ZBS Media has been around since the 1970s, but I became aware of them in the 80s, when my spiritual advisor, Mindy the Pagan Hairdresser, lent me cassettes of The Fourth Tower of Inverness and Moon Over Morocco. This year, my husband bought me both these adventures on CD, all eight Ruby the Galactic Gumshoe adventures, and another Jack Flanders story, Midnight at the Casa Luna.
I’ve been wallowing in them.
The ZBS people are all mad. They combine science fiction / fantasy themes and storylines with Buddhist ideas and a big fat dose of old timey 1960s radicalism. In certain adventures, such as Moon Over Morocco, we get Islamic and Berber mysticism mixed in with the above, while The Fourth Tower of Inverness tosses in some ideas more familiar to westerners, as framed by the Society of the Golden Dawn and Theosophy.
And the stories are all funny. No pathos goes unslapped with the wet fish of ZBS humor.
I suppose my favorites at the moment are The Fourth Tower, Ruby 3 (a giant two-part story), and Ruby 4 (The Moon Coins of Santo Lore), with Moon over Morocco coming in a strong runner-up.
Quick overviews, then:
The Fourth Tower of Inverness introduces Jack Flanders, an urbane young idiot who visits relatives at a remote estate, and in between falling in love with the Madonna Vampira, tangling with Dr. Mazoola and his draconic id, and trying to get straight answers out of a dozen wacky inhabitants, he makes repeated attempts to locate, enter, and travel through higher and higher levels of the mythical and usually invisible fourth tower of the old mansion. Characters from this adventure turn up in later Jack Flanders stories. Jack is the guy who will always push the little red button with the signs all over it saying Do Not Touch, a fact the Inverness denizens exploit to further their individual and group goals of spiritual evolution. It’s slapstick fantasy. It’s character-based comedy. It’s full of rich zen conundrums illustrated with fart-o-matic subtlety, and also with kindness and charm and silliness.
Ruby 3 is in two parts: The Underworld, which is a retelling of the Descent of Inanna, and The Invisible World, which includes a bit more of Inanna’s story than myth provides, plus a uniquely ZBS take on the workings of the fourth dimension, or the emotional body, or the tenth sephirah, depending on your nationality, religion, or spiritual frame of reference.
In The Underworld, Inanna travels to the dark lands of Erishkigal, à la Dante, and witnesses and participates in the various ways people spend their time in hell, or the afterlife, or the underworld, whatever your flavor. If you have an education in such matters, it’s especially interesting, but you certainly don’t have to be a scholar to have fun with it.
The Invisible World pits characters (who will become a team in later stories) against a two-faced dualistic god of good and evil. They enter the invisible world separately, have transformative adventures, and join at the end to fight an extremely silly battle. Inanna completes her journey and resolves her conflicts with Erishkigal in a way that I think improves on myth, which is darned hard to do.
In Ruby 4, Ruby the Galactic Gumshoe and her team seek the titular four magical Moon Coins of Santo Lore, missing since the fourth moon of Ruby’s planet Summa Nulla disappeared, millennia ago. Ruby is a marvelously cynical character, quick to fire her trusty Smith-Hitachi Godzilla Blunderbuss Blaster, gifted with the power to slow time, and handicapped by an almost complete lack of introspection. She meets a magical child named Rubina who could, if Ruby had the self-awareness of a mollusc, be a great help. Or not. Rodant F. Kapur, a recurring antagonist throughout the Ruby stories, emerges as a more sympathetic conniving sneaky double-dealing putz than he has done heretofore. The androidophile archaeologist TJ Teru grapples with E Gad, his reptoid opposite number in the fourth dimension. And/Or, a renegade techie with the Digital Circus, is tapped by techie patron saint Nikola Tesla to build a seventh dimension machine that will save the planet from the reptoid invasion…or maybe split it in two…it’ll do something, anyway, they’re pretty sure.
Moon over Morocco shows that Jack Flanders has recognized his destiny since the Fourth Tower adventure: to actualize himself, achieve spiritual clarity, clean up his psychic back yard, complete his soul journey, perform his appointed roles in mythic sagas, and survive getting lied to and misled by friends and foes for his own good. This adventure is heavily larded with Berber proverbs and Islamic spiritual thought. It’s the most alien of the ZBS adventures I’ve heard so far, as western adventurers Jack and his friends clash with Morocco on both mundane and spiritual planes.
In every one of these adventures, there is the urgency of a hero’s journey, and also the circularity of myth: this is not the first time a heroine and her friends have undertaken such a task, and won’t be the last, but, all the same, they had better not screw up.
Gosh, I feel like I haven’t told you anything.
Well, just get yourself some of these and listen to them. I keep them in my car, where they come between me and road rage by putting me into a zen state of spiritual silliness.
(ZBS Media, 2010)
Someday I will achieve the level of silliness these guys pull off. I bow three times in their direction. Meantime I occasionally write radio plays, or at least stories that might as well be scripts for radio plays, and keep my compass pointed at the ZBS silly star.
For an example, take a look at A Princess of Wittgenstein, available on its own or in The Shadow Conspiracy, an anthology of steampunk stories from Book View Café. The Shadow Conspiracy, by nine Book View Café members, has an elaborate premise I can’t totally remember involving Ada Lovelace versus Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, and a bunch of mad scientists, and differently-human characters both mechanical and frankensteined. (Is that a word?) Since I object to steampunk’s love affair with Victorian class society, I wrote about a butler and a parlourmaid and, okay, an ex-princess. A crocodile makes a cameo appearance. Also, an orangutan and a strategically-applied bag of humbugs.