January 19, 2020

Slice of PIE: Creating Alien Aliens


NOT using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin, Ireland in August 2019 (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…

I have created three universes.

In the first, it’s Humans alone. We genetically engineer ourselves to fit the varied environments we encounter. The overarching conflict is between the Empire of Man and the Confluence of Humanity. The first considers someone Human if they are 65% or more “Original Human” DNA. If you’re less, you’re considered SubHuman. The second sees ANY genetic manipulation to be A-OK. 

In the second, it’s us and mobile plants. Humans have gone deep into space and encountered the WheetAh, mobile plants reminiscent of a giant saguaro cactus crossed with a pitcher plant. The conflict is as obvious as it is inevitable – we eat plants. They eat rodents; hence the pejoratives each lays on the other. We call them Weeds; they call us Weasels.

In the third, we are junior members of the Unity of Sapients, some fifty extremely different intelligences (I can’t say species – as in Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus Species – as there are smart minerals, arthropods, collective, herd, and individual intelligences in the Unity. We haven’t even been certified sapient. (definition: adjective – having or showing great wisdom or sound judgment; Orig –1425–75; late Middle English sapyent < Latin sapient- (stem of sapiēns, present participle of sapere to be wise, literally: to taste, have taste), equivalent to sapi- verb stem + -ent- -ent

So, I’ve written stories in all three universes. How many in each have been published?

Confluence/Empire: I’ve written seven; only one has been published.
WheetAh: Written two; one published.
Unity: Written seventeen, four published…which seems good, until I point out that the four published stories didn’t contain aliens.

So, I CAN’T write believable aliens.

Why not?

Writers who have written believable aliens: David Brin, Julie Czerneda, Hal Clement, James White, Alan Dean Foster, CJ Cherryh, Larry Niven, Octavia Butler, SL Viehl, and others that escape me; clearly depict them. But HOW?

I’ve been doing some superficial analysis and it seems that when Humans and aliens interact closely and the alienness is narrowed down to one or two SPECIFIC differences; the ones that somehow cause the problem; that’s when the aliens are acceptable.

For example, CJ Cherryh’s atevi. Basically giant Humans with golden eyes and coal black skin, bipedal, five digits, and sexually compatible with Humans (though not reproductively compatible); have one difference: they have no concept of love. In place of love, they have a profound sense of association. All large, mammalian life forms on the Earth of the atevi have this same biological urge – to associate under one strong leader. The single Human who interacts with them, Bren Cameron, understands this and can speak their language fluently – but he still makes mistakes when under pressure to assume that the atevi “feel” about him as he does about them. This creates countless situations of tension and have driven the story line for some TWENTY novels over a quarter of a century of time. The reason I go back repeatedly is because I want to see what happens next as the Human population grows and the atevi advance in technology and eventually reach parity with Humans; and possibly visit Earth.

Another example is James White’s famous Sector General novels. Twelve novels spanning over thirty years of writing, they depict the life of a small group of Humans on a massive space station away from the “main thoroughfares” of a vast interstellar civilization as they interact with countless alien cultures and medical personnel. Languages, medicine, morality, humor, and emotions are touchstones – and points of conflict – for the series.

So – what have I learned with my brief analysis?

1) Aliens and Humans HAVE to interact closely; intimately. (I tried this with “May They Rest” and it was quickly bounced by five magazines and my favorite, to which I’d sold several stories…) In “A Complications of Sapients”, my character and an alien, “cockroach” sapient interacted VERY intimately – and didn’t sell…

2) I need more aliens than Humans. I did this in “Peanut Butter and Jellyfish”, podcast from CAST OF WONDERS. It took place on a trimaran carrying cultural exchange WheetAh. Humans need to be at a disadvantage. The aliens should be at an advantage.

3) It needs to be a BROADLY threatening situation. I think I did this in “The Princess’s Brain”, but I’ve got to go back ad reread it. I DID do this in “The Krasiman, Monkey Boy, and the Frogfather”, but that didn’t sell, either.

So, I’m ready to try something new. Cron plus the above…should give me an alien story that will sell.
                                                            

January 15, 2020

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 429


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.

F Trope: “Euhemerism – a rationalizing method of interpretation, which treats mythological accounts as a reflection of historical events, or mythological characters as historical personages but which were shaped, exaggerated or altered by retelling and traditional mores”

Austin Jake Byme shook the water from his blazing red hair, pushing it back with both hands. He’d have to cut it if he wanted to disappear – he’d be identified by his locks for sure, thief that they thought he was. Footsteps on the planks of the stern wheeler IRON MOUNTAIN sent him scurrying back along the sides of the boat and ducked into an open aft door just before the paddle wheel as it strained for a moment, then with a massive groan, began to turn, pushing the boat away from the dock and the copper who’d been chasing him.

The hold was packed with bags of flour and crates of supplies. From the roof hung the cured carcasses of pigs and cow. Chickens scurried out from under his feet, clucking sleepily as he slipped behind a crate, wedging himself into the space. He was asleep in a moment, shivering a bit as the darkness brought up the cool, Mississippi mists.

He woke in the deep darkness to the sound of the creak of a plank and the cluck of a chicken. Immediately aware, he pulled his legs tight to his chest as quietly as possible. The carcasses began to swing together, rhythmically and the panes of glass in the windows rattled in their frames. There was a sudden flash of light and the temperature in the hold dropped. A moment later, a voice said, “I know you’re in here, Master Byme, wedged between the wall and a crate, thinking I’m some sort of ghost.” Austin squirmed. The voice said, “And you’ve no idea who I am, but I’ll tell you when you come out.”

Austin blinked in amazement then slid forward, to his hands and knees then rose up. Pins and needle ran up and down and he caught himself on the leg of a pig. He said, “Who are you?”

The person stood in deep shadow, though Austin could see his legs. Dark material, the pants with pockets though he wore no coat. He stepped into the light. Wearing a waist-length under shirt and nought else, he stepped again and Austin started. The voice belonged to a boy, perhaps a few years older than himself. His head was haloed in hair so red it seemed to glow. Austin said again, “Who are you?”

“Your great-great-grandson from the early 22nd Century.”

“What?”

“That’s funny, your autobiography didn’t mention that you went deaf at the end of the 19th Century.”

“My autobiography?”

“Yeah. It was great reading, and I’m not here to kill you and change the future.”

“What?”

The other boy snorted and said, “HG Well’s THE TIME MACHINE won’t be published for another twenty-three years.”

“Who’s HG Wells?”

“Jules Verne?”

“Oh! FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON and JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH! Those are…”

“I know. Your favorites. But neither of them has anything to say about what I just did.”

“You built a time machine?”

The other boy snorted and said, “Not exactly, but sort of.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

He cleared his throat and said, “My name’s Jake Austin.”

“That’s my...”

“I said I was your great-great-grandson! There’s proof if you’re wondering about it.”

“It’s not that…it’s just that…”

The planks beneath their feet lurched, throwing both boys backward...

Names: America, Ireland

January 12, 2020

Absolutely Positively “Possibly” Irritating Essay: How About Trying Some Issues WE CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT????


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 Friday at 2 PM…

Can fiction convince people when facts can’t?

Do people need to understand a subject to care about it? Can stories be used to help people understand when the facts are not enough? There are plenty of current issues where the facts are known but large sections of the public are not convinced (as with climate change, vaccinations etc.). This panel will explore the use of stories to help people understand the science.

Alex Acks, Moderator (and writer): Angry Robot Books, numerous short stories and movie reviews
Paolo Bacigalupi, Author: Hugo and Nebula, National Book Award finalist; adults and young adults
Aimee Ogden, Writer: former science teacher and software tester; short stories published in lots of pro places
Anne Charnock, Author: Arthur C. Clarke, BSFA, etc., etc.
Phoebe Wagner, Participant: author, editor

OK, enough of THAT!

Of course the focus is Climate Change and how fiction writers can force anyone they want to, to have the same beliefs they do, because “they” are totally right and “anyone that challenges them is an idiot” and deserves to be jailed…

OK, established. Let’s move on to more productive thinking.

Electricity was a new, weird science and practically magic in the early 19th Century. Gaslight, horses, coal-powered industrial revolution, child labor, invisible women, and outbreaks of cholera, yellow fever, typhus, and of course, smallpox were the (unspoken) issues of that day. The experiments of men like Benjamin Franklin and Luigi Galvani – who first made the dead legs of frogs twitch from a spark generated by an electrostatic machine – in the previous century had led abruptly to the invention of batteries and the concept of electricity being able to pass through wires.

Mary Shelley, daughter of authors and one political philosopher and a renowned feminist, her mind was a fertile playground for ideas from any field of study. One night, prompted by Lord Byron, John William Polidori and Claire Clairmont near Geneva, Switzerland to write for a contest for which each must write a horror story. Hers grew into the novel FRANKENSTEIN: OR THE MODERN PROMETHEUS.

In case you didn’t know, Prometheus was a Titan who not only created humans from clay, but gave them fire in direct disobedience of Zeus, for which he was sentenced to be chained to an enormous boulder (obviously near Mount Olympus) for eternity and have his liver eaten out of his living body by an eagle. His liver (traditionally the seat of consciousness) regenerated overnight, and the entire process was repeated.

Of course, not long after (in terms of eternity) he was rescued by Hercules (or Heracles).

The warning was clear, as was the explanation of the connection between lightning and electricity. The story also made certain to show Victor Frankenstein CONTROLLING electricity; to create life, reanimating dead flesh, so that he could be like unto the gods – but “Man! He controlled lightning! Humanity’s manifest destiny is to control NATURE!”

Hmmm…not so different from the current spate of novels attempting to explain anthropogenic global warming and educate people so that they know what they should be doing. So far the message has been pretty muddled because scientists and spokespeople insist on FLYING to exotic places (like the current COP25, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Climate and Health Alliance (GCHA) rather than video conferencing…) 

If someone (Where are you Isaac Asimov? Whatever happened to the clarity of BNTSG?) could just EXPLAIN climate change succinctly and then create a plot in which the characters were able to DO something, they would accomplish much. Instead, we have the wealthy accusing the poor and then excusing themselves from responsibility. Which leaves us normal people up a creek without a paddle.

I want to interject here that before “climate activism” became the cri du jour, society was slowly beginning to understand the reason for recycling, reducing, and reusing. But today, with the focus on the unattainable “climate stabilization” and the recent cry from US “Democrats in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce have released the legislative framework for what they are calling a bold, ambitious, and sweeping plan to achieve the goal of a 100% clean U.S. economy by 2050.” (https://wattsupwiththat.com/2020/01/11/democrats-100-clean-energy-by-2050-because-australia-is-burning/), most people don’t have any idea WHAT TO DO. They throw their hands up in despair and stop recycling, and start buying things that are pre-packaged, delivered in boxes packed with inflated plastic stuff to keep the things that are already packaged from crunching into each other, they don’t worry about overpopulation, and obsess over the souls of their animals, and weep over the destruction of koala habitat by Climate Change Caused wildfires (which, of course, have NOTHING to do with contractors bulldozing said koala habitat to make way for their Brand New Houses…( https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-08-13/koala-habitat-cleared-against-department-of-environment-rules/11392454) (But isn't that the fault of CAPITALIST LAND SPECULATORS? Hmmm, I don't think most of those homes will be owned by the capitalist land speculators who bought the land; they'll be owned by the most recent spurt of "the new wealthy and trendy)...

Vaccination? Same thing, only the reverse is most often true. For example, in one of the novels you’ll find on the list below, by superstar writer, Margaret Atwood, in the novel ORYX AND CRAKE, “Snowman, formerly known as Jimmy, might be the last human being alive. Struggling to survive…after…a worldwide plague, he begins a journey through the wilderness…surrounded by a new breed of humans — the remnants of corporate-run genetic engineering gone awry.” She makes it sound like not ONLY has the world been destroyed by climate change deniers, but it’s also been overthrown by antivaxxers and corporate-greed-motivated GMO producers…The movie “Contagion” isn’t started by antivaxxers, either, just a commonly mutated flu virus.

OK – so what WOULD I like to see the world’s SF writers of note to tackle?

How about racism? Classism? Specism? The disconnect between pornography (an inalienable UNCENSORABLE right of democracy!) and human trafficking? The accelerating pace at which elderly humans are warehoused and the connection between what we’re doing more and more quickly to the elderly that was already legally done to those under 18 and effectively done to those under 22: institutions created to keep them out of the way of “Productive Rich White Men (and the occasional Woman)”.

Instead, I see a waste of ink gassing about an issue for which there is apparently absolutely NO grassroots solution.

What about the continuing atrophy of any kind of meaningful space program? It’s my opinion that the intense navel gazing engendered by the “climate crisis” has turned our eyes from the heavens – even the Moon! – to gaze intently (and worry) about our belly buttons…Oh, and the transition to post-humanity (for a very, very, very, very select couple of the WEALTHIEST humans on Earth at the cost of…well, all the victims of racism, classism, specism, trafficking, old age, young age, and gender.

So – response: Can anyone point me to science fiction (not interested in fantasy) that addresses any of the following issues so that “…people [will begin to] understand a subject to care about it. Can [we create] stories [to] be used to help people understand when the facts are not enough? There are plenty of current issues where the facts are known but large sections of the public are not convinced…” And instead of prattling on about things normal people can’t do anything about, they address…

Racism
Classism
Specism
Human Trafficking
Old Age
Young Age (aka education)
Gender Equity (no matter HOW many there end up being.

Oh, and don’t make the stories ABOUT these issues. Make them about things that normal people care about and skillfully WEAVE the issue into the story so that the reader can DISCOVER something themselves. People are by nature lazy (I’ve been a middle school and high school teacher for decades; for all levels of student. Believe me when I say if that can be lazy, they will be!)

BUT THEY ALL REMAIN CURIOUS!

Step up to the line, folks and let’s DO something about it!


January 7, 2020

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 428


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: “One Big Lie: Authors of works in this class invent one (or, at most, a very few) counterfactual physical laws and writes a story that explores the implications of these principles.”

Badria Al Busaidi shook her head and said, “If you could make one thing true about real space, what would it be?” She squirmed in her tiny tube. The two of them were the only ones awake in their pod and the side of the transport device pressed against her, massaging muscles that hadn’t moved in…she stopped that line of thought. They’d been in space ever since they left Earth. They were two among ten thousand who were on their way to the nearest star system to the Sun, Alpha Centauri A.

Mehrdad bin Abdullah squirmed as well. The transport device that held each of them was only transparent at the top. She could tell from the look on his face that he was pre-occupied at the moment. Eyes half-closed, she sighed and turned away, blinking up a three-dimensional image of what the ship looked like on the outside and where they were in relation to Earth and AC-A. Lots of stars.

Boring.

Badria found herself wishing that she could sleep the entire trip away. But the biologists had already brought everyone on the ship as close to death as possible. If they stayed that way, there was evidence that they would simply stay dead. After a short pause during which Mehrdad managed to keep his breathing regular until the very end, he said, “All right. Sorry.” She was about to tease him, but he said instead, “The one thing I’d change is that there’d be aliens waiting for us when we got to AC-C.”

“There ARE aliens, Mehrdad! Haven’t you been listening to the broadcasts?”

“Not aliens just like us! Real aliens. Something that’s different.”

“Different how?”

He shrugged and it made a squelchy sound she could have heard from a mile away. Another thing the ship’s captain-psychologists had made sure of is that when you were awake, you were supposed to have every sense stimulated. She’d already experienced the pain of a broken toe as it was set then healed. Mehrdad was nervously waiting for what was going to happen to him to stimulate his sense of pain.

She’d been lucky in that, though. She’d been assaulted by the smell of newly-mown hay. Mehrdad had to endure the smell of burning Human hair. He’d also experienced another version of things coming out of his body when he barfed not long after he’d had his olfactory senses overloaded.

Suddenly another voice broke into their conversation. Badria rolled her eyes and immediately decided she wasn’t going to talk when she heard the American accented English. She could speak English just fine – all of them could. The American could speak Arabic as well, but the ones who’d been awake when she was usually didn’t. Which was not exactly a bad thing – American English had absolutely no music to it. Arabic sounded so flat and dull whenever someone else tried to speak it. The voice said, “Hello? Anyone alive in here?”

She held her breath, hoping that for once, Mehrdad would hold his tongue.

“We’re all alive here, dickhead. Otherwise why would be going to AC-C?”

There was a long pause and the American voice said, “مهلا، أنا آسف. لم أكن أقصد أن تكون مهينة.” He was almost understandable and there was a sort of cute tone to his voice as he said, “Hey, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be insulting.”

“Well, you were,” said Mehrdad.

Badria liked to keep her own counsel, but something compelled her today. She said in Arabic, “You say you want to meet real aliens – but you can’t even keep a civil tongue in your head when you talk to an American! Our civilization is twice as old as his – ours is the one that should be graceful and forgiving. Ours is the parent, his is the child.”

She wondered briefly if the American was going to object or act offended or whatever she expected a child of a self-centered, declining civilization to do. But he said nothing. Mehrdad muttered under his breath and she was about to say something when she abruptly felt tired. “Oh, no!” she managed before she began to drift off into her interstellar slumber...

Names: ♀ Afghan, Oman ; ♂ Afghani, Oman   
Image:

January 5, 2020

Slice of PIE: Humans, Aliens, The Eden Choice, and A Story Universe I’m Building


NOT using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin, Ireland in August 2019 (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…

Contrary to what some people believe – that we were cast out of Paradise for no reason – a pair of representative Humans were presented with a choice: “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.’” – Genesis 2: 15-17

He passed the possible choice on the Eve, who then was confronted by Satan; then the couple chose...I’ve started calling this the Eden Choice because it seems that this idea has floated up in several stories I’ve read. I don’t have any from contemporary magazines or novels, rather these are classic and awarded works.

The most obvious novel that included Humans or aliens making a choice to either follow a path to destruction or to “paradise” is Frank Herbert’s novel, DUNE (Chilton Books, 1965). In it, a single Human, Paul Atreides/Paul-Muad’dib/Muad’dib must choose between a galaxy-wide jihad which will destroy Humanity or a future in which he alone is ruler and relative peace reigns.

Two decades before that, CS Lewis wrote PERELANDRA (The Bodley Head, 1943) in which a twisted Human from Earth goes to Venus (aka Perelandra) to tempt the representative Human there. When the Perelandran equivalent of Adam and Eve refuse to spend the night on the Fixed Land (their Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil), they step into uninterrupted communion with God: “‘The world is born today,’ said Malacandra. Today, for the first time, two creatures of the low worlds, two images of Maleldil that breathe and breed like the beasts, step up that step at which your parents fell…” (Chapter 16, PERELANDRA)

In the Ted Reynolds story, “Can These Bones Live” (ANALOG, March 1979), the Toomeer were a race of kind, benevolent aliens slaughtered by the rest of the “union” while protecting a race of aliens called the Roanei, who were gifted with the ability to resurrect any race that had caused its extinction. They have always been stingy with the gift. When a single Human, resurrected for the purpose of asking for the return of Humanity (in vain), she asks for the resurrection of the Toomeer! Startled, the Roanei agree to it. At that point, the Toomeer, who have been watching “FAR BEYOND YOUR VIEW”, call the Roanei home – and ask for the resurrection of Humanity instead.

In the Marc Stiegler story, “Petals of Rose” (ANALOG, November 9, 1981) the very-short-lived Rosans are commissioned by Humans to build translight communication. It’s not revealed until the end of the story that Humanity would have lost a bitter and contentious war if the translight communicator was not built. It’s also not revealed that while Rosans live a matter of days from a Human perspective, Lazarans live 25 millennia compared to Human’s hundred and fifty.

All of these stories are about an Eden Choice; and what happens as a result is (except for us and our eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil) good.

CS Lewis had a peculiar thought that every intelligence that is created or evolved will face an Eden Choice: “We know what our race does to strangers. Man destroys or enslaves every species he can…It is interesting to wonder how things would go if they met an unfallen race. At first, to be sure, they’d have a grand time jeering at, duping, and exploiting its innocence; but I doubt if our half-animal cunning would long be a match for godlike wisdom, selfless valor, and perfect unanimity.” (from “Religion and Rocketry” collected in THE WORLD’S LAST NIGHT AND OTHER ESSAYS (Harcourt Brace, 1960))

In my current work in progress, “Christmas Tree: A Lenten Story”, I look at this on a larger scale and without calling the worlds fallen or unfallen, I introduce a map made of routes to travel intergalactic distances in short periods of time and how its marked. Hopefully, the story surrounding it is intriguing enough to keep a reader’s attention. But I plan on exploring this world quite a bit more in the future. I’ll let you know how it goes. For those of you who HAVE read stories of mine, it’s the same universe that contains my Unity of Sentients. None of the stories set there have been published yet, but I’ll let you know if they are!
                                                            

December 31, 2019

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 427


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.


Mamadou Zakuani scowled at the health worker. Finally he said, “The people here think that the vaccine with turn them into zombies.”

The woman from the UN World Health Organization laughed out loud, but had the grace to clap her hand over her mouth, muttering, “Sorry. It’s just…”

Harper Smith, standing beside Mamadou, said, “I think you should go back to the plane.”

“I don’t think…” she began, anger flashing across her face.

“I think it is necessary,” said Mamadou. “You will only make the people more resentful of your invasion by mocking them.”

“I’m not mocking them!” she exclaimed. Behind her, one of the other health workers reached out and squeezed her arm. The other woman leaned forward and whispered into the first one’s ear. She jerked her arm free, spun, and marched back to the airstrip where the plane waited.

The second woman held out her hand, “I’m Louise Martin. I think my colleague means well – though I don’t know her that well. We met a couple weeks ago when we responded to Congo contacted us for the vaccine.”

Mamadou nodded, extending his hand. “No trouble. Will you follow us? We’ve et up the vaccination station in the town hall.”

Louise stared at him, “There’s no Level 4 facility here?”

Harper shook her head, “Didn’t anyone tell you? We’re pretty much in the middle of nowhere. The advantage is that we only have two confirmed Ebola cases in a village ten kilometers from here.”

“Where’s the nearest Level 4?”

“Gabon,” Mamadou said.

“Where’s that?”

“West Africa; just below Cameroun.”

Louise didn’t betray anything on her face, but Harper could tell in her eyes. She said, “Do you want the vaccination now?”

“Please,” said Louise. “How effective is it?”

“We used Ervebo as an investigational vaccine under an expanded access program to help mitigate this outbreak starting at the end of 2018.” She shrugged. “We’ve been here a year and neither one of us has come down with any symptoms. We’re the ‘on-the-ground’ proof of the virus.”

“How many others?”

Mamadou glanced at Harper, who opened her mouth to reply. Louise held up her hand, “What did that mean?”

Harper caught her lower lip in her teeth, sighed, then said, “Some of the responses to the new vaccine have been…unusual.”

Louise stepped back. “‘Unusual’ how?”

Mamadou said, “There’s some evidence that the vaccine has a profound effect on the immune system. It doesn’t just give immunity to Ebola. At least not apparently.”

Something flew over their heads, close to the ground, but high enough not to really affect any of them. Louise looked up, then at them, “Maybe you should just tell me what you found.”

Names: ♀ Wisconsin; ♂ Congo       

December 29, 2019

WRITING ADVICE – Lisa Cron #14: Everything In the Story Is “NEED-To-Know”


In 2008, 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. To learn more – and to satisfy my natural tendency to “teach stuff”, I started a series of essays taking the wisdom of published writers and then applying each “nugget of wisdom” to my own writing. During the six years that followed, I used the advice of a number of published writers (with their permission) and then applied the writing wisdom of Lin Oliver, Jack McDevitt, Nathan Bransford, Mike Duran, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SL Veihl, Bruce Bethke, and Julie Czerneda to an analysis of my own writing. Together these people write in genres broad and deep, and have acted as agents, editors, publishers, columnists, and teachers. Today I add to that list, Lisa Cron who 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. Again, with permission, I am using her article, “A Reader’s Manifesto: 15 Hardwired Expectations Every Reader Has for Every Story” (2/16/18 http://blog.creativelive.com/essential-storytelling-techniques/)


“As readers we assume that everything the writer tells us is integral to the story, and without it, the story won’t make sense. After all, if we didn’t need to know it, why would the writer waste her time telling us?

“The problem is that when writers tell us things we don’t need to know, we assign them a story meaning anyway, and we’re inherently going to be wrong. It’s like throwing rocks into an otherwise well-oiled machine. Once they get caught in the gears, it’s not long before everything comes to a grinding halt.

“Ask yourself: Is everything in my story integral to it? Have I thrown in things that sound nice, but do not affect the story itself? Hint: this is where the lure of beautiful writing can creep in. It sounds so lovely, do I really have to delete it? Yep!

OUCH!

This is my struggle with the story I’m working on now – that I was working on for my last WRITING ADVICE post on December 8…

I don’t usually struggle so much with writing a story. The problem here is that among other things, it’s a “sort of” continuation of another story; a “triptych” that focuses on the growth of the main character as he faces life without his wife, without his job of 30 years, and acting as a “representative Human”. There’s so much going on in the story that at first, while I know kinda-sorta where I wanted to go, there wasn’t any clear direction.

I wrote until I almost reached the end…and then didn’t know how to end it all and until yesterday, the story just stopped rather then ending. By chance, I got a newsletter I subscribe to, called Working Writer (for a free subscription, go here! http://www.workingwriter1.com/).

I read the first article of the January/February 2020 issue, and came across this quote from Edgar Allen Poe and an observation by the newsletter’s editor and the article’s author, Maggie Frisch: “‘Nothing is more clear than that every plot . . . must be elaborated to its dénouement before anything be attempted with the pen.’ He had his ending in mind before he began, and kept it in mind constantly to give the story a feeling of moving towards the inevitable.”

More than “the ending”, the French word “dénouement” carries even more meaning. The French origin of the word is oddly opposite of what you’d expect: “from French, literally: an untying, from dénouer to untie, from Old French desnoer, from des- de- + noer to tie, knot, from Latin nōdāre, from nōdus a knot; see node”.

Possibly in other words, the ending of the story should untie all of the strands that led up to that ending so that the reader can nod and say, “Ah! I had it figured out a long time ago!”

The less complicated definition is that the ending of a story should be “the final resolution of the intricacies of a plot, as of a drama or novel; the place in the plot at which this occurs; the outcome or resolution of a doubtful series of occurrences.”

Because I hadn’t ended “Hermit”, I had gotten lost in the details of the story – I didn’t have a map to show me how to get to where I wanted to be…because I didn’t know where I was going. I had everything else – readable in one sitting, reaction, tone, theme, climax, and setting…

So, I figured out the ending yesterday and now I’m going through the story and pruning it – I’m trying to figure out what’s important and what’s not. What’s “need-to-know” and what is me indulging myself in world building? Cron says it this way: “…when writers tell us things we don’t need to know, we assign them a story meaning anyway, and we’re inherently going to be wrong.”

Readers don’t read in order to reinforce the idea that they’re stupid – which is something I think many “literary” writers mistake for being “profound”. What I write had better be integral to the structure of the story. More than that, what I write should be essential to the ending of the story. There was so much “junk” in “Hermit”, that I couldn’t see a way to end the story – there were so many threads to it that when I tried to untie it all, I got a total mess. Worse than tennis shoe laces knotted and wet and muddy; my fingernails gnawed down to the quick; and an injured back, that’s how my story had grown, unwieldy and impossible to follow.

Now that I know where I’m going, I can look at where I started and backtrack. I’ll let you know if I was successful.


December 24, 2019

IDEA ON CHRISTMAS EVE TUESDAY 426


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.


Filip Dybdahl sighed then said, “All of the magic has gone out of the world.” He was working a potion to lay down gold circuitry on an enchanted matrix for a board to be packed off into space. The telescope the University was working on for the United Nations would help astrologers make more accurate horoscopes for each of the signatory countries. Non-signatories would just have to take their chances with fate. 

Shrugging, Maja Wiig said, “Our ancestors didn’t help keep the saints alive, you know. They could have been Catholic, but chose to be Protestants instead. Killing off all the saints, as it were.”

Filip grunted. “If there was one bit of magic I could call back,” he began.

“Don’t!” Maja exclaimed.

“What’s wrong?”

“Don’t you know anything about the intersection of the real and the fantastic?”

He straightened up, thumbs going into the small of his back, shaking his head. “I had the same fundamental courses you did before I sat for my Masters in Alchemy. What are you talking about?”

“You remember when you took that elective class in Classical Egyptian Incantations?”

“Duh. Professor McGuillicudy said if I wanted to get my bachelor’s I had to take her class.”

“Yeah? Well I took a physics class instead.”

His eyes widened. “You took Planar Mathematic Spells for Physicists?”

She shrugged again. “Calculus was always fun for me. Conjuring gravity anomalies was a great way to meet boys with brains.”

“So you learned about this what, ‘intersection of the real and the fantastic’? What’s that supposed to mean?”

She scowled at him and said, “You sound pretty hostile. I don’t know if I want to tell you about it. Especially if you’re standing there ready to bite my head off. Whatever happened to your Scandinavian coolness?”

“It heated up when we got here. The Massachusetts Institute of Thaumaturgy isn’t exactly a place where I can lay back on my frozen butt and bask in the glories of my previous accomplishments! I’ve had to fight against these Gud forbannet Amerikanere for everything I’ve gotten.” He swung a flat-handed chop at her. “You have, too!”

She surrendered with both hands up and a laugh, “You’re the one who wanted to bring back the magic of Christmas!”

He opened his mouth to continue his attack, then closed it. He closed his eyes, then put dug one thumb into each temple, adding, “I’m tired. Not myself.” He looked up at her and for a moment, his gaze was bleak. “And I miss home. It’s Christmas…”

Names: ♀ Norway; Norway

December 22, 2019

THE NICK OF TIME...The Physics of Santa (A Story that Circulates Every Christmas!)

Just one night is not much time to deliver presents to around two billion children all over the world.

That time can be extended to up to 48 hours by taking advantage of the Earth’s time zones – starting by delivering presents in the (saint) nick of time at the International Date Line and travelling west.

With a total global population of seven billion, then assuming an average family size of four people, he’d have to deliver to around 10 000 homes every second in order to get the job done within those 48 hours.

By way of comparison, the US Postal Service delivers around 170 billion items of mail every year – equivalent to a little over 5000 per second over the course of 12 months, and that’s with a workforce of more than 600 000 employees and ownership of the largest vehicle fleet in the world.

Santa’s delivery outfit consists only of himself and a handful of reindeer. As has been pointed out before – notably by Spy Magazine – to deliver all his presents in time he’d have to travel at such a high speed that Rudolph and co would burn up due to friction, just like small meteors entering the atmosphere. Maybe that explains the red nose.

But could he get the job done using either of the two great theories of 20th-century physics: relativity and quantum mechanics?

Relativity
In his special theory of relativity, Albert Einstein showed that time runs at different rates for observers who are moving relative to one another (and passes more slowly for excited children waiting for presents).

This wouldn’t be much good though, as the sleigh-pulling reindeer would still be going so fast they’d combust – if they could even stay in orbit.

But gravitational fields also bend time – clocks run slower the closer they are to a source of mass. Could the Earth’s gravity help?

Probably not. If orbiting on the edge of space, then even doubling the amount of available present-delivery time would require the planet to be 1000 times more massive than the Sun – and if the Earth were this heavy at its current size it would collapse as a black hole.

But if there are no natural configurations of spacetime that might help, Santa could in theory still create a custom one.

In 1994, a physicist then based at Cardiff University, Miguel Alcubierre, discovered that there is a solution of general relativity roughly analogous to Star Trek’s warp drive. By artificially contracting the section of spacetime in front of the sleigh and expanding that behind, Santa and his reindeer can travel at an arbitrarily large speed relative to the Earth while still remaining stationary within their own ‘bubble’ of space.

The trouble is this would require an enormous amount of energy to accomplish – several billion times that in the entire observable universe.

Quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics also allows for things to be transported great distances in little time, and could avoid the need for Santa to take to the skies at all.

Because their position isn’t a definite point but a wave spread out over space, particles can sometimes “tunnel” through barriers that, according to classical mechanics, they shouldn’t be able to pass.

Again, assuming Santa actually knows how to accomplish this (he does, after all, know when you are sleeping; he knows when you’re awake; he knows if you’ve been bad or good…), it would take a huge amount of energy to realize.

This is not to say that he doesn’t have such tremendous amounts of energy at his disposal, but it may not be the most efficient solution to his present-delivery problem.

Von Neumann probes
Maybe the problem of present-delivery could adapt a suggestion originally made when considering space exploration.

Physicist John von Neumann proposed that a spacecraft could be sent to another star system and programmed to make replicas of itself using raw materials found there. These in turn would travel to further solar systems, exponentially increasing the volume of space that can be covered.

A similar strategy could be used to send a delivery-sleigh to each continent, replicating itself to send one to each country, to each state, territory or county, and so on.

But, other than the odd bit of space junk, there are few natural resources available to convert, and to do so would be time-consuming anyway. Santa would have to be able to readily transmute elements from one form to another and then assemble them into the correct toys and gifts – perhaps by using nanotechnology.

Whichever means are used to deliver presents to billions of homes during the festive season, it’s clear that Father Christmas is way more technologically advanced than us.

Or he could just put gifts in the post.

Or, we could reflect on the true meaning of Christmas:
Source: http://www.physics.org/article-questions.asp?id=93

December 21, 2019

Today is the Saturday after the last week before WINTER BREAK. The following depiction is true in almost every way...OK, fine. It's not exactly right.

 There should be snow on the ground.


See you tomorrow!