The Shrike is one of the more memorable creatures of science fiction.
Appearing in Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos as an enigmatic and dangerous entity that travels through space and time, the metallic Shrike acts as a primary foil or antagonist in the first two volumes, before becoming something of a wild card / deus ex machina in the concluding two volumes.
However, more than its role in the plot, it’s probably so well remembered due to the way its described. Being impossibly tall, four armed, and covered head to toe in razor sharp blades, the creature decidedly isn’t something you’d want to run into in a dark alley.
Despite (or perhaps due to) all the wild descriptions of the monster, I’ve seen some radically different interpretations from artists trying to describe what exactly this monstrosity looks like.
We were given some interpretations on the front covers of the novels. However, as is common to sci-fi / fantasy book covers, the illustrations were a little hockey / a little comfy, resulting in the beast looking like a tall dude with a couple of spikes. Workable, but not exactly the stuff of nightmares.
So, because apparently I’m the kind of person who wants to see more stuff right out of nightmares, I decided to give generating a shrike image using Midjourney – the art “AI” (machine learning) that everyone is going wild for (either loving or hating).
I chose Midjourney due to familiarity but also because (from experience) it is quite good at generating freaky humanoids and generally terrifying pictures from its prompts.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get there as quickly as I was hoping.
First Attempt at Generating the Shrike
For my first attempt, I went simple.
My hope was that there would be enough artists impressions out there (and the books well known enough) that I would get what I wanted right out of the gate.
Unfortunately, and as I should have known better, Midjourney has a way of surprising you.
Here’s what I got:
Right. Shrikes are types of birds.
And there are certainly infinitely more images of those than the elusive time travelling monster from some books first written back in the late 80s.
In any event, those are at the very least some fairly handsome birds and I’ll have to remember this prompt if I find myself needing more like them for any random reason.
Second Attempt at Generating the Shrike
In my second attempt, I tried to be more specific. My assumption was that I simply had to give clearer instructions about the type of Shrike I wanted generated.
So this time around I went with:
hyperion shrike ultradetailed realistic octane render four armed metallic monster of doom lord of death and pain and spikes
Off the top of my head, that seemed more appropriate – notably the parts about four arms and spikes.
From past experience, I also knew that octane render was decent for metal and inputting lords of “death” or “pain” also tended to give some pretty heavy metal album cover style renderings.
However, what I got wasn’t quite it either:
We definitely got the metal and the spikes and some of the dread that the Shrike could inspire, but we’re still being tainted by our lovely little “shrike” bird elements.
An improvement, at the very least, but still not really there.
I ran it through another time hoping a re-roll would clear things up, but alas.
Still seeing all kinds of creepy, with more spikes per square meter, but ultimately this is still some kind of cosmic bird monster.
Third Attempt at Generating the Shrike
This time, I tried using some verbage from the way the monster was described.
Because I was too lazy to open my Kindle and hunt for passages, I copied a section off the Hyperion Wiki where it described the Shrike:
a roughly humanoid entity three meters in height, with a carapace made entirely of a metal resembling chrome steel. It had four arms, with the lower pair being slightly shorter than the upper pair, and four hands tipped with scalpel-like fingerblades.See https://hyperioncantos.fandom.com/wiki/Shrike
That description felt pretty spot on. However, as Midjourney does, it took it in a direction I wasn’t anticipating.
For reasons unknown to me, we not got mostly black and white or grey scale images of our monster.
Except, where did all the spikes go? Where are our scalpel fingers?
Maybe that bottom image is what our Strike looks like when they’re taking the day off or before they’ve suited up for some human rending?
I gave it another reroll and got the following:
Well, the bottom row is definitely a weird, horrifying robot thing made of metal.
But where are my spikes?
Fourth Attempt at Generating a Shrike
This time, I decided to take a more hands-on approach. If the internet couldn’t provide one, nor even the wiki, it was time I took a stab at describing it myself.
I churned out some details and familiar keywords and went with:
7 foot tall humanoid with four arms, made of metal and covered in spooky spikes, horror art, lord of pain, made of armor, scalpel finger blades, realistic, ultradetailed, science fiction, horror art
Hello! Not quite there but getting close.
We now have a creepy humanoid made of metal and covered in spikes.
He was a little lacking in the arm department, so I re-rolled until I got one with four arms:
Now that got me excited. Not only did I have a metal creep covered in spikes, but I got my four arms! All I had to do now was run some variants of that bad boy and I’d be all set.
Unfortunately, that’s when it hit me – there was one very distinctive aspect of the Shrike that my image was missing.
The red eyes.
Fifth Attempt at Generating the Shrike
This time I went back and edited my prompt to include some glowing red eyes:
7 foot tall humanoid with four arms and burning red eyes, made of metal and covered in spooky spikes, horror art, lord of pain, made of armor, scalpel finger blades, realistic, ultradetailed, science fiction, horror art
I was confident I would get where I wanted now with only a roll or two.
My next attempt came out looking like this:
Gotta hand it to Midjourney to creatively (or insanely) interpret things that seem so straightforward to us.
This time around we got the metal, the monster, the four arms, the spikes, but instead of red eyes, I got, well, some red highlights.
Progress. Or so it seemed.
I rolled a couple more times, but every time it refused to give me those burning eyes.
I tried instead to remaster some of them and see if that took it in the right direction:
Unfortunately, as I’ve known for a while, remastering does odd things… sometimes ever odder than the rest of the prompts.
In the case of horror art, I always found it made things a little goofy, especially where faces are concerned.
While the one on the left is nice and nasty, he’s not too metallic. The one on the right, however, looks like an evil marionette or hand puppet.
I tried again. I got this goofy bastard:
Not quite where I wanted to take it. But at least it had red eyes.
Sixth Attempt – actually, wait, I’ve given up
By this time, I’ve more or less given up. Especially since, concurrently, a friend saw what I was trying to do, and also generate a couple dozen shrike abominations that didn’t quite fit the mold.
I decided to go back to some earlier rolls and pick a few that I did like, even if they might not match canonical descriptions by any account:
This guy is pretty good. Certainly terrifying, certainly four-armed.
And how could I ever say no to this four-armed son of a bitch? Sure, not all arms are perfect, or even all that spiky, but at least he could terrify the living hell out of most humans.
So, it’s possible I’ll give it another shot in the coming days, but for now I’ll leave dejected and defeated.
My Shrike is in another prompt.