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Images and Symbols in Dan and Dave’s “Sons of Liberty” Deck

There’s a deck of cards based on the people and images of the US Revolutionary War, and there seem to be some secrets hidden within. It’s like Christmas!

First, go get Dan and Dave’s Sons of Liberty Playing Cards, because they’re beautiful. Next, let’s take a close look and see what we can find,

The Outside

Let’s start with some of the particulars of the box.

sons-of-liberty-playing-cards-12[1]Sealed with a sticker. A variation on the Anti-Stamp Act logos.



Upon opening, we get a hidden “Liberty Or Death”, reference to Thomas Paine.


Also, the side tabs present a snake and a lit fuse.


The snake in this set of images probably doesn’t connote evil, but rather refers to Franklin’s  Join Or Die image. Why Franklin chose a snake over any other animal which is dead when cut into pieces, I couldn’t say.


The card backs present a mix of images related to the founding and icons of the Freemasons.


Here we have the eagle, a wee Liberty Bell, and a banner displaying the motto “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God”.  This motto comes from Franklin’s proposal for the Great Seal, and was apparently adopted by Jefferson for his personal seal. (Note: we need to bring back personal seals.) 

The Masonic Square and Compass logo, as well as everyone’s favorite pyramid-topper The Eye of Providence are featured prominently.

The Cards

Now to the best part:  the cards themselves. The general rule seems to have been to use famous figures for the kings and queens, and then more general roles as the Jacks.


The King of Spades, with the crossing of the Delaware behind him, can only be Washington.


The King of Hearts is Paul Revere on his midnight ride, ft. a lantern and the Old North Church.


The King of Diamonds, backed with images similar to those in John Trumbull’s painting of the signing, I am assuming to be John Hancock. TJ’s hair is way too messy.


The King of Clubs has some mystery to it. With the Tea Party in the background, I think we can safely say this is Samuel Adams.

Especially when we compare to his non-beer portrait. (Thank you, MFA Boston).

But what of the Masonic symbols in his hands? Why Adams and not the others? A quick googling returns citations of all of the other three kings as Masons, but not Adams. Or, in the broader sense of the imagery in the deck, are we to see Adams an an architect of the Revolution? He was certainly active in the Sons of Liberty. MYSTERIES ABOUND.


The Queens.

Great stuff in here.

The Queen of Spades, loading a cannon under enemy fire, is folk hero Molly Pitcher.  I had never heard of Pitcher until I started looking into this deck, and I have yet to forgive my Social Studies teachers.

Now here’s something notable; the scrollwork on her clothes has two snake-heads (just at her collar). There’s scrolly goodness on all these cards — why are we just seeing the snakes now? Hmmm….



The Queen of Hearts is Betsy Ross. Note the inclusion of the queenly flower.



The Queen of Diamonds, with laurel, spear, dove and Greek-looking head apparel, is the “goddess” Columbia. (Full disclosure: I always just called her “Lady Liberty” until I heard the name “Columbia” from a friend.)



The Queen of Clubs. Let me say the thing about my Social Studies teachers again. I mean, they were all fine folks and taught a bunch of great stuff. But I never heard tell of Nancy Hart, who got a bunch of enemy soldiers drunk and killed them with their own gun. Awesome.



The Jacks

Head-scratchers. I don’t think they’re meant to be particular people, but I’m not sure.

Jack of Spades. A naval captain. John Paul Jones?



Jack of Hearts: A blacksmith, beating what we have to assume was once a ploughshare into a sword.

Note the snake-head at his shoulder! What the heck’s going on with those?



Jack of Diamonds: Ah the noble aspect of the patriot soldier.


Appears to have been influenced by this illustration by FOC Darley. (?)


Jack of Clubs: a drummer. Not the one from the famous painting.


The other cards

The Ace of Spades, traditionally used for the company’s logo and other rad illustrations, features the Liberty Tree with 1776 above it. I thought it might be the Charter Oak, but the leaf shape seems elmier.

And there’s our buddy the snake again, this time in a figure-eight knot.


The Joker may be my favorite card in this deck. The stocks, symbol of abusive governmental punishments, now in disuse and growing ivy.



And that’s that. If you have any clues on the images in this beautiful deck, please let me know!

So Close! – GPS Artists

Well, I almost made it. GPS art is now an app.

From Atlas Obscura:



From Glitch Rain, which comes out in two weeks:

“We currently have on board a half-dozen poets, of the ‘predictive text’ and ‘found spam’ schools mainly, as well as the current Clickbait Laureate of Scotland. A drone choreographer and an auto-tune violinist are collaborating on a new rendition of Ashton’s Ondine, and you can watch a live feed of their home workshop from any mobile device. That GPS painter who sent Uber cars all over Tijuana has been openly hiding out with us for a few years. That one who set up a Google maps overlay to draw a self-portrait from their routes.


Back to the Future II: Surprisingly Cyberpunk

12118970_1020177268026997_3376775669711255293_nLook at those kids.  Change the saturation on this pic and you’ve got yourself a cyberpunk dystopia.

The bad guys in Back to the Future II (set tomorrow) dress like the California suburb version of cyberpunks, which implies that actual cyberpunks must be around somewhere. Like, teched out clothes and circuit-board makeup are being used by the real deal in the dark corners of the cities, and some coolfinder borrowed the style to put in the malls.

So, here’s your gritty cyberpunk BttF 2015 super-flash fan fic:

Relax. Enjoy your 3D movies. Don’t pay attention. Ignore the tremor in the voice that dries your clothes. Don’t think about the freaker who can hack your kid’s hoverboard. Don’t connect the rise in certain stocks with Cubs alleged win, or the fact that no one you know actually attended the World Series. Just keep thumbing away your money, bozo. You’ve given us the whorls on your skin. What else will you give us? What else can we take?

Hacking your biometrics is easier than even the fear-mongering propagandvertisements tells you. USA Today’s not the only one with drones. The eyes that keep you safe are everywhere, which means we’re everywhere. Hi-res photo plus 3D-printed skin equals us spending your cash wherever we go.

We know where you are. We know where everyone is. And we can tell you this — there’s someone in this town that doesn’t belong.

Three people. A man and two teens. We don’t know how they got here. And we don’t like not knowing things.

I mean, come on.



A Little Bit O’ Star Wars / Hamlet Goofiness

A buddy asked me to write something to go a long with this photo. So I did!


Alas, poor Porkins! I knew him, dear Lando; a fellow of infinite blasters, a most excellent pilot; he hath covered Gold Team’s six a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my Jedi senses it is! E’en the rancor snorts at it. Here hung that blast shield he wore I know not how oft. Where be your s-foils now? Your torpedoes? Your shields? Your flashes of covering fire that were wont to set the TIE fighters aflame?


‘Proximity’ in Apex

I’m proud to announce that my story Proximity is in this month’s Apex Magazine. (link) It’s one of the pieces they make available online for free, so it’s out there for all the world. Many thanks to Sigrid Ellis et al. for working with me!

This story marks my first foray into the cyberpunk-nouveau thing I’ve been riffing on for a while. It’s been about a year since I first wrote it, and I’ve used the same setting for a couple of other pieces now. One was a 3d-printing chase story for J. M. McDermott’s March Flash Madness, (which was a blast and everyone should participate in next year so get ready), and will be available in the e-book collection of the same.  The other is a novella which is currently out on the far shores of submission land. So if you dig Proximity, keep your eyes open!

Why Hillary Will Be President: Old Magicks

In 1776, the mages and augurs who oversaw the sacred rites of Founding, Declaration, and Constitution put into place a number of long-term spells (often referred to as “curses” or “boons”, depending on their intent — and interpretation) to secure the binding. One of these was translated roughly as “E Pluribus Unum”. Subtleties of language between English, Latin, and the unknowable source text* has led contemporary thinkers to read this as “Out of many, one”, but this is not entirely the case.

The E Pluribus Unum spell (hereafter referred to as “the EPU”) states that the last name of every President will be used exactly twice. Adams, Roosevelt, Bush, for example.

Does the spell require this binary relationship? Or does it create it? A matter of great debate. It the opinion of some scholars that the Kennedy “assassination” was facilitated by the spell’s requirement — a second Johnson needed to take the office. Some even go so far as to posit that the EPU has reached into the psyche of populace and can be found reflected in popular culture. Archie Bunker’s plaint that “we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again” has been read as such**.

Of particular note is Grover Cleveland, an accomplished magus in his own right, who may have used a loophole in the text of the EPU to become elected on two non-consecutive occasions. In a telegram to British spiritualist and author Sir A. C. Doyle, he states that “no-where in the Codex is it explicitly stated that the Name in question must be held by two separate men”.

There will almost certainly be another Clinton in the Oval Office, but whether or not Hillary would satisfy the EPU is unclear. Does the spell require that the incumbent’s birth name be used twice, or would a married name suffice?

A topic as dry and arcane as this may seem trivial, but it would serve to keep in mind that once every last name has been used exactly twice, the nation will fall. If this is true, and we were to assume the continuation of four-year terms, we can count on a minimum of another century or so***, but after that, what?


*The use of three languages is key to spellcraft. There needs be a living language (English in this case), a dead one (Latin), and a third, neither living nor dead. This is the secret language of magic, of course, and can only be understood by the initiated.

** Was J. Edgar meant to become President? Is that why his name appears in Ghostbusters as a vengeful, destructive force?

*** Though, William Henry Harrison’s brief tenure reminds us there must be some leeway. He served to fulfill the binary name requirement, certainly, but not for long.

Review – The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

Ken Liu has written a book both sprawling and subtle here. Go get lost in it.

Liu consistently presents his characters with impossible choices. Sometimes they are true to the tendencies we have seen throughout, and sometimes they surprise us by doing the opposite of the expected. Either way, we get to see the consequences — both societal and personal — of their decisions play out over decades.

And boy howdy are there lots of characters. Lots of POV characters, no less. We see this world changing through the eyes of children, of soldiers, of kings, of mothers, of gods.

The Iliad seems to be a major influence here. Now and then we see the gods fighting over their favorites, or appearing in human form to nudge events a certain way. We don’t see glowy magic twirling around evil mustachioed advisers as the dark gods they have bought their powers from come to collect. We see a bald guy in a cape talking to someone in the street.

Magic is present, but no more than (some might say) it is in the real world. You know that story your aunt tells about the time she saw a ghost? Or the long-dead great-uncle who you’ve been told could pull any card from a deck just by thinking of it? We’re talking that level of magic here. Again, no glowing.

If you like your fantasy realistic (no oxymoron intended), heavy on the politics, and well-fleshed out, give this book a shot.


The USA is the Empire

Let’s sum up.

We destroy civilizations from the sky, using terrifying technology only we control.


We torture…

…and it proves ineffective.

Governor Tarkin: [refering to Leia] She lied. She lied to us.
Darth Vader: I told you she would never consciously betray the Rebellion.


We use killer robots.




Our militarized police kill civilians without trial or repercussion.




But we’re the good guys. Right?

Fantasy Coins and OCD

I went and Kickstarted a project, “Fantasy Coins, LLC”, which makes coins for gaming. They’re really great, and you should go check ’em out. My use for such things is sadly lacking these days, so they’re just a conversation piece sitting around, waiting for an adventuring party to come by and earn them as a quest reward.

Many of the coins have text on them in runes and whatnot. Naturally, the desire to cryptoquip these bad boys was too much. Yes, sometimes when you get a bunch of word-obsessed nerds sitting around a table, they’re going to pull out loupes and translate some replacement ciphers. Especially if one of them know the old Norse runes by heart. (Not me.)

Unless noted, all of these are Irish proverbs which can be found on this site. The English is used on the coins, just with funky lettering.

First, the dwarven coins, which use old Norse runes.

  • Gold Front (face): A fool and his money are soon parted.
  • Gold Back (anvil): Nothing without effort.
  • Silver Front (helmet): What is seldom is wonderful.
    • Note: This is repeated in full twice, then only “what is seldom is”. 
    • Note: This forum post lists it as being in the original Gaelic, but it doesn’t appear to be,
  • Silver Back (shield): There is no hearth like our hearth.
    • Note: Perhaps meant to be “your”? But I couldn’t see a “y”.
  • Copper Front (door): May the wind be always at your back.
  • Copper Back (axe): May the road rise to meet you
    • Note: This is a traditional Irish blessing

Next, the elven coins. (The knotwork-style art on the obverses of these are a personal favorite, by the way.) Per the Kickstarter page: “the “Elven” writing is of our own creation which was influenced by calligraphic Arabic, Thai, and Japanese Kanji; arranged in English”.

  • Gold Front (pen): Things are not as they seem.
  • Gold Back (owl): Health is better than wealth.
  • Silver Front (sky): A good word never broke a tooth.
  • Silver Back (tree): Let none put faith in the first sown fruit.
  • Copper Front (bow): A good start is half the work.
  • Copper Back (stag): It is best to search while the trail is new.
  • Kickstarter Backer Coin Back: Fantasy Coin Kickstarter Backer

And now the stumper: the Fire element coins.

The runes seem to be the same used on the dwarven coins, but they don’t work in English.  To add to the fun, the fronts and backs of all of these have the exact same text, which makes cryptoquipping pretty tough. Hmmm…..

If I’m reading the spacing right, there is at least one word which starts with the same two letters. Unless it’s “eels”, I’m guessing this might not be in English.

The kickstarter page says “The writings are taken from ancient Celtic runes and a Sanskrit flare (sic) has been added to defy translation“.  I don’t think any of the symbols are from Sanskrit, so maybe the text is?

If you find the answer to this one, do let me know. And definitely check out the site: you’ll never have to use a Canadian dollar as a prop again!