Friday, June 30, 2006

Sweet Home Agatea


by Weird Alice Lancrevic,
with apologies to Lynyrd Skynyrd

Big rug keep on flying
Carry me back to dear ol' Bes
With iconographs and Luggage
Do I miss HungHung? Well, um, yes
(Look! A magical chest!)

Well, I heard Morporkians don't trust us
Heard their Patrician put us down
I hope Ankh-Morpork remembers
Ten rhinu buys up the whole damn town
(Small change! Wow!)


Now, in the Court Lord Hong was guv'nor
Til we did what we had to do
Cohen as Emperor does not bother me
Does tradition bother you?
(Think it through!)


Now, squishi chefs have got their blowfish
And they've been cause of a death or two
But we've far safer foodstuffs
Like pickled duck's feet and wonton stew
(They're yummier, too!)



I'm coming home...

June 2006


Hello again, my dear Zodimaniacs! This month, instead of giving you the usual waffle about what the stars hold for your immediate future, I'm going to let you in on some important information: namely, what lies behind those constellations that so often hedgehog up your days and nights. Did you ever wonder how those constellations got their names? Or who first discovered them? Or, for that matter, why some of them keep changing? Well, now, let's consult the Book of Ultimate Reference, known to Roundworlders as The Discworld Companion, about that last one: Stars immediately ahead of the Turtle's line of flight change their position only very gradually, as do the ones aft. The ones at right angles, however, may easily alter their relative positions in the lifetime of the average person, so there is a constant need for an updating of the Zodiac, it sayeth. And, This does at least mean that astrology on the Disc is a dynamic thing and not a repository for some rather unimaginative mythology... (unimaginative? Hah! We're not all members of the N'Tuitif tribe, you know).

Every star has a story behind it. Granted, this tends to be a very short and technical story, along the lines of Gas wandered, gas coalesced, gas ignited, still burning, check for updates, but once those various stars formed patterns that could be seen by curious eyes - and some of those eyes have been curious indeed - constellations were born. And people gave them names, because people in all universes seem to suffer from a compulsion to name things... also because Twinkle, twinkle, little ball of superheated gases lacks a certain singalongability.

According to some sources, astrology was first invented in Ephebe, although the word astrology derives from the Latatian word astera (sky flower); there is also some argument favouring Hersheban origins. The Druids of Llamedos also claim to have been the first to chart the influence of the stars, but they would, wouldn't they - silly homicidal maniacs in dresses that they are. The Hublands barbarians are said to have developed a theory of certain constellations affecting the births and wars of humankind, but since Hublanders tend to be laconic, monosyllabic sorts who would never dream of using words like theory and certain and since civilised persons rarely see Hublanders except in the form of large, threatening hulks wielding large, threatening broadswords, little is known about the veracity of this.

Here, then, are the stories behind how the constellations of your Signs got their names...

The Adamant Hedgehog 21 Mar - 20 Apr

The Adamant Hedgehog is a vigorous constellation of mostly blue-white giants with a spectacular halo of red dwarfs (not those dwarfs) that are usually taken to represent the Hedgehog's spines. The Hedgehog was first named by Calcum Forbearance Gluteal of Unseen University, a onetime UU Librarian whose main hobby was the cataloguing of popular and ancient folk songs of the Disc. To Professor Gluteal we owe the credit for the first written version of the Hedgehog Song, although it must be said that his version features quite a number of thick black lines drawn through parts of several verses. The Adamant Hedgehog is unusual for changing shape with surprising frequency; on some clear nights, it appears to be rolled into a ball. The High Energy Magic Department of UU sing their own version of the famous folksong, The Hedgehog Can Never Be Triangulated At All.

Gahoolie, the Vase of Tulips 21 Apr - 21 May

The constellation Gahoolie was first named by Gardener Constant, topiarist to the Duchess of Quirm - Quirm being a place where imagination comes at a high enough premium to have its own tax rating. Its brightest stars are Chelsi (a white dwarf in Gufi, the primary celestial tulip) and Dafi, the so-called Thorn of Gahoolie. Constant is best known, otherwise, for his obsession with thorns; he was the first horticulturist to successfully cross a black tulip with the carnivorous Cackling Rose of the Tezuman jungles. He mysteriously disappeared one day from the Duchess' research greenhouse, but his name lives on, along with some oddly bloodstained garden gloves.

Herne the Hunted 22 May - 21 Jun

Herne the Hunted, the Lancrastian God of small, frightened, furry prey, is usually represented as being about three feet tall with long, floppy rabbit-ears and very small horns, but up in the skies his constellation is rather more impressive; for a start, his heavenly horns are said by the Society of Skywatchers to be more than five times as long as Great A'Tuin, and - no, Mrs Ogg, I am not going to discuss tonkers here, this is a family column! - his twitching nose takes the form of the variable star Rhobandi Hudiman. Herne's Nose sparkles with uncommon brightness and has helped many a small furred creature - and small inebriated human - to get home to a place of safety. Herne is a very long-known constellation, and was most probably named by an Ogg.

The Wizard's Staff and Knob 22 Jun - 22 Jul

The constellation known as the Wizard's Staff and Knob was named in 1786 in Bonk, Uberwald by the Von Husher sisters, Neurasthenia and Anaglypta, porphyric invalid twins who could bear no daylight and thus spent the long Uberwaldean nights studying the heavens (and searching for handsome young men to exsanguinate, but that's another story). The chief and brightest star of the Knob is called, strangely, Flaccus, despite having been first discovered by the Tsortean stargazer Erektus. Mind you, that was a long time ago, and things change.

Bilious, God of Hangovers 23 Jul - 23 Aug

No mystery here as to the name of this constellation, but there is often disagreement as to its shape, or more properly what that shape represents. One school of thought holds that the constellation Bilious takes the form of a cocktail glass with one of those little paper umbrellas in it, but many say its wide-topped, long-stemmed form is actually a representation of a toilet bowl and the paper umbrella is a head bending over it.

Mubbo the Hyena 24 Aug - 23 Sept

The constellation of Mubbo is said to be the heavenly spirit of the Hyena God of the Lost XXXXians, a relative of their similarly time-lost god Wezen the Double-headed Kangaroo; Wezen being another of the Disc's sixty-four constellations, but one that has since passed out of the skies as Great A'Tuin swims ever onward. Legend has it that Mubbo was once a powerful spirit that stole children from dingoes. Or perhaps stole dingoes from children. Far too much time and beer has obscured the original story.

The Small Boring Group of Faint Stars 24 Sept - 23 Oct

The Small Boring Group of Faint Stars, most distant constellation in the night skies and one of the few on a direct aft position to the Turtle's line of flight, was first discovered by Herbert Paternoster, a postal inspector from Sto Lat. This constellation is also noted for having been considered too insignificant to be counted by the wizard Numbers Riktor. It was, however, the subject of the controversial Methodia Rascal painting Io Watches Chickens, although some art critics claim that the tiny, faint dots in the upper right of the canvas are actually crumbs from the painter's toasted egg sandwich.

Androgyna Majestis 24 Oct - 22 Nov

The constellation picturing the god(dess) Androgyna Majestis is a relatively new discovery, having only appeared in the night skies barely a year ago. It was named by Ms Noreen Cumbersome, an amateur astronomer, Secretary of the Ankh-Morpork Women's Awareness Society (so called, it is said, because people are often unaware that many of its members are in fact women), and secret author of the popular Misericordia Mature series of bodice-ripper novels. Few people seem to agree on the exact shape of Androgyna, nor which of the constellation's distinctive purplish stars represent his/her dangly bits. Or, for that matter, what kind of dangly bits they're meant to represent.

Great T'Phon's Foot 23 Nov - 21 Dec

Five brilliant azure stars - Huii, Duii, Luii, Britnii and Bueller - delineate the Toes of T'Phon, one of the great astral elephant Bearers of the Disc. The story of T'Phon's Toes is an ancient Howondaland myth (and one far too long and unexciting to be told here), but credit for the constellation's discovery goes to the mountaineer Ponsonby Surefoot Gumboot-Slyme, who first saw this stunning constellation when resting on the upper slopes of the north face of Cori Celesti. This credit was given posthumously, after his climbing journal was found on the lower slopes of Cori Celesti. It appears that he did finish the ascent, but came a cropper when trying to plant the Morporkian flag of conquest between the toes of Offler and struck a bunion.

Hoki the Jokester 22 Dec - 20 Jan

The constellation of Hoki the Jokester honours Hoki, yet another Ramtops nature god who, according to the Book of Ultimate Reference, usually manifests as an oak tree, a half-man/half-goat presence, or "his most common aspect as a bloody nuisance", and who is found only in deep woods in Lancre. But such is the nature of this nature god that he has been adopted (with a sort of infuriated fondness) by accident victims, persons passed over for promotion, and recent bridegrooms all over the Disc. Hoki's stellar form appears to be a bit undecided - it looks rather like a half-man/half-goat that got stuck in an oak tree. The brightest star in Hoki is the octarine dwarf Kummonnau, and is the favourite wishing star of those whose wishes never come true.

The Rather Large Gazunda 21 Jan - 18 Feb

The constellation of the Rather Large Gazunda was named in Brindisi by the late, lamented Credenza, Marchionessa di Rigatoni, who would swear upon this stellar confection to witness her doomed love for the young suitor Rumbelow, whose family - the Mountebanchis - were considered persona non grata by the Rigatonis. The broken-hearted Rumbelow took poison and asked Credenza to join him in his fatal protest, but she lost her nerve at the last moment and substituted a thimbleful of imported scumble; amazingly enough, she survived, and lived to the age of ninety, gazing mournfully at her favourite constellation and eating a lot of chocolate. Ever since, the Rather Large Gazunda has been considered the constellation of, um, star-crossed lovers.

Lesser Umbrage 19 Feb - 20 Mar

Lesser Umbrage is a constellation that rarely excites much comment, being almost as small, boring and faint as the Small Boring Group of Faint Stars. Its only noteworthiness comes from its being the companion constellation to Great Umbrage, one of the most lifelike of all the constellations (read: one that looks most like an actual something, as opposed to one of those well, if you squint like so, and stand on one foot leaning Turnwise, and have had quite a lot of alcoholic beverages before coming outside to contemplate the starry heavens... wossnames), resembles nothing so much as a retired brigadier general awakened too soon, after lunch, cigars and port, by an overly enthusiastic almanack salesman. Lesser Umbrage was discovered and named, but no-one has yet bothered to come forth and take the credit. Sometimes a bunch of stars is just a bunch of stars, after all.