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British Library digitized image from page 241 of “A Strange Manuscript found in a Copper Cylinder [A novel. By James De Mille.] With illustrations by G. Gaul”
British Library digitized image from page 241 of “A Strange Manuscript found in a Copper Cylinder [A novel. By James De Mille.] With illustrations by G. Gaul”
Illustration: British Library (Fair Use)
FictionFictionJourneys into unfamiliar worlds, imagined futures, and altered states of mind.

And why, pray tell, is that unfriendly-looking creature the only way you have of escaping? Also...what or who are you escaping, exactly?

That’s right, friends, we’re back with another io9 Concept Art Writing Prompt, designed to jostle your creative juices into contributing a bit of short fiction for everyone to enjoy in the comments. Our inspiration image comes once again from the British Library’s public domain Flickr archive, a veritable rabbit hole of weird vintage illustrations that could help dislodge any fiction author who’s found themselves stuck in the zone of zero inspiration. (Seriously, bookmark it.)

This particular illustration by G. Gaul dates to 1888, and the work it’s taken from—a serialized novel published posthumously in Harper’s Weekly—is Canadian author James De Mille’s delightfully titled A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder. So while there is a story out there explaining what’s going on in that illustration, we want to know what you think about when you see those figures, that bird, and that curious caption.


And you know what? Since it’s Christmas and all, I’m tossing in a bonus image, simply because I can’t get it out of my head.

Illustration: British Library (Fair Use)

This is taken from the 1854 publication “Simple Hans and other funny pictures and stories,” a title that seems to suggest it’s aimed at the kiddies despite that vaguely threatening combination of art and words. Is this a Bat Boy origin story? You tell us!


Concept artists, want your work featured on io9 for a concept art writing prompt? Email us at tips@io9.com, with the subject line “Concept art writing prompt.”

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Chris Paine

Where Layelah had gotten the creature was unclear. It may have been the consequence of a rip in the time vortex, or it may have been one of the beasts kept in stasis by the Silurians, awoken prematurely. The creature resembled a pterodactyl, but he couldn’t be sure. It seemed quite curious and amenable. It squawked at him.

“I think she likes me!” the Doctor exclaimed.

“It’s a he,” Layelah replied sourly.

“That’s not what she says,” the Doctor said.

“You speak pterodactyl?” She asked, with more than a little incredulity in her voice.

It was 1875, the middle of a shop in the center of the market in Marrakech, Morocco. A passel Zygons armed with bargle blasters and a clowder angry Tuaregs armed with rifles and swords were hot on their heels. The Doctor really had no choice.

As they got on the creature’s back, Layelah said, hold on tight!

The Doctor replied with a shout, “Allons-y!”