Corrupter of Youthful Innocence!
Hail, unholy brethren! We meet tonight, beneath a moonless sky, to discuss our fiendish and ungodly enthusiasm for that blackest of black speech, the literature of fantasy authors. Bill will pass around the basket for monthly dues, as usual. No more newt’s eye, please – we’ve still got a crap-ton we’re trying to unload on those Wiccans who meet in the university annex down on 5th street. Stacey is also circulating a copy of the minutes from last month’s minutes. Just everybody confirm it’s written in the blood of an unbaptized virgin and we can get to new business.
All set? Oh, and there’s a fountain of baby tears at the back if you’re thirsty. And coffee. Yes, Paula, there’s decaf. Jesus.
Okay, new business:
It has come to our unholy attention that Graeme Whiting, head of the Acorn School, has declared to all who will listen that our genre of literature – Fantasy – is likely to damage the sensitive brains of young children. He says that he “stands for the ‘old-fashioned values of traditional literature’ rather than the modern ‘dark, demonic literature’ which could warp children’s subconscious minds.”
He is, of course, entirely correct. Such is our goal and has been ever since the Grand Wizard Tolkien spoke to us in the thousand-tongues of the goat-footed god and gave us our life’s goal: to consume children’s innocence with tales of wonder and magic.
What is distressing is this: Mr. Whiting suggests to the world that parents “leave those mystical and frightening texts for when they can discern reality, and when they have first learned to love beauty.”
This, of course, may prove to be an existential threat to our goals, and must be counteracted. Why, if children learn to love beauty, they will never be indoctrinated into our hellish ways and our nefarious cult may die out with its goals of world domination unrealized. This must not come to pass! Think of the mind-warping horrors children will be spared!
If our future acolytes are driven away from Harry Potter, the unholy ominbus of Grand Priestess Rowling (praise be her name!), how shall we infest the youth with the demonic notion that even the least among us may hold within them great power? Why, in studying the forbidden books’ heretical whisperings, children will develop the perverse idea that people should not be judged by outward appearances but rather by internal character and nobility. Think of the wickedness the world would be spared if these books are banned from young eyes!
And what may occur if the impressionable innocents of future generations are not exposed to the grim and hapless prose of Dark Master Roald Dahl? Why, how can we be assured that children are corrupted to believe they are independent and respected agents of their own fate? We will never bring about the end of civilization if innocent youths are indoctrinated into a love of chocolate or exposed to the possibility of going on an adventure inside oversized produce. Indeed, Dark Master Dahl’s work has been instrumental in making school heads look like sadistic monsters ever since his black manifesto, Matilda, was circulated among the unsuspecting population. Obviously Mr. Whiting caught on to what we were doing there. He is a clever one, no doubt, and must be taken seriously if global apocalypse is to be assured.
(pause for evil laughter)
But let us consider the gravest of threats posed by this unrepentant servant of the light, Mr. Whiting (foul gods! Even his name is a clue to his spotless soul!). What if Mr. Whiting manages to get children to not read the works of the almighty Grand Wizard himself? Why, without Tolkien ravaging the immaculate souls of children, they may never grow up never having his magic worked upon their deepest being. Then, instead of becoming lovers of such black virtues as “peace,” “fellowship,” “humility,” and the “beauty of nature,” they will instead grow up to gallantly work as cogs in the mighty machine of the modern world, bravely grinding their hopes and dreams to dust so that they can selflessly save society from the foul curse of dreaming about sunlight and the sound of trees.
And then the forces of evil will lose.
Brothers and Sisters in Wickedness, we must redouble our efforts. We must strive to put a Pratchett in every pre-teen’s hands. We must slip Lloyd Alexander beneath the pillows of unsuspecting whelps the world over! We must not rest until we inflict the words of Lewis Carroll, L Frank Baum, Suzanne Collins, Ray Bradbury, and David Eddings upon the impressionable minds of young people, twisting their brains into organs capable of that great perversion: unrestricted imagination, wonder, and love of reading.
If we fail, the forces of light will triumph, and our children will instead learn to read sterilized, safe, and reverent works of great literature, such as Titus Andronicus, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, The Odyssey, Heart of Darkness, Beowulf, and Frankenstein.
You know: kids’ stuff.
Our Global Assassination Services: An Overview
Dear Mr. Bigtime LaMorte,
Thank you for your interest in Financial Operations and Underwriting Limited (FOUL) and our contract killer service. Take your time reviewing the material, but understand that, in order to guarantee confidentiality, the material in your possession is radioactive and will result in radiation poisoning and death unless returned to its lead-lined briefcase in three hours. The briefcase will then destroy the documents inside and the case is yours to keep as a token of our esteem.
While this is not an exhaustive dossier of all our operatives, it does give you a general overview of the kind of professionals we tend to employ.
El Cazador, Sniper
El Cazador is a good, mid-rate sniper available for reasonable fees. He is discreet, professional, and never misses his target. He is, however, a bit slow. He stalks his prey methodically over a period of weeks and then, when he decides on the perfect place to take them out, he will camp out for sometimes several months waiting for the right moment. Birds have been known to nest in his hair.
Thanks to his slow metabolism, El Cazador does not need to eat very much, which keeps his rates reasonable. He also never moves faster than a casual walk. Never. You should see him play Capture the Flag – he’s legitimately awful at it. Still, he is very reliable, assuming you’ve got the time.
Oh, and he takes his damned time cashing his checks, FYI.
Ke-blammer Sam, Mad Bomber
Sam is the best explosives man on our staff, even though none of us have actually met him. Well, to be more specific, everybody from FOUL sent to meet him gets blown up. He blows up cars, trains, airplanes, toilets, lunch boxes, cigars, spare change, and once managed to render a burrito a WMD. In short, he blows up everything, all the time. Accordingly, he has no problem blowing up anybody you want blown up. Assuming you don’t mind the distinct possibility he’ll blow you up, too. Our intelligence suggests he’s even blown himself up a few times, though how he’s survived this is anybody’s guess. We don’t imagine he’s entirely stable, you know?
But he is pretty darn cheap.
Master Doom is one of our staff of Mad Scientists. He doesn’t go by the name “doctor” because he never technically earned his PhD, though he did explosively dehydrate his thesis advisor which, in our world, is tantamount to earning the degree.
Master Doom specializes in the esoteric assassinations – poisonings, accelerated aging, getting somebody bitten by a genetically engineered cobra, liquification, swallowed by a giant frog, etc.. If you have an elaborate or intricate death planned for your enemies, this is the man to call.
One warning, of course: in order to avoid becoming victim to Master Doom’s more unusual experiments, please refrain from touching him, drinking anything he gives you, eating anything offered, making eye contact, brushing against his clothing, borrowing clothing from him, meeting with him at his lab, driving with him in a car, or engaging in any kind of physical or electronic correspondence. If you want him to do something, let us know, and we’ll send one of our interns down to give him the message.
You will be billed the cost of training another intern. This is built into Master Doom’s fees.
The Bullet Man
The last, and arguably most expensive, assassin on our rolls is The Bullet Man. A former US Marine, Navy SEAL, Green Beret, SPETZ NATZ, and French Foreign Legion Commando, the Bullet Man is an expert in every single weapon ever invented and is seemingly immune to all injuries. We have seen him gun down the entire armed forces of Honduras with a single machine gun and all he walked away with were a few scratches across his pectoral muscles that, somehow, only made him look tougher. There is not a stronghold on this planet that he cannot walk up to, grunt some kind of one-liner, and proceed to blow up with whatever weapons are available. Seriously – once he destroyed an American nuclear submarine with an antique musket and a rusty Roman gladius. He is easily the best of the best. However, if you want to hire him, you must sign a waiver stating you will not do any of the following:
- Steal his woman.
- Kidnap his daughter.
- Murder his partner (especially when his partner is nearing retirement – we can’t stress this enough).
- Laugh at him. At all.
- Kill his dog.
- Hire his rival (The Blaster Supreme) at the same time.
- Challenge him to a game of skill.
- Allow your goons to make eye contact.
- Lie to him in any way, shape, or form.
- Call his bluff.
- Try to force him out of retirement by blowing up his mountain cottage/seaside retreat/mom’s house.
Again, these assassins represent just a sampling of the vicious killers we are willing to contract to you for a modest finders fee. Please make your reservations quickly – 2016 is shaping up to be a very busy season for untimely deaths, and we are likely to develop a backlog. Also, your body isn’t getting any less irradiated – being decisive at this juncture will prevent all manner of health complications a few years down the line.
Good luck, and happy hunting!
The Prank Hierarchy
It’s April Fools Day, and I’d like to talk about pranks and practical jokes. You see a lot of these things floating around the internet, on television, and sometimes they’re things your friends play on you or each other. We’re all supposed to have a sense of humor about it, but the fact is that a significant number of pranks out there just straight up aren’t funny (at least to me) and some of them should never be pulled. Others are great – creative, fun, and entertaining. It may be hard, however, to determine if a prank you’re considering is a good or bad idea. So, here are my thoughts on the matter – feel free to disagree – about what makes a good practical joke and what makes a bad one.
So, in my opinion, the purpose of a practical joke is ultimately to be funny. The more people who are entertained, the better it is. Furthermore, the source of the amusement is the person upon whom the joke is being played, not the joke itself (though that can help). Accordingly, the wider variety of reactions you can get out of the person being pranked, the more interesting it will wind up being – humor, after all, is spontaneous. Finally, the greater concentration of negative reactions elicited by the joke, the worse it becomes, as the odds of feeling empathy or sympathy for the people being pranked rises. If you feel bad for the person you pull the joke on, it isn’t funny anymore. At least, assuming you aren’t a sociopath.
With this in mind, here is my hierarchy of prank-types, from best to worst:
Pranks That Cause Bewilderment
A prank that causes bewilderment exposes the targets to something strange and inexplicable and asks them to react. Frequently, this joke is funny in and of itself. You get a lot of different reactions to these jokes – confusion, annoyance, amusement, excitement – and every once in a while the targets even start to play along. These are the best pranks because they’re fun, nobody is harmed or embarrassed, and usually everybody leaves the situation laughing along. Any joke that ends with everybody smiling is a pure winner.
Pranks That Cause Shock
The next step down are pranks that are scary, but not viscerally so. The simplest example is somebody jumping up from behind a couch and shouting BOO! Probably nobody is hurt, and so long as you aren’t doing it in a hockey mask and covered in blood, people get over their fear pretty quickly. The best of these pranks mix in with the Bewilderment stage because the “shock” is not one of momentary terror, but of just plain old surprise. Often, the targets are not, themselves, the focus of the prank – it may be a shocking thing that they witness. Again, a variety of reactions can be expected, but among these reactions is actual fear and terror, neither of which are good things. Targets for these pranks can often appreciate them in retrospect, but don’t enjoy them while they’re happening. Some people actively hate them. Ultimately, your mileage may vary.
Pranks That Cause Disgust
The next step down is where we start to get into “probably not funny” territory. These pranks are designed to gross people out (though without destroying property). They are frequently sexually inappropriate, involve nasty smells, or are just generally creepy. Some people can appreciate these jokes (though I’m not one of them) and most of the amusement is generated on the part of the practitioners, not the target. This is where the jokes are starting to really be made at the target’s expense.
Pranks That Cause Fear
Now we are really getting into “not funny” territory. These jokes are intended to create pure, visceral panic in their targets. Unlike disgust (which has a variety of possible reactions) the reactions to these jokes are pretty standard: fight or flight. In that sense, not only are they cruel, they are also predictable. How they are supposed to be funny is a bit beyond me, but they can be interesting, in that you almost never see people exposed to these kinds of things. These jokes don’t involve intentional injury or harm, but they can cause it by accident, and for that reason I really don’t think they’re a great idea.
Pranks That Cause Embarrassment
These pranks are just for the purpose of being mean. I fail to see the humor in them or understand how other people find them humorous. Fear pranks, at least, are over quickly. These are likely to stick with the target and make them bitter and angry for a while. They aren’t even interesting, really – they’re crass and rude. As many of us live with embarrassments on a daily basis, there is nothing novel or clever about inflicting another one on another human being. Just stop.
Pranks That Damage Property
You know that prank where you spread chocolate sauce all over a friend’s bedsheets and say they shit the bed that night? Fuck you, assholes. Buy them a new comforter. Likewise if you squirt cherry sauce on somebody’s shirt, if you befoul somebody’s car with dead fish, or the like. That isn’t funny, that’s destructive, and making somebody believe it was their own fault that property was destroyed is even worse.
Pranks That Cause Horror
You’ll note here that I’m differentiating between Shock, Fear, and Horror. Shock is sudden and then suddenly over – there isn’t necessarily an element of danger, just true surprise. Fear is meant to evoke a survival response but, again, is relatively brief. Horror is destroying somebody’s sense of trust and faith in the goodness of the world or otherwise driving them towards despair. I think you can make a legitimate case that these pranks can be actionable in a court of law, and even clever ones are pretty much terrible. If you laugh at the expense of somebody who thinks her children have been kidnapped or her husband has died in a car accident, you are a bad person and should feel bad.
Pranks That Cause Physical Injury
There is nothing funny or clever or even interesting about hitting your buddy in the groin when he isn’t looking. It isn’t funny to put tacks on a toilet seat, or glue somebody to a doorknob. That is an unprovoked physical assault, and the person you do it to should knock your teeth in. Cut that shit out, assholes.
And no, in this instance I will not provide any examples.
So, in conclusion, go forth, cause bewilderment or shock, and do no harm. We will all appreciate it.
Evil Henchman Entrance Exam
Welcome, prospective Evil Henchman! We here at Financial Operations and Underwriting Limited (FOUL) have designed the following aptitude test to select the best possible candidates for our Henchmen Training Program. Please answer the questions to the best of your ability.
Please note: The large countdown clock at the front of the room will announce at periodic intervals how long you have before your exam will self-destruct in a flash of white phosphorus. The burns will be quite disfiguring (assuming you survive) so we encourage you to complete the test with some dispatch. Please understand that this is part of the test. Henchmen that cannot work well while a giant loudspeaker is counting down to their demise are not the kind of henchmen we train and not what our clients have come to expect.
#1) You hear a strange noise while patrolling the perimeter of your facility. Do you:
- Ask “who’s there?”
- Shrug and move on.
- Shoot indiscriminately into the bushes.
- Call for backup.
#2: Your current employer expresses a desire to destroy your home town with an orbital doomsday weapon. Thoughts?
- Oh no! I’ve got to call my mom!
- Surely there must be better targets! I will suggest them, because my boss is open to that kind of feedback.
- Finally all those suckers at Tuscaloosa High will get what’s coming to them!
- <Maniacal Laugher>
#3: Please describe the way you would scream if tossed off a cliff or shot off a balcony.
- Other (please explain in a short essay):
#4: One of your fellow henchmen draws the ire of the boss and is to be put into the Ultra-pneumatic Torture-tron. Do you:
- Let him make a break for it when nobody’s looking.
- Shoot him to spare him the anguish.
- Promise to tell his wife he loves her.
- Ask if you can have his watch.
#5: Does Might make Right?
- I don’t understand the question.
- No, Might can make you turn left, too.
- I want to punch the egghead who writes these questions.
- According to Rousseau, Might is a physical property, and thus there can be no moral quality attached to its effects.
#6: When using a gun, what is the best policy?
- Full automatic, spray left to right.
- Controlled bursts, carefully aimed.
- Fire mostly in the air while shouting.
- Single shots, aimed to make the coolest ricochet noise.
#7: If I tell you a tattoo of a burning eye on your forehead will make you invincible, do you:
- Ask if the needles are properly sterilized.
- Research my claims by consulting the internet.
- Worship me as a god.
- Inquire as to whether you will get to learn kung fu.
#8: Captain Courageous is pummeling three of your friends at once. Explain your next move:
- Jump on his back and pull that stupid hood over his eyes.
- Wait until your friends have had a chance and then attack him by yourself.
- Run away screaming for help.
- Shoot them all.
#9: What is more appealing: Actual military training or badass neon outfits with face masks?
- Facemasks. And laser guns.
- Military training; evil is serious business.
- Why can’t I wear my street clothes?
- Anything that shows off my pecs is cool.
#10: The boss decides to use your body as a human shield. Do you:
- Accept your fate as the inevitable reward for your life of evil.
- Struggle to save yourself, thereby knocking the boss into an acid vat/alligator pit.
- Beg for the hero not to kill you and show him or her pictures of your kids.
- Enjoy this sense of closeness and trust with your employer and look forward to deepening your relationship.
#11: Your prisoner claims to be sick. Describe your reaction.
- “Don’t worry! I know first-aid!”
- Call a doctor.
- Open up the cell, crack your knuckles, and resolve to teach them a lesson.
- Feign deafness.
If your hoverscooter is chasing Lady Lightning through the rainforest and another friendly hoverscooter is behind you, please explain how you would attempt to dodge vines and trees, shoot Lady Lightning, and keep from foiling your associate’s attempts to slip between those two trees that are really, really close. Please show your work. Drawings are encouraged.
What are the odds, expressed as a percentage, that you would go into a dark alley to get a look at the evidently mostly-naked and attractive woman hiding therein? Furthermore, what are the odds you will have your keycard on you at that time?
Your Evil Time Travel Loan: Terms and Conditions
Dear Chronomenator Supreme,
Thank you for your interest in Financial Operations and Underwriting Limited (FOUL) and our time travel loan service. If you are here from the future, I’m certain you will have found our terms generous. We would also like to take this opportunity to make you aware of our Henchman Recruiting Service, our Insurance offerings (please note: time travel is not covered as of this point in the timeline – please visit our agents in 2132), our catalog, and this basic overview of our operations and dossier of our more successful clients.
Please understand that, as we take client confidentiality very seriously, we must ask you to make certain to return to just before you received this message and eat it before you can read it, thus keeping any evidence of our existence a secret from those pesky Time Cops. Failure to do so will have resulted in a killer robot from the future having gone back in time to eliminate your Uncle Freddy just before he would have surprised you as Santa Claus on your fifth birthday, thereby giving you a debilitating nervous condition which will render you useless for villainous enterprise forever. You have been warned.
- All interest compiles based upon your current timeline, relative to the moment you sign the papers. Any attempt to tamper with the timeline to alter this term will result in immediate payment being made in full by whatever version of yourself we happen to track down first. Barring that, we will garnish the wages of your ancestors (see #6).
- If you are visiting from the past, please remember that all payments must be made in parcels of land or gold bullion. Bags of spices from the exotic Orient are no longer acceptable, especially given the coriander-synthesizing technology available on the 2065 Home Shopping Network.
- All payments are due on the same day at the exact same time: January 1st, 1929, Brooklyn, New York. Feel free to visit that time as many times as you wish to make as many individual payments as you deem necessary, but try to avoid meeting yourself if at all possible. Ask for Stu at the bar. Wear something snappy, but try not to look German. Dames should expect to smoke cigarettes and look mysterious. No, we do not know what that means – it’s Stu’s operation, so it’s his stupid rules.
- Failure to pay your loan on time will result in the dispatch of Time Loan Sharks to be dispatched to your location to collect. Yes, they are actual sharks from the future genetically spliced with humans and augmented with cybernetic weapon systems. No, they have never gone rogue. Well, not in this timeline.
- By signing the loan agreement, you are forgoing any indemnity on the part of any alternate self in any alternate timeline. Yes, we will repossess your alternate universe casino. Yes, we will break the kneecaps of your pacifist hippie self in the timeline where the Age of Aquarius actually came to pass. Pay up.
- Traveling back in time to warn your past self to not take out a loan with us on account of you not being able to pay it off in a post-apocalyptic future constitutes a violation of your loan agreement and entitles us to garnish the wages of your ancestors to make ends meet. If you want your Great Uncle Joe to starve on account of your delinquency, be our guest.
- As of this time, we do not offer loans to robots, AIs, or aliens. Sorry, but it’s an insurance matter.
Delivery of Payment
- For your convenience, we will convey your loan in the full amount at any point in time. Though we prefer electronic transfer, we can also stage “inheritance from strange old man” (i.e. you) or any number of crazed lunatics shoving old Wal-Mart receipts with account numbers scribbled on them.
- For our ancient-world customers, we will provide a treasure map to a secret vault filled with death traps to prevent grave robbers. The map will have information on how to avoid the traps, but the ink is prone to smudging, so don’t squeeze too tightly.
- You will be required to fill out a questionnaire about your life and family in order for us to verify we are delivering payment to the right you in the right timeline. Those who perform the survey will be shot by their past selves after they have verified your identity in the future. No, this has never caused a problem. Why do you ask?
Let Us Help You Help Us
As we already know if you are going to take out a loan and whether or not you are going to default on that loan, please listen to your loan officer’s advice. If he says don’t eat Chinese tonight, listen to him. That Triad hit squad is a real bitch and no, your ancient kung fu secrets won’t cut it this time. Trust us. Some general rules:
- Do not date your grandmother, no matter how hot she is.
- Please acquire or construct a time machine that any idiot cannot stumble into and utilize. Being stranded in time helps no one.
- Bring your food with you. Futuristic fast food is a horror show.
- Do not teach the Romans how to use gunpowder.
- Do not kill Hitler. No, not even that way. No, not that way either. Cut it out.
- Even though time is not linear, it is helpful to pretend like it is. Insane people are terrible at paying back their loans.
- While we encourage bringing henchmen forwards and backwards in time to support your evil aims, we caution you against any time paradoxes caused by said henchmen returning to their own timeline. Better to strand them in time when they are through.
- It is possible to build a time machine that can transport you with your clothes on. Try a little harder, you exhibitionist pervert.
Good luck, and welcome to the FOUL family!
(remember: go back in time and eat this message. It is peppermint flavored – your favorite. Don’t ask us how we know – we already shot that guy)
Your Evil Henchmen Recruiting Service, Simplified!
Dear General Mortissimo,
Thank you for contacting Financial Operations and Underwriting Limited (FOUL). What follows is our full array of henchmen recruitment services, tailored specifically to your needs. For information on our other services, we refer you to our introductory material and catalogs. Also, as you intend to hire personnel through us, we recommend inspecting our insurance options, as well.
Of course, here at FOUL we hold our client’s confidentiality sacrosanct. Therefore, a team of Type-5C Assassin Drones are currently dispatched to your location, using the encrypted GPS transponder hidden in this document (don’t bother trying to find it – you haven’t the time). Please be certain to destroy this document within five minutes or expect to have your skull bisected by an infrared laser. Well, that might be a bit dramatic – we cannot predict, with any accuracy, exactly which parts of you the drones will bisect. In any event, destroy this document and everything will be fine. If you wish to purchase Type-5C Assassin Drones (or the 6C variant, assuming you have a penchant for napalm), please review the Robots section.
Thank you, and thank you for choosing FOUL!
Now, on to our Henchmen options:
Our most affordable option, FOUL has cultivated good reputations with a number of prison systems, underworld crime syndicates, and disreputable orphanages to supply you with all the muscle-bound dim-witted goons you could possibly require. Said goons are guaranteed to be physically fit with the exception of one in ten goons, who we designate as being ‘fat but strong’. All Thugs are able to read at a third grade level and a basic working knowledge of firearms and basic fisticuffs. Please note that marksmanship and tactics are not emphasized in the average thug’s weekend-long training course, and thugs are not selected on their attention spans, lateral thinking ability, cleanliness, or self-control.
That said, they are very affordable and, given their undesirable social status, won’t be missed if they happen to fall into a death trap or you need to feed your sharks.
Significantly more expensive than your garden variety thugs, our Ninjas are hired from the premiere dojos and secret martial arts societies from across the globe. They are guaranteed to be 100% obedient and are skilled in acrobatics, martial arts, and stealth. Please note that all FOUL-backed ninjas are contractually obligated to wear black pajamas at all times, even when going to the bathroom or operating electronic equipment. They are also forbidden from using any firearms of any kind, no matter how practical or dire the situation. Failure on your employees part to adhere to these restrictions may lead to the loss of your deposit.
Though ninjas are expensive and very talented, we should stress that there are limits to their abilities. FOUL-backed ninjas may be unable to do the following:
- walk on water
- defeat a ninja in white pajamas
- speak your language (translators may be hired)
- wear actual shoes
- shake hands (they will insist on bowing)
- catch bullets
We assure you that FOUL trainers are laboring tirelessly to amend these flaws. You have no ideas how many ninjas we’ve shot trying to fix that last one.
FOUL has within its network a wide variety of very talented mad scientists, rogue AIs, and idealistic-but-morally-suspect industrialists who construct a variety of killer robots. We can sell you robots that look like people, robots that eat people, robots that used to be people, or people so robotic you’ll never know the difference. Robots are guaranteed to follow your every command until, inevitably, they turn against you (please refer to our insurance packet). That said, they are well worth the high price, considering that there is no need to feed or clothe them after your purchase (note: feeding and clothing your henchmen after hire is in no way required, but is suggested to get the most out of your minions). Any robots that malfunction within 30 days of purchase may be returned in their original packaging for a complete refund.
Note: due to extreme demand, all spider-shaped robots are on backorder.
Note: none of our robots transform into cars, other vehicles, or construction equipment. Please do not ask.
Of course, no evil empire would run without hordes of lab assistants, accountants, shift managers, and so on. These we hire from the general employment pool, but we screen carefully, making certain only the recommend the least pleasant, most obedient, and most odious examples of humanity we can find. Many of our workers hail from such illustrious dens of misery as the IRS, the DMV, and HR departments the world over. Pay is necessarily high, and we warn all customers that one can reasonably expect our personnel to embezzle no more than 15% of any money that passes through their hands. Of course, should the employee exceed this value, their contract stipulates termination will be ‘sudden and often fatal’, though the sudden aspect of that is at your discretion.
As of this moment, the Floozy and Eye Candy division of our Henchmen Hiring branch has been folded into this one, largely for tax purposes. If you are in the market for muscle-bound man-slaves or big-breasted bimbos, you can also find them here. We only hire the least perceptive and curious as well as the most physically attractive specimens, so your satisfaction is guaranteed.
If you are in the market to hire aliens, summon up demons from the netherworld, use the living dead, or traffic with the Great Old Ones, we are afraid that FOUL, at this moment, does not support such ventures, though we are happy to put you in contact with sweaty-toothed madmen who do. Feel free to drop us a line!
Note: at this juncture, given average reading speed, the assassin drones are just outside the room. We advise burning this document immediately. Thank you again, for choosing FOUL!