August 21, 2019

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 411


Each Tuesday, rather than a POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY, I'd like to both challenge you and lend a helping hand. I generate more speculative and teen story ideas than I can ever use. My family rolls its collective eyes when I say, "Hang on a second! I just have to write down this idea..." Here, I'll include the initial inspiration (quote, website, podcast, etc.) and then a thought or two that came to mind. These will simply be seeds -- plant, nurture, fertilize, chemically treat, irradiate, test or stress them as you see fit. I only ask if you let me know if anything comes of them. Regarding Fantasy, this insight was startling: “I see the fantasy genre as an ever-shifting metaphor for life in this world, an innocuous medium that allows the author to examine difficult, even controversial, subjects with impunity. Honor, religion, politics, nobility, integrity, greed—we’ve an endless list of ideals to be dissected and explored. And maybe learned from.” – Melissa McPhail.

Fantasy Trope: The Quest

Světlana Angelika pursed her lips, looking out over the hectares of forest. In the MSP Vertical Village, it was mostly deciduous trees – oak, maple, patches of white-barked birch, poplar – with a sprinkling of pine trees. The concourse she and Uthman Aali were on was packed with people. Not a hundred thousand, for sure, but too many to think. “We need to go somewhere,” she said abruptly, speaking in the too loud manner of all the inhabitants of Vertical Villages everywhere.

Uthman gave her a look that said, “You’re crazy.”

She slugged him in the shoulder. It was a little kid move – but then, they’d been friends since they were three years old. “No, I’m serious. We need to go somewhere real.”

Without changing his stare, Uthman said, “We can go up to the six hundredth floor...”

“No! I don’t mean here. This is all so...boring. We need to go,” she pause, “through a looking glass.”

“A what?”

“A looking glass! Haven’t you ever read Alice in Wonderland?”

“I might have seen a threevee of it once. Wasn’t it a cartoon?”

“Yes – and no, you haven’t seen this. Lewis Carroll wrote a novel, it’s true. But he was a mathematician. His logic is all over the book. Math. Everything.”

Uthman snorted, “It sounds like science fiction.”

“It’s fantasy – she steps through a mirror.”

“If it’s math and logic, it’s science fiction.”

“There are talking rabbits,” said Světlana. “And a talking, disappearing cat. As well as a talking, smoking caterpillar, talking mice, and soldiers made of playing cards.”

“OK. You win. It’s a fantasy. But what does it have to do with us? What kind of mirror can we jump through? I’m sure there are some here – but...”

“The windows. We can jump through one of those.”

“A window?”

“Come on, let’s go to the outer walls. We’ll leap through one of those!” She turned and ran, Uthman running after her.

Names: Czech, Roman; ♂ Arabic, Hindu  

August 18, 2019

WRITING ADVICE: What Went RIGHT #45…With “In the Present” (Submitted 1 time with 10 revisions, sold to Nanoism, January 2017)


In September of 2007, I started this blog with a bit of writing advice. A little over a year later, I discovered how little I knew about writing after hearing children’s writer, Lin Oliver speak at a convention hosted by the Minnesota Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Since then, I have shared (with their permission) and applied the writing wisdom of Lin Oliver, Jack McDevitt, Nathan Bransford, Mike Duran, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SL Veihl, Bruce Bethke, and Julie Czerneda. Together they write in genres broad and deep, and have acted as agents, editors, publishers, columnists, and teachers. Since then, I figured I’ve got enough publications now that I can share some of the things I did “right” and I’m busy sharing that with you.

While I don’t write full-time, nor do I make enough money with my writing to live off of it...neither do all of the professional writers above...someone pays for and publishes ten percent of what I write. When I started this blog, that was NOT true, so I may have reached a point where my own advice is reasonably good. We shall see! Hemingway’s quote above will now remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales! As always, your comments are welcome!

I’m a writing teacher during the summer. I work with kids who have been identified as gifted and talented. The class I teach is, QUITE specifically, Writing To Get Published.

These days, I have a reasonably extensive repertoire of work that parents figure I’m good at what I teach. I also have a small cadre of students who’ve gone on to publish as well. It’s an overview class touching on many types of writing – poetry, essay, journalism, how-to, fiction (of course!) in its multiple forms like twitterfic, flash, short story, and novel, scripts (this year, my classes wrote a the first episode of a telenovela together based on an outline I gave them. It was hugely successful!)

Of course, every kid believes that they can write fiction. A third of them were already working on “novels” (They called their one-page-per-chapter, 4000 word masterpiece…). I nodded, encouraged them to expand the idea (“Look at your favorite book. How long is it?”). Then I suggest another form of fiction: the 142 space twitter fiction.

Often when I give an assignment, I do it myself to offer insights to the process. So, every year, I write a piece of twitterfic, and then submit it, showing them how it’s done. It’s a great all-around lesson because I also talk about the probability of rejection. I mentioned that I’ve subbed to the Nanoism site six times and that I’ve been accepted once – a 17% success rate.

Why did this one work where the others failed? Mostly because the subject was both painful and ongoing.

See, I’m one of the “sandwich generation” – kids in their late 20s and early 30s and parents in the early 80s, both with unique needs that my generation can help with and that stretch both resources and emotions. My dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2014 – and we didn’t find out until 2015 when I gained access to both of my parent’s  medical records.

Something about me – I’m a science fiction writer and I also keep a blog chronicling my wife’s breast cancer experience (I added Dad’s Alzheimer’s in 2015), with the main goal of “translating the medicine” (as well as an emotional outlet for myself as I’m not a big “group sharer”) and keeping up on developments in both fields. If you’re interested in either, go here: http://breastcancerreaper.blogspot.com/.

My mom was stuck in the past.

She’d had hip and knee replacements, starting in her early 60s. In her early 80s, one of her knees was giving her lots of pain. She insisted on getting another replacement. Her doctor refused at first, but she persisted, and he finally gave in and did it. Mom was expecting to do a bit of PT, then move on like nothing had changed as she did when she was in her 60s. That’s not what happened. The replacement was so painful, she refused to do the PT. As a result, she began to struggle with edema in her legs. A stay in the hospital and a weird situation sparked a bout of skin cancer on her forearm. She grew weaker. Her lungs began to retain fluid as a result of an inoperable heart valve problem.

Dad’s Alzheimer’s progressed and his memory issues grew worse and I “took away the car keys”…

We moved them into a senior, assisted living residence (a very nice place), where they both continued to slide into dementia – Dad on a frictionless surface, Mom as a part of (I think) age-related dementia.

It was at the time I was teaching summer school again that Mom passed away and I wrote the piece as a sort of therapy. How did I mash so many feelings together? I started with a paragraph that was simply descriptive. Then I tried to fit it on the worksheet I gave the kids that had 142 short blanks, playing with the idea that I was the one who looked to the future. Mom got more and more mired in the past. Dad had no idea what time it was – literally and figuratively as he swung from the present to the far past as his recent memories eroded faster and faster…

The Nanoism came together because of the intensity of my experience. Reaching into myself allowed me to write a piece that at LEAST reached the editor. As  Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith (1949) and Paul Gallico (1946) together coined the quoteWriting Is Easy; You Just Open a Vein and Bleed”.

Smith had been quoted as saying, “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

Gallico wrote, “It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader.”

So, in this case, I opened up a vein and bled my heartache and you can read the result here: http://nanoism.net/stories/736/

Two stories I sold recently are also in the same “opening the vein and bleeding”…er…vein. “Road Veterinarian” and “Kamsahamnida, America” are deeply personal. The first will be in the September/October 2019 of ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact; the second will be in the November/December 2019 issue of the same magazine.


August 15, 2019

Free Fiction On Thursdays...

I've been sharing an ongoing piece of work since 2009, not long after I started this blog.

Of the pieces I've started and completed:

A SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH (Started in August 2009, completed in September of 2016)

LOVE IN A TIME OF ALIEN INVASION (Started in February of 2013, and still far from complete)

MARTIAN HOLIDAY (Started in February of 2009, and still far from complete)

THE RECONSTRUCTION OF MAI LI HASTINGS (Started in March of 2009, completed in January 2013)

These still exist in my blog archives, just blocked from public view. I also wrote two others (at least) which I was able to delete:

THREAT OF MAGIC (Started in July of 2008, completed in August of 2009)

THIRTEEN SQUARE MILES (Started in May of 2008, completed in July of 2009)

I also don't recall if I wrote HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES: EMERALD OF EARTH here or not. I vaguely remember the trip up the space elevator being posted, but it was taken down a long time ago. I have a cover letter from 2010, so the book was done by then. Prior to that, I'm not sure.

I've also tried a few manuscripts for picture books as well.

The net sum of the ones I've lifted from POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS and actually polished enough for submission, at this point, is ZERO. I DID try one of the picture books, "Yung Lo, the Emperor's Goldfish". Sent it to my agent at Red Fox Literary...and she hated it. (That was the end of my attempts to write picture books.)

The point of the exercise above is to look at how I'm spending my writing time. It's already limited because I'm NOT a full-time writer and usually have OTOGU to deal with (use of this minor god is stolen from Bruce Bethke, one of my heroes and the Executive Editor (shared with his wife) of Stupefying Stories (see the link button to the right). Read about this capricious imp here: http://stupefyingstories.blogspot.com/2013/01/2012-year-in-review-part-3.html

If you don't want to read the full thing, just the legend at the very beginning is all that's necessary!

So, the upshot of this is that I'm suspending my Fiction on Thursdays for the time being until I can figure out what to do with it. It's NOT doing the job I intended for it, which was to write books in full view of the world and hope for critiques and ideas as well as to "force" me to keep creating novels.

I might add that the probability of taking them out and completing the process at any time in the future is low. Part of the problem is that I'm a better writer now and I recognize that the books weren't...um...great and would require substantial work to get them to submission quality.

The other part is that I want to make sure I've got some credibility -- and maybe even an agent -- to start sending out my YA/MG science fiction. It's not exactly a thing now...

For now, my Fiction of Thursday is going to end. Sorry if you were following either MARTIAN HOLIDAY or LOVE IN A TIME OF ALIEN INVASION. The possibility of me finishing THOSE is much, much better!

Guy

Image: https://66.media.tumblr.com/3183c0ab16a0196f2d49141bd1d49a45/tumblr_mh58cff6wJ1qz6f4bo1_500.gif



August 13, 2019

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 410


Each Tuesday, rather than a POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY, I'd like to both challenge you and lend a helping hand. I generate more speculative and teen story ideas than I can ever use. My family rolls its collective eyes when I say, "Hang on a second! I just have to write down this idea..." Here, I'll include the initial inspiration (quote, website, podcast, etc.) and then a thought or two that came to mind. These will simply be seeds -- plant, nurture, fertilize, chemically treat, irradiate, test or stress them as you see fit. I only ask if you let me know if anything comes of them.

SF Trope: Planetary/Interplanetary Romance
Current Event: (not immediately current, but… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lisa_Nowak)

Sergey Akinpelu shook his head, saying, “Dad, you can’t just go there and talk to her!”

Still climbing on to his electric motorcycle, Sergey’s dad slipped his helmet on his head. “You think I can’t do what I please?”

“It’s not that, Dad! The rocket’s surrounded by soldiers. I don’t want you to get shot.”

Dad cinched the helmet tightly under his chin and said, “They will not shoot me. I love her.” Sergey glared at his dad as he lowered the solar cell umbrella and pushed it into the place where there’d once been a gas tank. Thumbing the ignition, he added, “My love for her is not like that of her previous husband.”

“Five husbands, Dad! The lady married five guys and she dumped all of them!”

“She will not ‘dump’ me. You will see.” He throttled the cycle up and rode away.

Ceeiab Saliguero, Sergey’s best friend and ex-girlfriend, said, “What’s your dad think he’s going to use to win captain Ansari’s love?”

Sergey snorted, “His sex appeal?”

Ceeiab laughed and shook her head. “Are you gonna go after him?”

Sergey frowned. He’d never really thought of it that way. If Dad got shot trying to get into the PAVATAR – the newest Plastic Aerobic Vehicle for Hypersonic Aerospace TrAnspoRtation – sent up to the growing International Space Station, then he’d inherit everything. He snorted again and said, “Inheriting all of nothing is still nothing.”

“What?”

“Nothing. Listen, would you lock up the house? I gotta follow Dad and make sure he doesn’t get himself killed.”

“Now there’s my boy!” Ceeiab said with cheery sarcasm. Sergey flipped her off and hopped on his own motorcycle. It started with a bit more of growl than Dad’s toy had. Sergey had modified it based on the research he’d done for his virtual science class. Mr. Bondar was excited about what he’d found out about the new 3DacLion (three dimensional anode-cathode Lithium ion [http://www.extremetech.com/computing/153614-new-lithium-ion-battery-design-thats-2000-times-more-powerful-recharges-1000-times-faster]) battery Sergey had…

He yanked his thoughts away from physics. It was a place he’d retreated more and more lately. He had to find Dad.

He took a few shortcuts Dad would never think of and reached Stonesand Airport before him. It was surrounded both by a three meter tall cyclone fence and a new-generation pain generator field. He sniffed. That was easy enough to overcome, the essential idea being the same as deflecting a sneeze by pressing the upper lip. Except that he used damp, twisted fiberglass draped over a nearby suitably conductive surface. He’d tested it once to meet a girl who worked at the port. He glanced down the face of the fence toward the gate.

His father rolled up, but Sergey was staring through the fence. In the center of the landing strip was thick-bodied rocket on landing pads. On top of the rocket was the rotund, winged PAVATAR passenger vehicle. Tomorrow it would be packed with twenty people submerged in hyper-oxygenated sky-gel against acceleration, hunger, and fear of lift-off and spaceflight.

Gunshots and screams from the gate made him turn abruptly...

Names: Hmong, Brazilian; Russia, Nigeria
Image: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/01/Ariane5_VA221_liftoff2.jpg/220px-Ariane5_VA221_liftoff2.jpg


August 11, 2019

Slice of PIE: Talking To Alien Parasites…


Using the Program Guide of the World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin, Ireland in August 2019 (to which I will be unable to go (until I retire from education)), I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. The link is provided below where this appeared on page 4…

So long, and thanks for all the fish
Like the dolphins of Hitchhiker’s Guide, nonhuman life can communicate with humans in numerous ways including non-verbal interactions, signaling, and even parasitism. Panelists from diverse fields of research discuss the oddness of life and the strange ways the natural world talks to us.

Dr Claire McCague: Canadian writer, scientist and musician
Lionel Davoust: writer; previously a marine biologist; develops the world of Évanégyre,; composer; hosts Procrastination, a podcast about the craft of storytelling
Linnea Sternefält: studies nanoengineering; planetarium docent; produces videos, podcasts about SF/F films
Becky Chambers: SF author; nominated for the Hugo Award; Clarke Award, and Women's Prize for Fiction

I confess that “non-human life can communicate...including…parasitism.” was what caught my eye.

At first, the obvious examples leaped to mind: Heinlein’s THE PUPPET MASTERS. But there have been others as well, the aliens from the ALIEN franchise are another one that sticks out. Dean Ing’s series “Anasazi” in ANALOG (July, 1980) novel about the “users” is another one that caught me up in a weird world of biology. I’d just graduated from college with a biology education degree (which proved to be useless except for being a substitute teacher. Once I added a Earth science portion to it, I got a job…) For other “parasite alien” tropes, read through this: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/PuppeteerParasite

I get that dogs (we had two until recently, only one now); cats (three); horses; and various other pets of various species, have been trained or bred to respond and communicate with Humans. You could probably even consider plants as communicating with us. I’m certain the “rotting meat” plant (carrion flowers – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carrion_flower communicates clearly that it “wants” nothing to do with Humanity; is that what they’re looking at here? Or is it only “intelligent” communication; in which case, what is the largest most intelligent parasite on Earth? While the malaria parasite seems to be noted as “super smart” (https://blogs.unimelb.edu.au/sciencecommunication/2012/10/21/a-super-smart-parasite/) , apparently lots of parasites control our minds: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/there-are-hundreds-examples-mind-controlling-parasites-180950312/.

Having suffered through malaria, reading about the HOW was distinctly creepy.

So…what might happen? Would we ever “meet a parasitical alien”? Seems to me unlikely. If parasites evolve on a planet, then they’re going to have hosts that evolved on the same planet, so making the leap between their evolved host on (say) Ceti Alpha V (Star Trek: Wrath of Khan) to Human ears…unlikely. Dramatically gross, but unlikely.

The aliens from ALIEN are likewise suspect. How is it that they can infect Humans – they have ACID for blood, for heaven’s sake! What would they possibly get from a Human? Our blood is iron-based with a pH between 7.35 and 7.45. For “blood” to be able to eat through armored plating, (speculation here: https://www.reddit.com/r/askscience/comments/x2pud/can_an_acid_be_as_corrosive_as_the_alien_blood_in/) it would need to be (and then looking it up and finding that HF’s pH = 3.27) some pretty powerful stuff. Certainly making contact with Humans disastrous for us if not for them. This would seem to indicate that alien parasites would probably not bother with us.

Of course, people will argue the point, which is fine. I’m not saying it’s impossible, just unlikely that parasites that evolve on one world will vault into space on their hosts and find Humans palatable – or even usable.

What MIGHT happen is that Humans mess with the genetics of the host of lifeforms that already “occupy us” and somehow create an intelligent form that would not only take over Humans, but would do so with maleficent intent…


August 6, 2019

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 409


Each Tuesday, rather than a POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY, I'd like to both challenge you and lend a helping hand. I generate more speculative and teen story ideas than I can ever use. My family rolls its collective eyes when I say, "Hang on a second! I just have to write down this idea..." Here, I'll include the initial inspiration (quote, website, podcast, etc.) and then a thought or two that came to mind. These will simply be seeds -- plant, nurture, fertilize, chemically treat, irradiate, test or stress them as you see fit. I only ask if you let me know if anything comes of them.

H Trope: the attack of the killer ALGAE

Jefferson Benson looked up from the microscope and said, “What do you mean, ‘it looks like it’s spreading’?”

Terace Miller shook her head, “I didn’t say that. It IS spreading.” She held out her hand. A thin patina of greenish-brown made the skin on her forearm look wet.

Jefferson leaned back. “What happened?”

“I was working late – I’ve got to have the slides examined and summary prepped for Dr. Hester by tomorrow at the latest. She said she wanted it today.”

“So?”

“So, I worked until about four this morning then fell asleep at the computer.”

“How’d you get algae skin from that?”

She slugged him in the shoulder with her uninfected arm. “I dozed off – slept sideways. My back was to the microscope and my arm was against a dish with a sample of the algae in it.”

“It crawled out of the dish?” he looked at her, scowling.

“Algae can’t crawl, idiot!”

“Hey! Just because my master’s thesis is in the histology tapeworms doesn’t mean I’m ignorant about plants!”

“It just means you’re plain ignorant,” Terace said. “Listen, for whatever reason, the algae got on my arm. I washed it off, but it grew back.”

“What?”

“It grew back in about an hour. Even after I swabbed it with alcohol and betadine.”

“You try salt water?”

“What?”

“Isn’t your algae a freshwater variety?” She blinked at him in surprise. “Hey!” he exclaimed. “I listen to what you talk about!”

“You just never…” she looked down at her arm, brushing over the slick spot. “I don’t know. I used the other things so I’m sort of afraid of trying saltwater. Besides, the same species has been found in freshwater aquariums and off the coast of California.”

“Really?”

She nodded slowly, stared at the slimy patch for a moment, then said, “What if the algae has taken up a commensal relationship with epithelial cells?”

“You mean like lichen?”

She pursed her lips, looked him in the eye and nodded slowly.

Names: ♀ French, Anglo-Scottish; ♂ Old German, Anglo-Saxon       

August 4, 2019

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Writing Science Fiction From Real Life


NOT using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in San Jose, CA in August 2018 (to which I be unable to go (until I retire from education)), I would jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. But not today. This explanation is reserved for when I dash “off topic”, sometimes reviewing movies, sometimes reviewing books, and other times taking up the spirit of a blog an old friend of mine used to keep called THE RANTING ROOM…

So – I’ve been trying to do this for a while now.

Take a real incident from my own life, place it elsewhere, usually in the future; add aliens or not; then write it.

My unpublished short story, “And After Soft Rains, Daisies” is an example of it. I took my experience with my father, who was an Alzheimer’s patient, and extended it into a future where an AI might be able to create a happier, virtual world for him; then there’s a biological apocalypse and he’s alone and the AI has to decide whether to keep him alive or not.

Kamsahamnida, America” I wrote after spending a month with my son and his family in South Korea. Avid “tourists”, they took me everywhere in the country, and as I was a science teacher, they made sure we hit the museums. I discovered that South Koreans have created a culture that expects a Korean presence in space; not just as a partner, but as an active force. This story, written using advice from Lisa Cron’s book, WIRED FOR STORY will appear in a 2020 issue of ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact. I have ideas for more stories in the future. In fact, it will link into a novel I wrote…

Still others like “The Daily Use of Gravity Modification In Rebuilding Liberian Schools” (currently called, “God Bless You Gravity Modification” – I probably need to change that and the name of the town (which is actually a real name, on the map, in Liberia, outside of Monrovia…which is most likely offensive to people who know nothing about Liberia…) are based on my time there and my belief that it will be small countries that will take advantage of technologies China, the US, and Europe ignore because they’re focused on “big and flashy” projects. One of my main characters states that outright. (Sensing a theme here: I seem to be placing more hope on the [current] underdogs than I am on my own super power country (or the other super powers), whose time may, in fact be “over”).

My current work-in-progress stems from a trip I took with my son to North Carolina. It was the first time I’d ever spent actual time in the former Confederate States of America. We stopped at lots of Battlefields, toured a Barony (actually did that with our traveling friends), and read lots of placards. On our way home, my son (mentioned above as an “avid ‘tourist’”) spotted a sign and we turned off. Expecting an impressive Confederate Cemetery, we found instead a pathetic field, mostly overgrown with trees and weeds, the ground lumpy and untended. My son was outraged, saying, “They were soldiers. They deserve respect!” Which got me thinking…you can read about where those thoughts led here: http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2019/07/writing-advice-startling-experience.html

Another piece I’m working on is the second part of a triptych, exploring what would happen to Humanity if the test imposed on us by an interstellar civilization for membership was looking for the ability of Humans to be charitable. I’ve finished “Panhandlers”, I’m starting “Immigrants”, and the central panel of the work is going to be a bigger, broader story called “Hermit”. ALL of them draw on experiences in life and I’m going out on a limb for me – I’m telling the story in first person. I’ve done it only rarely and (I don’t think) never had a first person story published.
                                                            
At any rate, we’ll see what happens. The first triptych probably won’t raise eyebrows, but I have no DOUBT that the second one will given the current political climate. However, instead of looking at the “big picture” that involves legislation and high-powered congresspeople and even higher powered guns, I want to look at it from a personal level. Through “my” eyes. I’m excited – and oddly – scared.

But Charlie Jane Anders (of i09 fame), looks at this as well, so I can’t be TOO crazy for working this angle: https://io9.gizmodo.com/10-ways-to-turn-your-real-life-experiences-into-science-1672787624


July 28, 2019

Elements of Cron and Korea #9: Misbelief and Crafting FLASH Science Fiction


I may  have mentioned that one of my goals is to increase my writing output, increase my publication rate, and increase the relevance of my writing. In my WRITING ADVICE column, I had started using an article my sister sent me by Lisa Cron. She has worked as a literary agent, TV producer, and story consultant for Warner Brothers, the William Morris Agency, and others. She is a frequent speaker at writers’ conferences, and a story coach for writers, educators, and journalists. I am going to fuse the advice from her book WIRED FOR STORY with my recent trip to South Korea. Why? I made a discovery there. You’ll hear more about it in the future as I work to integrate what I’m learning from the book, the startling things I found in South Korea, and try and alter how I write in order to create characters that people will care about, characters that will speak the Truth, and characters that will clearly illustrate what I’m writing about.

“Remember when Luke has to drop the bomb into the small vent on the Death Star? The story writer faces a similar challenge of penetrating the brain of the reader. This book gives the blueprints.” – David Eagleman

“The reader expects that the plot will force the protagonist to confront and overcome her misbelief, something she’s probably spent her whole life avoiding.


“As readers we cue into the protagonist’s misbelief surprisingly early, and expect the plot to continually challenge it. And, because misbeliefs are deeply ingrained early in life, we know that the protagonist isn’t going to give it up without a fight. Especially since to her it isn’t a misbelief at all, but a savvy piece of inside intel she’s lucky to have learned early in life.”

I’m trying to write a piece of flash science fiction. I have 1200 words to tell an entire story aimed at young adults – and in the case of SF, that includes BUILDING THE WORLD THAT THE STORY TAKES PLACE IN!

Oh, and having the protagonist and antagonist being best friends. And their parents are dating and that dating may or may not have political overtones, or even be entirely politically motivated.

Twelve hundred words.

The original story went something like this: The guys are on their way to the last few days of “school” (which is ALSO different in this, the 25th Century, “On a well-settled Mars, the five major city Council regimes struggle to meld into a stable, working government. Embracing an official Unified Faith In Humanity, the Councils are teetering on the verge of pogrom directed against Christians, Molesters , Jews, Rapists, Buddhists, Murderers, Muslims, Thieves, Hindu, Embezzlers and Artificial Humans – anyone who threatens the official Faith and the consolidating power of the Councils.” (https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/search/label/SCIENCE%20FICTION%20-%20Martian%20Holiday))

So – our hero and anti-hero are getting ready for being drafted into their chosen profession as apprentices. They’re also getting ready to “vanish” into the depths of Burroughs Dome to celebrate their newly-conferred adulthood. For Kalbin and Waqas though, things are turning sour. Waqas hates Artificial Humans; Kalbin may be a partial AH, which is HIGHLY illegal not to mention unethical and unprecedented as well. Kalbin’s dad (Mom disappeared shortly after his birth) is the Circulation Director for the online tabloid, “UNDER THE DOME, All the News That’s Fit To Whisper!” Waqas’ mom is running for her third term as the minority Liberal party candidate on Burroughs Dome Council (they have a Strong Mayor, Weak Council structure) and has been pushing for extending civil rights for Artificial Humans (and for the rest of them as well, but that’s not important at this time in Martian history.)

Waqas hates it because “indigoes”, sewerslang for Artificial Humans, are more important to his mom than HE is. (Which is, I might point out, a misbelief of a minor character.)

A lot. He’s a beefed up version of his dad, who owns and operates an ice rig on the bottom of the Northern Dune Sea. Dad is OK with Artificials – as long as they know their place...and stay there.

Kalbin, who was diagnosed with methemoglobinemia (“It’s under control! I just look more blue at some times than at, uh, others…”) as a child. Common practice is to wait until puberty has run its course to do full retrogene replacement. That’s what was going to happen after Kalbin announces his draft choice.

Waqas doesn’t have a choice. As much as he wanted to be an entrepreneur, his dad overruled his choice and he’ll start as an apprentice on the Northern Dune Sea with the rest of his sisters and brother. He’s…um…slightly ticked off about it and as he can’t take it out on his family, he’s taking out his frustration on Kalbin. Who has issues of his own.

See, he suspects he’s not entirely Human. In fact, he suspects that not only is his dad NOT the Circulation Director, but is the author of the infamous “Not-Quite-Blue-Boy” recurring series in the tabloid UNDER THE DOME.

For whom he is the model…and IS he Human at all? If he’s partially Artificial, then what is he? Was he created as a political statement? Is that why Waqas’ mom is dating Kalbin’s dad – to make some sort of political score? Has his dad EVER really cared about him as a person, a son, or has his whole life been a fake? He’s wondered this for a long time. It’s not only a misbelief, it drives how he sees himself and how he’s reacting to the world around him.

At the beginning of the ORIGINAL story, none of this was clear. Now it is. In the end, Kalbin confronts his father, and not getting any satisfaction, he runs off into the Underground.

That is a MANIFESTLY wimpy story.

The first two lines were awful as well…
“Face2FaceSchool was a drag even when Kalbin’s dad was a kid.
“‘We got five weeks, then finally, the Draft!’ Qusay said.”

That is such a wimpy beginning, I’m embarrassed. It’s as if the writer of my most recently accepted story gave writing the opening line to the thirteen-year-old Guy Stewart instead of to the more experienced writer who recently wrote: “Larry Henry was muttering in the Orion Lunar lander mockup when Mission Control interrupted their regularly scheduled disaster.”

That line was so well-turned it surprised me. And I wrote it.

To the current blog point, though: “The reader expects that the plot will force the protagonist to confront and overcome her misbelief, something she’s probably spent her whole life avoiding.”

This is what the readers will expect in “Not Quite Blue Boy”; it’s something that’s not quite there yet. On the other hand, it’s something that after ruminating on what I was trying to accomplish and (in this case, having to write out the story here, ruminating on how it intersects with Cron’s reader expectations and her other 52 Mass Points. If it’s a formula, thus far it’s been extremely successful – “Road Veterinarian” and “Kamsahamnida, America” were both written under the influence of WIRED FOR STORY; both sold to a top market.

This one, finally, will also be written “under-the-influence”. I’ll keep you posted on it!

(While it's NOT part of the Korean Solar Expansion, all of the stories will now be influenced by my experience in South Korea.)


July 21, 2019

Slice of PIE: What Do We Do When We Find “Them”?


Using the Program Guide of the World Science Fiction Convention in San Jose, California in August 2018 (to which I will be unable to go (until I retire from education)), I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. The link is provided below where this appeared on page 141…

Scientists at SETI, and METI, and other organizations are actively searching for extraterrestrial intelligence. But what are we going to do when we make that first contact?

Andrew Fraknoi: Director of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, author, Asteroid 4859 Asteroid Fraknoi…
Brother Guy J. Consolmagno, SJ: American research astronomer and Director of the Vatican Observatory
SB Divya: author, Nebula Award finalist, co-editor of Escape Pod, degree in Computational Neuroscience and Signal Processing, electrical engineer
Douglas Vakoch: PhD, President Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence, editor
Lonny Brooks: PhD, associate professor of communication at California State University

What to do, what to do?

I’m sure the “answer” was easy for this group and the people sitting in the room. I wasn’t there, though I would have slipped unnoticed and unremarked into the “people sitting in the room” demographic. ALL of us would have intelligently discussed the pros and…well, pros.

I’m sure someone would have mentioned Hawking and Brin, and even though he was listed among the Program Participants, he didn’t attend this particular session because his thoughts on phoning ET are pretty well known (though side-stepped here by quoting the originator of the opinion he echoes at every opportunity): “Jared Diamond offers an essay on the risks of attempting to contact ETIs, based on the history of what happened on Earth whenever more advanced civilizations encountered less advanced ones... or indeed, when the same thing happens during contact between species that evolved in differing ecosystems. The results are often not good: in inter-human relations slavery, colonialism, etc. Among contacting species: extinction.”!

From the grave, Hawking’s opinion would have echoed from the 2016 documentary Stephen Hawking’s Favorite Places, “Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they could reach,” he said. ‘Who knows what the limits would be?’ And in the, Hawking reiterated his views: ‘Meeting an advanced civilization could be like Native Americans encountering Columbus. That didn’t turn out so well.’”!

These and other ET “deniers” couldn’t have been “shushed” (both of them carry the status of Super Star, and who would stand against Hawking, whose mind is often compared to Einstein, Newton, and ), but I’m sure their imprecations would have fallen on mostly deaf ears. Certainly a reasonable number of SF writers have a somewhat different view of what interactions between Earth and extraterrestrials would be like. Even in Brin’s UPLIFT UNIVERSE, Humans, while underdogs, were hardly slaughtered wholesale and enslaved (though several intelligences, like the Gubru and the Soro, thought Humanity could use a bit of “finishing” followed by a thousand years of indenture.

No, rather than the faithful and the deniers, the Con should have invited the “person on the street”, the ones who number in the BILLIONS (seven billion to be more accurate), and don’t really give much thought to the possibility of First Contact. Yet, they would be the most profoundly affected by such an event. HG Wells held out little hope for a calm response to First Contact: 


With wildly differing opinions among the faithful, what do you expect from commoners for whom the appearance of real-live aliens could range from outright, psychologically TRUE denial, to blithering panic, to catatonia.

While I’m sure the session was great fun, but I’m pretty sure that they wouldn’t have any idea what a regular person’s real reaction to “when we find them” would be…