Police State

“Two weeks hard labor.”

That was the sentence given to me by “his honor” the Judge. Geeze. I can still see that fat sluggish tongue scraping the cheese dust from his bloated lips. Guy looks like a bullfrog with a mustache. And the smell… his whole courtroom smells like a plate of steaming hot puke with a glass of skunked beer.

After my “trial” (if you can call it that), I was shackled, beaten again, and hauled off to the blacksmiths. Saul Fore wouldn’t get me out of this one. For two weeks, he just glanced at me and shook his head. When I called out to him, he said that I was beyond helping. Those words hit a lot harder than the police batons, even if they didn’t leave me covered in purple splotches.

For the past two weeks I’ve been lighting forges, assembling weapons, and handloading fresh bullets. My fingers have turned grey, but it hasn’t been so bad. I’ve actually learned a lot about how guns work. Plus, all this gave me some time to clear my head and think about everything that’s happened in the past few weeks. Besides, hard labor is a lot better than getting thrown out in the wasteland…again.

You’re probably wondering: How did that idiot Joe Junkman get into this mess?

Well, I had just entered the BLVD with Saul Fore our food caravan. It had been a long, but uneventful journey from Abundance. Almost immediately, I spotted a crowd gathered round a band playing on a rusting pickup truck. Then the music hit me. All I could hear was the wonderful strumming of a finely tuned guitar. I ignored Saul Fore’s warning and followed the string of notes drifting through the air. I caught myself nodding my head and shaking my hips. I was in a trance, comfortably numb to the world around me.

That’s partially why I didn’t hear the curfew siren. The other reason is that I had no idea the BLVD had a curfew in the first place. At first, I didn’t even notice the “counselor’s” approached wearing their fancy suits and armed with nightsticks and hand crank sirens. The crowd quickly dispersed, but I had no idea what was happening. Nobody told me anything! Of course the Judge croaked out that “ignorance of the law is no excuse.” Seems pretty stupid to me.

It wasn’t long before I was the last person on the street. The counselors boxed me in. One shouted something at me through a megaphone, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying. I didn’t want any trouble, so I shot my hands up and slowly walked toward the suit with the megaphone. He didn’t like that.

Something slammed into the back of my head. I hit the ground hard. A padded knee rested on top of me as my arms were roughly placed behind my back. I tried to use the old Junkman charm, but that just got me a steel-toed kick to the guts. Bruises. Just what I needed. I’m sure someone will find that attractive.

After all that, I was hauled off to the courthouse to await my trial the following morning. Of course, I had to defend myself in court so it didn’t go well. But all this got me thinking. What if someone were to put an official list of the BLVD’s laws on paper? And what if they sold that list for a few tags? And what if that someone was me?

What is MUTATION: The Wasteland Survival Guide?

MUTATION: The Wasteland Survival guide is a six episode long series exploring the quirky and unusual world of MUTATION, as seen in The Journal of Joe Junkman. The show itself documents the writing of the Mo-Javi Wasteland’s very first survival guide. Charged with writing this book is wasteland legend James Gray and local shyster Joe Junkman. Throughout their journey, our heroes will struggle with radioactive dust storms, water scarcity, and each other.


I want to break character for a moment to say how excited I am to be moving forward with this project. The world of MUTATION has gone through a lot of change since its conception. What originally began as a pen and paper RPG has transformed into serial fiction, a website, and a show. I can’t wait to see where it goes next.

To make a long story short, Ben and I got together in the summer of 2015 and began brainstorming ideas for this short series. Although we have all the footage, brainstorming was about as far as it got. It seems embarrassing now, but we didn’t have a script or anything. Essentially, we had a concept for each episode and a location. For better or worse, almost every scene is improvisational.

When I first established this website, I had no idea what the response would be. These past few months, I’ve been consistently amazed at the hospitality and support I’ve received from the online post-apocalyptic tribe. Thank you for giving us a chance and following our stories week after week.

I’d also like to announce at this time that Ben and I are planning to attend Wasteland Weekend this year! I’ll be in character as James Gray and I believe Ben will appear as Joe Junkman.

We hope to see some of you there! The Rad-Lands wouldn’t be here without you.

-Ron Welch

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream: Gorrister

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Con-man, pacifist, business woman, Nazi, scientist. Five improbable entities stuck together in a pit of darkness. A prolonged nightmare of 109 years conducted by a sadistic self-aware supercomputer with unlimited power. This is Harlan Ellison’s I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.

Although on the surface IHNMAIMS is a straightforward story about five people trapped in an endless underground complex after a nuclear war, it has transcended into a franchise. The human characters from the short story were greatly expanded upon in the 1995 video game while the supercomputer, AM, gained some depth in a 2001 radio drama. A comic adaptation was created but never published, though a few English panels and the full Spanish version found their way onto the internet. This has become one of my favorite post-apocalyptic stories due to the development of the characters and the themes at play.

In this series, we’ll break down each of the humans: exposing their fatal flaws and then identifying what led them to redemption (and further punishment).

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Gorrister’s comic adaptation

Gorrister. The first character introduced in both the text and the video game. Originally, he was a conscientious objector, a peace marcher. In the game, he was an electrician and truck driver before the machine captured him. The only similarity between the two versions of this character is the spoken wish for death.

Like Benny, Gorrister was made into a parody of his former self. AM transformed an anti-war organizer into a man of indifference. Gorrister no longer cares enough to take action against AM (even if it was possible); all he can do is hope the machine will finally kill him. What’s interesting is that AM didn’t necessarily need to physically alter Gorrister’s mind; it’s possible that the torture and hopeless atmosphere of the machine’s complex was enough to reduce this character into an apathetic shell. Additionally, there’s an excellent irony to be found in this character. Staying out of the war is what led to his eternal torment. Had he been on the front lines of the war, he likely would have been nuked along with everyone else.

AM’s alterations of Gorrister are easily identifiable in the original text. Reduced to a shoulder shrugger, Gorrister sided with Ted in the belief that there was no point in journeying to the ice caverns. Further, even when practically immortal and on the brink of starvation, Gorrister could not be bothered to fight AM’s giant mutant bird. Perhaps he knew that AM would never let him have the flesh or perhaps he knew that fighting the beast was simply not worth it; either way it goes to show that Gorrister’s state of mind has been worn down to complete indifference.

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There is however one exception to Gorrister’s alterations that has always stuck out to me. When Benny is attempting to climb to the surface, Gorrister slaps Ellen to the ground for displaying her concern for Benny. I found it to be particularly interesting that the so-called shoulder shrugger, the so-called objector was so annoyed by Ellen’s concern that he attacked her.  In the comic adaptation, he even goes so far as to kick Ellen in the stomach while she’s already down.

Gorrister’s psychodrama is by far my favorite scenario in the video game. Whereas the other psychodramas rely on riddles and interesting gameplay mechanics, Gorrister’s story is almost entirely metaphorical from beginning to end. From its odd humor to it’s almost steampunk-noire atmosphere this is (in my opinion) one of the best adventure game levels ever made.

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Starting the level, Gorrister cannot determine where he is or what he’s riding due to extreme cloud coverage. This is a clear metaphor for Gorrister’s understanding of the situation; as he uncovers the mystery of the dining room, the airship sinks below the clouds, making everything clear. Further, Gorrister’s heart is literally ripped out of his chest by order of his mother-in-law, a clear allusion to Edna’s effect on the trucker’s marriage. This is just scratching the surface of the excellent metaphorical storytelling present in Gorrister’s psychodrama. Like Nimdok, the events relate to the character’s past, but in Gorrister’s story, they are told in a manner that relates to the situation at hand and gives you a tingly “ah-ha” moment when you realize the connection.

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From a gameplay perspective, Gorrister’s story has far more choices (and dead ends) than the others. One wrong step can trap the player in an unwinnable situation, especially when dealing with Edna. However, in many ways this only adds to the charm and replayability of a simple roadside honkey-tonk in the middle of the desert.

Although he began as an apathetic husk in the original story, Dreamer’s Guild really knocked it out of the park with Gorrister’s psychodrama. Like Nimdok, Gorrister was greatly expanded upon, allowing him to shift into a three dimensional character. The character’s quest to find death unexpectedly becomes a strongly metaphorical journey of self-discovery and inner peace.

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What other metaphors did you see in Gorrister’s psychodrama? Tell us in the comments!

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream: Benny

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Con-man, pacifist, business woman, Nazi, scientist. Five improbable entities stuck together in a pit of darkness. A prolonged nightmare of 109 years conducted by a sadistic self-aware supercomputer with unlimited power. This is Harlan Ellison’s I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.

Although on the surface IHNMAIMS is a straightforward story about five people trapped in an endless underground complex after a nuclear war, it has transcended into a franchise. The human characters from the short story were greatly expanded upon in the 1995 video game while the supercomputer, AM, gained some depth in a 2001 radio drama. A comic adaptation was created but never published, though a few English panels and the full Spanish version found their way onto the internet. This has become one of my favorite post-apocalyptic stories due to the development of the characters and the themes at play.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll break down each of the humans: exposing their fatal flaws and then identifying what led them to redemption (and further punishment).

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Benny can hardly be recognized as once human.

We’ll start with Benny, who has always been AM’s favorite torture toy. Originally, he was a brilliant scientist. It is never explained why AM hates Benny more than the others, but for whatever reason he was reduced to a hunchback ape-like creature. His handsome features replaced by a network of fissures and radiation scars.

Aside from his physical body, AM takes pleasure in altering Benny’s mental abilities. However, I have to wonder if altering Benny’s mind is the best use of AM’s power. By reducing the scientists’ mental faculties, AM only makes it more difficult for Benny to appreciate the irony of his situation. A scientist unable to express his ideas is far more torturous than a scientist who is reduced to a babbling fool. Benny is like a servitor in Warhammer 40,000. His mind has been altered, but that doesn’t affect him, only those that once knew him. Perhaps that was the goal. So long as he is crippled, blind, and dumb Benny requires constant care and attention from his four companions.

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Expanding on Benny’s altered mind, it really doesn’t matter if Benny was once homosexual if his mind has been altered. Again, that was a different person, not the creature that now inhabits AM’s belly. As long as AM tampers with his mind, he cannot appreciate the irony of being forced to sleep with Ellen for 109 years. Originally, the game adaptation was going to deal with Benny’s sexual preference, but ultimately the character was completely revamped and given a new backstory.

In the video game, Benny was the commander of an American commando squad fighting in a Chinese rice patty during World War III. While deployed, Benny killed four of his squad mates. The reasons for the first murder is unclear, but it is implied that one squad mate couldn’t pull his weight and another tried to help him. Lacking compassion, Benny killed both of them for showing weakness. When the others found out, Benny murdered them as well. Something to briefly consider is that if AM was created to oversee a war too complex for human minds, then it is possible Benny’s orders came from the great machine.

Interestingly, Benny’s initial psych profile is about cannibalism. This has led some fans to theorize that Benny cannibalized his squad mates, just as he attempted to cannibalize Gorrister in the original story.  However, cannibalism is hardly included in the final game. If Benny even attempts to eat someone, he will be sent back to the campfire. This is odd as AM even calls the villagers prey. Unable to eat the village’s only food source, Benny was intended to cannibalize the tribe. Indeed, a deleted scene from early promotional footage shows that Benny was supposed to eat a live baby

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Benny the Baby Burglar

The great thing about Benny’s psychodrama is that his mind is clear, but his body is crippled. Benny has become like the soldiers he once murdered. In a delicious bout of irony, Benny knows what he wants, but is forced to rely on the compassion of others and to display compassion in his own actions. Benny starts the scenario as a little more than a starving animal. By the end of the story, his stomach has been filled and he has made amends with those he wronged. Although Benny sacrificed himself to protect another, it hardly matters. Benny is effectively immortal; AM would never let him die. Sacrificing himself for another is merely symbolic and serves no real purpose other than to confuse AM. In the context of the psychodrama, the villagers don’t really exist. Even if there was a tribe of humans living inside the complex, Benny offering himself will only prolong the inevitable offering of the mutant child. The ending only serves to ease Benny’s state of mind.elder

Benny is an interesting character simply because of what he means to AM. In the original story the others are mentally altered, but physically intact. Benny is physically and mentally augmented until he no longer resembles the man he once was. He is a burden on the others, a constant reminder of what could happen to them if they misbehave. He has no consciousness and he must scream.

2016-12-14_0959Is augmenting Benny’s mind an effective form of torture? Tell us in the comments!

Deja Vu

I’m really not cut out for this.

I woke up to a sharp pressure just below my eyebrows. I was being dragged uphill. My whole body was sore. My arms were all ripped up after being dragged through the rocks. My legs would have been worse if I had been wearing shorts. I had no idea where I was going. That seemed to be happening a lot lately.

Trying to keep my cool, as I had in the spider’s web, I remained perfectly still. The pressure on my skull was such that, I felt whatever was dragging me could blind me or smash my head in at any moment. I did not want to startle my captor. Although I couldn’t look up to see the creature’s whole body, I could tell that it was humanoid as it angrily mumbled to itself. Its fingers were moist and sticky.

Before long, the moonlight and stars over my head were replaced by impenetrable blackness.  I was being dragged into a cave and a fairly nice one at that. My hands drifted through soft sand. It reminded me of the beaches of Brazil. Once all natural light disappeared, I was assaulted by the unsettling creak of rusty iron before being thrown into a cage. This was exactly like my last trip to Brazil.

I heard distinctive click of a padlock followed by the mumblings of a raspy congested voice. Aside from insane gibberings, I could make out “boil da water, add da meat, cook up some’fing real neat.”

Moments later, I could make out a series of sharp clicks coming from my right. The first spark revealed a monstrous silhouette, like that of a body builder. The second spark ignited the kindling, gradually revealing the creature in its entirety. The monster cracked his knuckles and turned to me.

This would be a really good time for Gray to show up.

-Joe Junkman

Living Legends: General Kass

Few know the reason for the war. Fewer are willing to speak of it.

Forming a technological powerhouse with Australia, the Aztec-Roman Empire (ARE) produced 99 legions to seize the United States. Rising above the rest was the 47th legion, stationed in the state of Southern California. After the horrific siege of Los Angeles, the 47th earned a fearsome reputation due to the sheer number of sacrifices collected by General Morris Kass. After the battle, the Aztec-Romans continued into the high desert, leaving a trail of blood soaked skyscrapers in their wake. From that day forward LA would be known as “The City of Angels.”

At the end of the war, Kass found himself in the relative safety of the Mo-Javi valley. While fiery mushroom clouds illuminated the valley walls, the General ordered the construction of bunkers to survive the incoming nuclear winter. Over the years, the 47th legion’s shelters grew in size and number until they combined into a fortress with electricity, running water (when available), paved streets, and thick concrete wall meant to keep out the wasteland’s unwashed masses.

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A VERY early sketch drawn in 2011 (Credit to Ben Wright)

As the world around him deteriorated and society devolved into tribes and guilds, Kass maintained military discipline and the traditions of his people. Everyone in the Mo-Javi knew of “The 47” who lived behind ivory walls and refused to help those in need. Realizing that he was at an increased risk of attack from unorganized wastelanders and that the rations in his legion’s hypercube would eventually run out, General Kass founded the town of Abundance. Skilled workers from the Guilds of Academia were hired to train settlers in the arts of farming and animal husbandry. In exchange for food, the General provided the townsfolk protection and established trade routes.

Though many fear the old man, Kass truly cares for all of his subordinates. After every battle, the General ritually repents for each soldier lost under his command. Although General Kass will take educated or experienced wastelanders into his ranks, he cannot feel the same connection that he does for his original ARE veterans.

Though the General is often perceived as a hero of law and order, every action the old man takes is for the gain of his legion. Abundance provides him food. Trading routes provide him steel and gunpowder. The people’s trust provides him an army who is willing to fight and die so that ARE veterans might live.

Though he would never admit it, Kass hopes that the ARE’s capital city survived nuclear annihilation and will be sending a rescue party as soon as they are able. In another life, the General had a daughter, but was forced to leave her in the spire city of Tenochtitlan.

How A Boy and His Dog Established a Genre

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Like science, fiction is often built on the shoulders of those who came before.  That is to say, most images from our imagination comes from putting a twist on what we’ve already seen. In horror, we can see a very clear progression from Poe->Lovecraft->Kolchak: the Night Stalker->X-Files. Though it seems odd to say it, building on the work of others is the surest way to come up with new ideas.

In the 1970s, post-nuclear fiction had been developing into a small (but growing) genre for nearly 20 years. Many nuclear holocaust films in the 50s and 60s were about the start (and end) of WWIII rather than survival in the radioactive wastelands to follow. Dr. Strangelove, for example, is counted as a nuclear holocaust film.

In 1975, something happened to solidify the tone of a desert wasteland. Harlan Ellison’s A Boy and His Dog provided audiences with a visual medium to express the post-atomic world. The little details in storytelling, set design, and costumes would inevitably shape the Mad Max franchise, the Fallout franchise, and much more.

A Boy and His Dog would define the tone of the post-nuclear genre in 4 ways:

  1. The Wasteland
  2. Settlements
  3. Clothing
  4. Mutants

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 The Wasteland: A Boy and His Dog portrays the world as an endless post-apocalyptic desert. This would set the backdrop for the entire genre as even Fallout 3 (a game set in Washington D.C.) was comprised of desert. However, A Boy and His Dog redefined the post-nuclear landscape by setting the entire thing in the deserts of Arizona. From a storytelling perspective, this puts the audience in the mindset that life is hard, water is scarce, food is hard to come by, and the survivors are more than likely to be desperate bandits (creating a sci-fi wild west motif). Years later, Mad Max and Fallout would use the concept of endless radioactive desert to build their own universes.

What’s interesting about the wasteland of A Boy and His Dog is that most of the world we see is still in one piece. Everything is underground, usually in a somewhat serviceable condition. Early in the film, Vic and Blood come across a slave driver who is mining for cans of food. Vic would eventually take refuge in an underground hospital. 40 years later, the Mad Max video game would expand on this idea with The Dunes, an area of the wasteland which is functionally identical.

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The third act of A Boy and His Dog takes place in an underground bunker/town called Topeka. The American government has survived and upholds a caricature of 1950s America with a powerful metal fist. This seems like a clear jumping point for Fallout to build off of, especially since the tone of 1950’s Americana took greater hold of the series from Fallout 3 onward.

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Settlements: Using the visual medium, A Boy and His Dog was able to craft a living world full of tiny details to express the desperation and restructuring of the post-nuclear world. As all the resources are buried underground, survivors are forced to make their homes out of junk. The opening credits depict a hut made from nothing but discarded tires. Vic begins his adventure in a lean-to made from sheet metal and barrels. The wasteland theater has a wall made of car parts, sheet metal, and other junk, reminiscent of Fallout’s Junktown and The Road Warrior’s refinery.

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These little details show that even decades after the apocalypse, survivors have only done what is necessary to trade with each other and survive. A Boy and His Dog was stuck in the post-apocalyptic mindset, but began the movement toward the post-post-apocalyptic genre, a concept that was fully developed by Fallout. Mad Max 3 and Fallout would later develop towns and settlements with unique cultures, but it all began with A Boy and his Dog.

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Notice how each costume is just a collection of random junk

Clothing: From the savage biker gear of Mad Max to the settler outfits in Fallout, Wasteland attire is generally described as a mixture of whatever you can cobble together. Nowhere is this truer than in A Boy and His Dog. The tone for clothing is set fairly early with the slave driver. His outfit is a mixture of things that look interesting, but have no practical use: a leopard print naval hat, several brightly colored quilts, a crest of feathers, and a handful of gold rings. This shows the breakdown into tribalism and feudalism seen in both Mad Max 2 and Fallout.

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Extravagance over practicality.

It is easy to see how A Boy and His Dog influenced post-nuclear fashion as a cosplay of any character from the film would fit right in at Wasteland Weekend. For 40 years, the manner in which post-nuclear survivors choose their clothes has remained the same.

Mutants: One of the best parts about the post-nuclear genre is the mutants. Post-apocalyptic scenarios with zombies are generally limited to caricatures of humans, with some variation of speed and muscle mass. Nuclear mutants can be (and have been) nearly anything as there is no limit to how familiar creatures can be twisted into something utterly monstrous.

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The burnpit screamer: a creature so mysterious, it has never been seen.

A Boy and His Dog established future use of mutants with Blood the talking dog and followed that with the legendary burnpit screamers.  Although certainly unrealistic, mutants bring danger, fear, and life to the wasteland. The incorporation of mutants portrays a changing world, one that will never be the same and practically puts the audience on another planet. Mutants are critical to the post-nuclear genre as they make the world feel alive. The Fallout, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., and Metro franchises owes much of their success to the addition of creatures transformed by radiation.

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Although Mad Max 2 defined the functionality of the post-nuclear genre,  A Boy and His Dog set the tone and feel nearly a decade years before. Despite being 40 years old, Harlan Ellison’s work has become a cult icon of the genre and will continue to inspire, despite its outward simplicity.