T’was the night before Christmas…

…and all through the house, the hiphuggers were scurrying, searching for a victim to parasitize, a host they could control, forcing the host to violate all around, spreading their eggs in a gush of slime…

My wife decided that, given the alien from the Aliens movie has been the shape of my nightmares for years, I should make an alien xenomorph hiphugger strapon sex toy. And given that she loves cosplay, she’s also decided to do a Borg Queen costume, to go with it.

Because what’s worse than being parasitized by an alien hiphugger? The Borg Queen parasitized by an alien hiphugger, of course!

I’m helping her design those bits of the costume that require a 3D printer, so she’s made a life-sized dressmaker’s dummy casting of herself to better help me make sure the various bits and bobs I print are the right size.

I have the dummy sitting on my couch right now, and, well…

It’s a bit disconcerting when I wake up in the middle of the night to pee.

Come closer, and fertilize me with your reproductive stalk…

Orchids are cool, in a “nature is horrifying” way. There are species of orchid that have evolved structures that look like insects, which they use to lure in insects searching for mates.

Some orchids use these insect visitors to pollinate themselves. The insect does its thing and then flies off, horny and frustrated and covered with sticky pollen, but otherwise none the worse for wear.

But some orchids are carnivorous. They lure insects to their doom, slowly digesting their prey alive as the ill-fated insect struggles helplessly.

And some orchids mimic insect pheromones, sweeting the honeytrap with the same signals that female insects use.

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about sexual parasitism of humans lately, in no small measure because I’ve finished the first version of the Xenomorph Hiphugger Strapon, a Giger-esque nightmare sex toy first conceived by my wife Joreth. Imagine an alien facehugger that wraps around the subject’s hips, then incites the subject to seek out victims, violating them in a parasitic frenzy. As creepy as this image is, it’s table stakes in the game of real-world sexual parasitism, which is horrifying.

Anyway, that’s got me thinking: what if an alien species created mimics of human females to lure in the male of the species? (An idea for a horror novel with this theme is bubbling in my brain; stay tuned!)

I’ve been playing with a version of the Stable Diffusion 2.0 AI image generator tuned to human faces, looking to take the images out of my head and drag them into the light.

What I’ve come up with so far is…well, pretty horrifying.

I’ve started work on a small, AI-illustrated graphic novella (is a graphic novella a thing?), though with all the projects in the pipe right now—including a version of the hiphugger strapon optimized for oral violation—it may be a while before it’s finished.

Adventures in Mad Science

I’ve done it! They said I was mad, but I’ve done it! After almost three years of work and countless redesigns, I present to you:

The Xenomorph Hiphugger Strapon!

Ripped straight from a nightmare

This Giger-inspired monstrosity comes from the deepest depths of my nightmares. It all started when my wife Joreth said, hey, you know what would be cool? A strapon that looks like the facehugger from Alien, but it goes around the wearer’s hips, and the tail is a dildo.

And now, here it is!

This thing is massive—almost eight pounds of silicone—and features a tube and a reservoir so that the tail can be made to spurt fluids. Because it isn’t really an alien if it’s not dripping slime, right?

The tube was actually a late addition—I’d finalized the design when joreth said “hey, can you make it spurt?” The version you see here is a bit of an accident: I’d intended to buy silicone tubing that was 3 mm inside diameter/5mm outside diameter, but accidentally ordered 5mm/7mm tubing instead. So it should, I think, have a rather more…voluminous fluid flow than I’d originally planned.

You can see more photos of the xenomorph hiphugger strapon in all its monstrous glory here. Sweet dreams!

New projects in the pipe!

This has been an incredibly productive year. Well, years, actually. The last three years have been the most creative, most productive time in my life. And I’m pleased to share some of that creativity with you!

First up, a new novel, The Hallowed Covenant! This is the third book I’ve co-authored with the marvelous Eunice Hung. It’s also the third book in the Passionate Pantheon series of far-future, post-scarcity science fiction theocratic pornography.

Yes, we invented a genre.

Anyway, I’m incredibly proud of this novel. We explore (I think) some really interesting ideas about autonomy, responsibility, atonement, and forgiveness, amidst all the really hot super-kinky sex.

This is also the first Passionate Pantheon novel that will have an audiobook version, narrated by the amazing Francesca Peregrine. She had some lovely things to say:


The book publishes this October. Preorders are up on Barnes & Noble and Amazon, but watch this space! You’ll be able to get a copy before pub date at a special price (and an early peek at the audiobook and the fourth novel in the series, Unyielding Devotion) if you back our crowdfunding next month!

I’ve also just launched a new website for makers who like sex: Tentacle Love. This is a DIY site full of tutorials and tips for making your own silicone sex toys, and includes downloadable 3D printable molds for you to cast sex toys yourself.

(And yes, you can also get a Team Tentacle T-shirt if you like.)

I’ve been making silicone sex toys for a while, so from time to time I also plan to put one-offs on the site for sale. These aren’t your typical sex toys, oh no—my tastes being what they are, I’ve made everything from kazoo ball gags (yes, seriously) to double-sided tentacle gags to…well, stranger things.

I for one welcome our new AI overlords

I’ve been thinking a lot about machine learning lately. Take a look at these images:

Portraits of people who don't exist

These people do not exist. They’re generated by a neural net program at thispersondoesnotexist.com, a site that uses Nvidia’s StyleGAN to generate images of faces.

StyleGAN is a generative adversarial network, a neural network that was trained on hundreds of thousands of photos of faces. The network generated images of faces, which were compared with existing photos by another part of the same program (the “adversarial” part). If the matches looked good, those parts of the network were strengthened; if not, they were weakened. And so, over many iterations, its ability to create faces grew.

If you look closely at these faces, there’s something a little…off about them. They don’t look quiiiiite right, especially where clothing is concerned (look at the shoulder of the man in the upper left).

Still, that doesn’t prevent people from using fake images like these for political purposes. The “Hunter Biden story” was “broken” by a “security researcher” who does not exist, using a photo from This Person Does Not Exist, for example.

There are ways you can spot StyleGAN generated faces. For example, the people at This Person Does Not Exist found that the eyes tended to look weird, detached from the faces, so the researchers fixed the problem in a brute-force but clever way: they trained the Style GAN to put the eyes in the same place on every face, regardless of which way it was turned. Faces generated at TPDNE always have the major features in the same place: eyes the same distance apart, nose in the same place, and so on.

StyleGAN fixed facial layout

StyleGAN can also generate other types of images, as you can see on This Waifu Does Not Exist:

waifu

Okay, so what happens if you train a GAN on images that aren’t faces?

That turns out to be a lot harder. The real trick there is tagging the images, so the GAN knows what it’s looking at. That way you can, for example, teach it to give you a building when you ask it for a building, a face when you ask it for a face, and a cat when you ask it for a cat.

And that’s exactly what the folks at WOMBO have done. The WOMBO Dream app generates random images from any words or phrases you give it.

And I do mean “any” words or phrases.

It can generate cityscapes:

Buildings:

Landscapes:

Scenes:

Body horror:

Abstract ideas:

On and on, endless varieties of images…I can play with it for hours (and I have!).

And believe me when I say it can generate images for anything you can think of. I’ve tried to throw things at it to stump it, and it’s always produced something that looks in some way related to whatever I’ve tossed its way.

War on Christmas? It’s got you covered:

I’ve even tried “Father Christmas encased in Giger sex tentacle:”

Not a bad effort, all things considered.

But here’s the thing:

If you look at these images, they’re all emotionally evocative; they all seem to get the essence of what you’re aiming at, but they lack detail. The parts don’t always fit together right. “Dream” is a good name: the images the GAN produces are hazy, dreamlike, insubstantial, without focus or particular features. The GAN clearly does not understand anything it creates.

And still, if artist twenty years ago had developed this particular style the old-fashioned way, I have no doubt that he or she or they would have become very popular indeed. AI is catching up to human capability in domains we have long thought required some spark of human essence, and doing it scary fast.

I’ve been chewing on what makes WOMBO Dream images so evocative. Is it simply promiscuous pattern recognition? The AI creating novel patterns we’ve never seen before by chewing up and spitting out fragments of things it doesn’t understand, causing us to dig for meaning where there isn’t any?

Given how fast generative machine learning programs are progressing, I am confident I will live to see AI-generated art that is as good as anything a human can do. And yet, I still don’t think the machines that create it will have any understanding of what they’re creating.

I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Fragments of SquiggleCon: Two mottes one bailey

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, or for that matter been on the Internet for any length of time, you’ve probably encountered the phrase “motte and bailey argument” or “motte and bailey doctrine” before.

A motte and bailey argument is an argument in which you believe something, but you don’t really have a good justification for it. So when you’re attacked, you retreat into a different, much more specific belief, for which you do have a good argument. When the attack is over, you come back out to your original, more general belief, the one that’s harder to justify.

An example of a motte and bailey argument I hear in polyamory circles all the damn time is this one:

“You need to have a veto in your relationship if you want your primary relationships to stay healthy.”

“Veto doesn’t necessarily keep relationships healthy. In fact, using a veto on someone your partner loves can break your partner’s heart, and if you break your partner’s hert then you are going to damage your relationship.”

“But a veto just means you can discuss your concerns with your partner! It means you can talk about problems you see in their other relationships! You favor open communication in your relationships, right?”

“Yes.”

“So you agree, all poly relationships need veto.”

In this argument, the bailey is a need for veto, usualy understood to mean the unilateral and unquestioned ability to end a lover’s other relationship. This is a difficult position to defend, so when called, a person may retreat into the motte (“When I say ‘veto,’ I’m only talking about open communication!”), then, when the argument is over, go back to advocating for unilateral and unquestioned ability to end a lover’s other relationship.

The Motte and Bailey argument comes from a style of fortification called a “motte and bailey,” which is a place where an area of land that’s difficult to defend (the bailey) is overlooked by an easily defensible structure (the motte). If raiders or an enemy army or whatever show up, you evacuate the bailey, bringing all the people into the motte. The he motte can be defended from attack. When the attached tack is over, everyone goes back out into the bailey.

Okay, so now that you’re up to speed…

The town of Lincoln in northern Britain is home to a motte and bailey castle, called, appropriately enough, Lincoln Castle. Naturally, I had to visit.


Lincoln Castle was built somewhere around 1068 or so, and has been in use continuously ever since. It’s an unusual motte and bailey structure in that it actually has two baileys. The motte is a smooth, round valley between two hills. Naturally, since if one is good, two must be better, William the Conquerer built two baileys, one on each hill, and there you have it.

Originally, the motte was completely enclosed by a wood fence, and both baileys were built of wood. It was replaced over the years centuries with beefier fortifications of stone. Today, nothing remains of the original wood structures.

Lincoln Castle is still in use today–the castle is now the courthouse and, from what I gather, capitol building for Lincoln. The rest is an open-air museum. We had a blast running around the place.

Here’s a view from one of the two mottes, looking down into the bailey. The round structure on the left is the fortified gate through the outer wall. The red brick structure to the right is an old Victorian-era prison. The round tower in the background is the second motte, because you know what they say about mottes: you can never stop at just one.

Here’s what’s left of the second motte, seen from the middle of the bailey.

As soon as I found out that Lincoln Castle has two mottes, I immediately, on that very spot, registered the domain name twomottesonebailey.com — though I have absolutely no idea what I will use it for. Suggestions?

The second motte, which is in much better shape than the first. The tower still exists, though most of the rest of it is now a broken, hollowed-out shell in which it would be tremendous fun to film a cheesy low-budget movie.

See what I mean? This place is just screaming for orcs or spectral knights or some sort of special effect where mist flows through the windows before congealing into an undead sorceror or something.

The fortification has two gates, one on each side. Breaking in through one of these gates would be a nontrivial undertaking for sure. In the background, between the two trees, is a place where the wall widens into a large round structure that contains cells where prisoners due to be executed were chained up prior to being hanged–more on that in a minute.

Here’s the actual “castle” bit of Lincoln castle. It has been the administrative center and courthouse for Lincoln for…oh, for longer than the country I live in has been a country, honestly. It’s still used today, which is why I have no photos of the inside. Tourists aren’t allowed in, being that it’s a functional courthouse and all.

The Victorian prison. Touring this was interesting. Whenever I see something like this, I always wonder how many innocent people were sentenced here, and how many people ended up here for political rather than criminal justice reasons.

The inside had rather more windows than I expected, though I suppose in an age without electric lights, that makes sense.

Prisoners were kept in cells lining both sides of the stacked corridors. The building is divided into two halves, one for male and one for female prisoners. More on that in a minute, too.

Some of the cells were used by the prisoners to do tasks like washing laundry, making bedrolls, or stamping license plates.

This left fewer cells for actual housing of prisoners, so they were stacked in like cordwood.

Though to be fair, I have stayed in a hostel whose accommodations were roughly similar.

This being Victorian times, God was kind of a big deal (those Victorians were quite the bunch of God-botherers, even as they did the most ungodly of things), so of course the prison had a chapel, and of course, attendance was mandatory.

Each pew was a separate room, divided from its neighbors by a little door, presumably to make it more difficult for the prisoners to shank each other during services, that being considered rather uncouth and all. The prisoners could not see each other, but the person delivering the sermon could see all the prisoners, cleverly combining the functions of a chapel and a panopticon into one (a Chapelopticon? Panchapelcon? I don’t know). Thus do we see religion reflected in architecture. God sees you, so stop doing that thing you do with your private parts ands that feather duster, you pervert.

I was, while we toured the prison, engaging in cybersex with a lovely woman who lives in Waterloo, Ontario, which was a bit freaky. I have now imprinted on Victorian prisons as arousal triggers. There’s no way that can go wrong.

So yeah, executions. The Victorians were big on ’em. They’d kill you just as soon as look at you. Steal something? Say something bad about the king? Poke a badger with a spoon? You’re a dead man walking.

Or women. They were remarkably egalitarian in the judicial application of death.

They had special cells in that bulge in the wall I mentioned earlier. They look like this:

Each one had a steel ring set in the wall, to which they would literally chain the condemned.

On the appointed day, after the crowds had gathered, they’d unchain the people, lead them out into the bailey, and kill them for the entertainment of the guests justice and peace of the land.

And yes, there were crowds. Big ones. People who lived in houses near the walls would rent out second-story rooms with a view at exorbitant rates to folks who wanted a good view. Apparently, there was a full-on riot on execution day when the star of the show had ruined everyone’s entertainment by committing suicide earlier on–the people demanded to see someone be killed, but the prison didn’t have anyone else to kill that day, and it was all a hell of a mess.

I guess that’s what happens before the age of Marvel superhero movies.

So anyway, one of the Victorian prison wardens was a man of Science, who installed a telescope in one of the mottes so he could look at the stars. Err, yeah, that’s right, the stars. To look at. In the sky. Stars.

Remember how I said the prison was divided into a male and a female wing? Female prisoners were kept in the back, and allowed into an outdoor courtyard behind the motte.

Here’s a view from the observatory the warden built for his telescope.

…yeah. Apparently, from what our tour guide said, he had sevral illegitimate children with several different female prisoners.

Those whacky Victorians, amirite?


There is one other bit I don’t have photos of, because photos aren’t allowed in the super special room where it’s kept: the Magna Carta.

Yes, the Magna Carta, one of the original handwritten copies. It’s here, in a climate controlled room with the text of the thing up on the wall.

And there, right at eye level smack dab in the middle of this enormous wall of text, is Clause 54:

No one shall be arrested or imprisoned on the appeal of a woman for the death of any person except her husband.

Even back then, women’s voices were never taken seriously.

Fragments of SquiggleCon: Writing Erotica

The various evil things spearheaded by my crush notwithstanding, being able to spend time with her in Europe was fantastic fun.

For the past several months, we’ve been talking about collaborating on a writing project. She has built a fascinating world—a quasi-steampunk, high-tech, post-scarcity society with advanced biomedical technology ruled over by more or less benevolent AIs, worshipped as gods, who are fascinated by human sexuality, and so have bent the entire society toward the intersection of sex and religion.

It’s a fun (and hot!) place to visit. We want to create a book of erotic short stories set in that world.

While we were all in Europe, she and I officially started that project…using her body as a canvas. She brought a collection of fountain pens with her. I spent a couple of hours in the orgy room, beginning the writing of the book..on her back.

This his is, I think, probably the most unusual way I have ever started writing a book.

I have no idea when it will be finished; there are a number of writing projects ahead of it, and I’m still shopping for a publisher. (I am considering pitching it to Cleis and Circlet.) Still, I’m really excited about this book!

As a side note, writing on human skin with a fountain pen is remarkably difficult. Also, remarkably fun.

Fragments of SquiggleCon: Black Iron in Lincoln Cathedral

I’m now back in the US after spending a week in Europe with the extended poly network, in which we rented a manor in the English countryside for debauchery and mayhem (an event we called “SquiggleCon 2”), followed by a week in Boston with my crush, who is now my “um, something something relationship,” as we’re calling it.

Now, a week in the rural English countryside with more than a dozen sex-positive, kinky people might seem invitation to nonstop orgiastic bliss, and you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong to think so.

But having reached A Certain Age, namely, that age where orgies and similar sexual shenanigans are not exactly a rare event, but being in the English countryside is, Joreth and I took a couple of days off to explore the nearby towns.


As regular readers may already know, my first professionally published novel, Black Iron, comes out this October. It’s a Discworld-style romp through an alternate 19th-century England, one where Queen Victoria doesn’t exist, the Protestant Reformation never happened, the Colonies are still Colonies, and the British don’t drink tea. It features a princess and a ruffian and an overworked police constable and undead things made of other things.

Inspired by one of the scenes in the book, in which the Lady Alÿs, the aforementioned princess, is attending a formal dance aboard Queen Margaret’s airship when she witnesses a strange little man Peter Pan over the edge in the wake of an Unfortunate Discovery, Joreth decided to make a dress modeled after the one the character wore to the dance. And since there’s no cosplay like cosplay in an 800-year-old Gothic cathedral built atop a 1,000-year-old Norman church, we packed up, headed into Lincoln, and did an all-day photo shoot in a magnificent cathedral.

Lincoln Cathedral is magnificent indeed. I’ve been to some amazing houses of worship—I’ve seen Mass at St. Peter’s in Rome and at Notre Dame; I’ve visited the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood (Церковь Спаса на Крови) in St. Petersburg, Russia; I’ve looked out over Reykjavík from atop the peak of Hallgrímskirkja in Iceland; and I’ve climbed the 409 steps to the top of St. Mary’s Church in Gdańsk, Poland—but Lincoln Cathedral may be my favorite. It’s immense and beautiful and grand and awe-inspiring, and I spent two days of my seven days in England there.


Joreth and I literally spent a solid day running about Lincoln Cathedral, camera in hand, and I think some of the images we got are quite grand. Take a look!

Two Chaosbunnies in the Desert: Bodie, part 3

Part 1 of this saga is here. Part 8 of this saga is here.
Part 2 of this saga is here. Part 9 of this saga is here.
Part 3 of this saga is here. Part 10 of this saga is here.
Part 4 of this saga is here. Part 11 of this saga is here.
Part 5 of this saga is here. Part 12 of this saga is here.
Part 6 of this saga is here. Part 13 of this saga is here.
Part 7 of this saga is here.

Bodie, California was a Victorian-era gold mining town high in the mountains between California and Nevada. The Victorians weren’t very big on human rights, or treating workers well, or sex, or just about anything else, but there is one thing they liked very much, and that was technology.

At some point, today’s cutting-edge tech will look as hopelessly antiquated as the detritus littering the ruins of Bodie. But tech always starts somewhere, and the Victorians were all for embracing the bleeding edge, especially where it making money.

One of the many places Bodie kept up with the state of the art was transportation. When the town was founded, horses and stagecoaches were the order of the day, but that changed as the automotive arts gained ground. Today, the ruins of ancient cars lie scattered all over what’s left of the town.

The residents of Bodie were willing to adopt any new technology that offered to make their lives better or, more to the point, more productive. They may not have had a sewer system, they may have dug their wells directly downstream of their outhouses, but they were on top of mechanization as soon as it was out of beta.

And the trend of abandoning old tech where it lay and replacing it with new didn’t end with mining or stamping machines. The derelict wrecks rusting quietly into the hills span years of the automaker’s art.

They also used whatever worked. In the winter, snow in Bodie could get two stories deep. If that made it most practical to let the horseless carriages get buried and break out the sleds in winter, that’s what they did.

Some of the abandoned cars look personal; others look like working vehicles.

There’s a certain sleek beauty to the lines of this one, I think.

Compare that to the severe utilitarianism of this (possibly horse-drawn?) ore cart.

But they weren’t technofetishists. Their approach to technology was relentlessly, brutally practical. If it worked, they used it. As many of the vehicles dotted about Bodie are old tech as new.

This is a different relationship to technology than many of us have today. They wanted things that worked, not things that were new. If it helped them get gold out of the ground, they used it, and that was that. It’s hard to imagine that utilitarian a mindset today. “New iPhone? Why? My phone makes calls just fine.”

One of the creepiest and most splendid things about Bodie is the fact that when the gold left, so did the people, sometimes with such abruption it seems as thought they forgot to pack.

In reality, it’s more like they didn’t bother to pack. It’s difficult to get up and down the mountain even today; in a time when the only way in our out was by stagecoach (on a toll road!), there would be little incentive to take anything with you that could easily be replaced when you got wherever you were going.

So the buildings in Bodie have rooms that look like their owners stepped out a half-century ago to pop on down to the store for milk and eggs, and never came back. It’s both unsettling and marvelous.

The cast-off child’s toy in this room is a reminder that people raised their kids here, in this inhospitable mining town with its brutal heat and bitter cold and chimneys belching mercury fumes.

Bodie had its own post office, which doubled as the postman’s living quarters.

This was someone’s home. Someone cooked meals here, sang songs here, experienced joy and sorrow here, lived here.

It’s hard to forget that countless lives played out here, from beginning to end. These people lived in an inhospitable place, in a different time, but they lived here, and they experienced the same range of feelings that you and I feel.

This was, first and foremost, a working town. The town had a blacksmith. Apparently, according to the tour guide, this was it. I have no idea what those things on the table are.

The general store looks very much like it did when the town was at its peak, at least if you ignore the film of dust that has fallen like a funeral shroud over it all.

I bet the aspirin was a guaranteed best seller.

The plaster bandages too, I reckon. Industrial accidents in the stamping mill were horrifying.

The Bodie Hotel is one of the best-preserved buildings still remaining. The sign says “meals at all hours,” and I believe it. This place probably never slept.

This room still has a bunch of toys, long abandoned, and what looks like it might be a proto-skateboard of some description.

I wonder if the child these belonged to was sad to give them up.

This room looks expensive to me.

The headline is less interesting to me than the article beneath it: “Blast at magnesium plant injures 22.” There are people today who want to abolish OSHA. How short our memories are.

Bodie at its peak was home to many, many taverns. Today only one remains.

Next door to the sole remaining tavern is a gym. And you want to know something freaky? The cabin where Eve and I wrote More Than Two has that exact same model of hob.

Seriously. The exact same model. Check this out:

Freaky!

One of the guides explained that this was a “buggy,” as opposed to a “stagecoach.” There’s a big difference, apparently (and in fact the toll road into town had different tolls for buggies, wagons, coaches, and freight wagons).

We left Bodie as the sun grew low, and headed out to…well, that is a story for next time.

Two Chaosbunnies in the Desert: Bodie, part 2

Part 1 of this saga is here. Part 8 of this saga is here.
Part 2 of this saga is here. Part 9 of this saga is here.
Part 3 of this saga is here. Part 10 of this saga is here.
Part 4 of this saga is here. Part 11 of this saga is here.
Part 5 of this saga is here. Part 12 of this saga is here.
Part 6 of this saga is here. Part 13 of this saga is here.
Part 7 of this saga is here.

Bodie, California is a classic nineteenth-century California gold rush town. It’s high atop a mountain in the desert, and every part of the town exists for one purpose alone: to facilitate the extraction of gold from the surrounding hills.

The whole of the town exists to support the stamping mill, the large gray building about which everything else revolves. On our second day there, Bunny and I toured the stamping mill. This can be done only as part of a twice-daily guided tour group. The stamping mill, you see, represents the absolute apex of Victorian-era technology, and Victorian-era technology was not exactly built on a foundation of safety first. Even when it hadn’t been abandoned for nigh on a century.

This is a view of the mill from what’s left of the bank, which was, not coincidentally located right across the street.

In principle, a stamping mill is relatively straightforward. Ore goes in the top. It’s crushed into a fine powder—”about as fine as flour,” the tour guide said—by large mechanical hammers. Then, and this is where the famed Victorian indifference to human life really shines, the powder is sifted across a pool of mercury. The mercury reacts with gold to form a mercury-gold amalgam, which becomes a semi-solid mass that workers roll up into a ball and stick in a safe (I swear I am not making this up).

The rock doesn’t stick to the mercury and is discarded. The ball of hideously toxic mercury-gold amalgam is then, get this, placed in a furnace, where the mercury is boiled off, leaving molten gold behind. The molted gold is poured into bars, assayed, and then shipped off down the mountain.

The whole fearsome, dangerous, mind-bogglingly toxic process begins with getting bits of gold ore into the top of the stamping mill, which is done via conveyor belts.

Rain or shine, summer or winter, the gold ore is hauled into the small brown wood building behind the mill, situated atop a hill because Bodie often saw 20 feet of snow in the winter and the mine operators were stubbornly unwilling to let a little thing like that stop the flow of money. The building in the foreground with the very narrow chimney is the furnace where the mercury was boiled off, and I can’t believe I’ve now typed that phrase twice.

The mercury. Was boiled off.

Jesus.

Bodie is about money. That’s it. From stem to stern, everything about the town was in service of making money. The Victorians, ever practical, used whatever new technologies would help with that endeavor, and cast off whatever bits of technology were no longer useful. Even now, the ground around the mill is littered with broken bits of machinery, like this cast-off drive belt made of woven iron.

Or this enormous camshaft. His thing was mounted to an axle driven by an absolutely huge, room-sized steam engine or, later in Bodie’s history, an almost equally ginormous electric engine. The camshaft spun around and as it did, the cams lifted and then dropped hammers that crushed the rock. The hammers were more than a story long and weighed over a thousand pounds apiece. The din, according to the tour guide, could be heard halfway up the mountain. Workers wore cotton in their ears to keep from going deaf.

It didn’t work; deafness was a common problem among stamping mill operators. So were horrifying industrial accidents, mercury poisoning, and in at least one case, being sliced in half by a drive belt.

This being a Libertarian paradise, an injured, poisoned, or deafened worker was fired, given a couple of hours to pack, and kicked out of town.

Our tour started with the machine room, which was, naturally, the second most important part of the stamping mill. The mill had a state-of-the-Victorian-art workshop, with lathes, presses, and other metalworking equipment able to repair or even fabricate almost any part the vast machine required.

This is all that’s left of the huge electric motor that once ran the place. The Victorians were as pragmatic as they were reckless with the lives and safety of others. The mill had multiple stamps, each of which had multiple hammers. They reasoned that it was cheaper to build one enormous engine to power all that than to make numerous smaller engines to power each hammer individually. That presented a single point of failure, true, but as the saying goes, an airplane with three engines has three times as many engine problems as an airplane with only one.

The engine turned this pulley, which fed power to the rest of the mill via the biggest belt you’ve ever seen. It was, according to our guide, this belt that once cut a luckless worker in half.

This is the business end, literally, of the stamping mill: the stamps themselves. Each hammer is a ten-foot-long iron rod with a hook on the top end and a several-hundred-pound iron weight at the bottom end. The camshaft spins, lifting and then dropping all the hammers, and crushing everything beneath them into very, very fine dust.

The dust then poured down the slide and onto the pools of mercury.

Across from the stamps is yet another workshop, this one equipped with large metal-turning lathes to manufacture oversized parts. I say that is if everything in this entire building wasn’t oversized. We make things smaller and smaller; the Victorians, on the other hand, were size queens. If a part didn’t weigh a ton and a half, it was firmly in the province of jewelers and watchmakers, not machinists. It’s a wonder they could make a pocket watch any smaller than a manhole cover.

Once out of the mill, which even today probably violates a dozen EPA regulations on mercury exposure, we wandered around some more, looking at the old-school mining equipment scattered like weird metal vegetation.

Like this steam-powered elevator that lowered miners into the deep shafts.

When I say the castoff bits of Victorian tech were everywhere, I mean everywhere. You can’t walk anywhere in Bodie without tripping over, stepping on, or stubbing your toe on it. The Victorians believed the only thing better than iron was more iron. Subtle they were not.

The rod in the foreground of that last photo is one of the tops of the giant hammers from the stamping mill. You can see the hook that engaged the cams in the camshaft that lifted and dropped them. If a particular hammer or stamp needed to be fixed, the worker would take a block of wood, reach in to where the camshaft ran through the top of the stamps, and jam the piece of wood in under the hook to hold that hammer up…because, naturally, they wouldn’t stop the mill just for a paltry thing like service.

Workers lost their fingers doing this. They were fired and given a couple hours to leave.

When we came back out, Bunny and I saw…a bunny. A real, honest-to-God Bodie bunny, right there watching us.

This was not the end of our adventures in Bodie, or in fact of our adventures period; I still haven’t got to the copulating dinosaurs yet. Stay tuned!