March 27, 2017

In The Woods Until Thursday!


I am in the woods until Thursday! I'll catch up then...

March 23, 2017

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 99: Stepan of Burroughs

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. It makes good sense, right – get rid of religion and Human divisiveness on a societal level will disappear? An instrument of such a pogrom might just be a Roman holiday...To see the rest of the chapters, go to SCIENCE FICTION: Martian Holiday on the right and scroll to the bottom for the first story. If you’d like to read it from beginning to end (70,000+ words as of now), drop me a line and I’ll send you the unedited version.

Neither Stepan Izmaylova nor Quinn was paying attention to the roof until a booming roar echoed from the filthy wall of a formerly transparent Dome rim. A high-pitched whistle drowned out Stepan’s shout. A moment later, it was followed by the hooting of a Dome breach siren.

Stepan looked down at Quinn, set to run to the nearest Seal Shelter, but Quinn had started walked, poking the roof with a steel rod. Stepan said, “Aren’t you going to find shelter?”

Quinn looked over his shoulder, scowling, “Where’d we go?”

“There aren’t any Shelters on the Rim?”

He shrugged and turned back to probing the roof. “Shelters is for Humans. I ain’t Human.”

Stepan stared after the boy, finding a literal growl rumbling in his throat. This whole thing – everything he himself had set in motion – sent waves of nausea from the pit of his stomach burning up his throat. He had to change it, no matter what. His God had sacrificed his only son for the lives of those who had then slaughtered him in order to bring men, women, and children whose lives had missed the mark; who had not won the prize; like the artificial creations of Humanity. They and the ones who had been branded as undesirable by the United Faith in Humanity – a faith that prided itself of having set itself free of ancient religious biases – were the ones he had condemned by his angry, selfish pursuit of free will. “Well, I helped start it. I can end it,” Stepan said out loud.

“End what?” asked Quinn, not looking up from his careful poking of the roof over the warehouse.

“Don’t worry, my friend, stick with me long enough and you’ll find out.”

Quinn stopped and looked at him, eyes wide. “What’d you call me?”

“My friend,” said Stepan, locking the boys icy, blue-eyed gaze.

Quinn held it with the strength of youth, blinked, then smiled shyly. “No ain’t never called me they friend.” Nodding he went back to prodding the roof. Stepan cast a nervous glance upward, but not giant cracks had appeared in the Dome. “Don’t worry,” said Quinn, “The stupid siren goes off all the time. Least this time it was during the day. I hate it most when it starts blaring and I’m asleep.”

“So there’s no breach?”

Quinn shrugged. “Who knows?” He poked at the roof, then said, “Ya know, I could use some help here. This roof ain’t gonna get tested all by itself.”

Stepan nodded and resumed the careful tread across the warehouse. “We should go toward the edge more. It’s more likely to be sound there. Here toward the middle, it seems like it could…” Under his feet, came a squeal, then the material sagged under him. Before it could go any farther, Quinn tackled him around the waist, twisting both of them so that their hard fall was translated into a flattening roll. They came to rest with Quinn on top. The boy’s eyes were squeezed shut and he was shivering. “I thought you told me you aren’t afraid of anything?”

The younger man cursed then jumped to his feet. “I ain’t – except letting my credit chip out of this slum fall to his death.” Quinn’s accent was gone.

Stepan stood up as well, then stared at the Artificial Human. He pursed his lips, shaking his head slowly. After a moment, he smiled a bit. “Yeah, well, we can’t let that happen, now, can we? Let’s head straight over and stay on roofing we already poked.”

Quinn turned abruptly and led the way, sometimes walking saddle-legged, other times practically heel-toe. They reached the edge without incident. The warehouse ended two meters from the Base of the Dome, though four meters below, the wall of the warehouse merged with it – most likely where the warehouse offices had been, integrating the architecture into the existing structure. Stepan said, “I don’t remember seeing any doors into the Base downstairs.”

“Prob’ly covered by the owners when they vayked…”
“What?” Stepan shook his head, adding, “Half the time I don’t even understand what you’re saying!”

QuinnAH…something in how he looked up at Stepan made the differences between them leap to the size of Valles…said, “The entrances into the shielded quarters and offices of the prior warehouse owners were most likely sealed a short time before they vacated the premises.”

Stepan scowled, felt anger rise up in him; privileged anger; anger at the temerity of a young, unskilled, impudent Artificial Human that made him want to strike the thing down. Then he gasped, stepped back, left hand holding right, staring down at it.

“What?”

He couldn’t answer at first, then finally said, “I know what’s wrong with this world and I know how to fix it.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

He looked up at Quinn, rolled his eyes, and said, “You wouldn’t understand.”

The boy’s faced purpled – literally – and he shouted, “I thought you were…”

“It’s because I don’t think you know what the definition of propitiation is.”

“Huh?”

Stepan grinned and said, “See, there’s stuff you don’t know!” He reached out tentatively and when Quinn didn’t flinch, tousled  his hair.

Then the boy slowly pulled away and said, “Let’s get below. There’s enough stuff up her to start your stupid garden.”


March 22, 2017

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 298

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: complex planetary ecology

Logan Andrist frowned and said, “What do you mean they’re going to dump iron into the lake?”

Nkokoyanga Pomodimo, far from her land-locked home in the Central African Republic held tight to the railing of the re-purposed iron ore freighter – a laker – as it dipped down into the swells of Lake Superior. She said, speaking loudly over the rushing wind around them, “The iron will cause algae to grow wildly. As they grow they need more carbon dioxide. As they suck up the CO2, they store the resulting carbon-rich sugars and then keep it when they die and sink to the bottom of Superior...”

“I know what carbon sequestering is! I’m a limnology major...”

She shook her head in the wild winds and shouted, “This is glorious! Feeling Gaia beneath your feet is the most...”

“Wouldn’t that technically be Poseidon? Besides, who gave them permission to do this?”

She turned to catch his gaze and he recognized her crazy, angry look as she cried back, “Who gave all you rich white colonialists the right to pollute and rape our world?”

He didn’t want to shout. What he really wanted to do was kiss her right then and there in the cold spray from the Lake – but he didn’t want a broken face, so he shouted, “I didn’t do any of that! Why are you yelling at me?”

“I’m not yelling at you,” she shouted. “I’m yelling TO you!”

“What’s that,” the nose of the laker dove deep, nearly flooding the deck and driving a mountain of spray over them. The water was frigid despite the hot August sun burning down on them through breaks in the scudding clouds. He wiped his face clear of water and finished, “Supposed to mean?”

“You’re not to blame, old friend, but you are responsible! That’s why the captain of this tub is an old white man!”

“Professor Buddlorem’s driving the ship? We have to go save all of our lives!” Logan let go of the railing; Nkokoyanga grabbed him and pulled him tight.

“The computer is doing most of  the driving! He’s just playing captain!”

Logan eyed her warily the said, “How are we supposed to get all this iron into Lake Superior?”

‘Ko’ grinned and shouted, “Now that’s the tricky part!”

Names: ♀ Central African Republic, Gbaya; Minnesota, Minnesota

Image: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b1/3,2,1_blast-off!_(15871161250).jpg/511px-3,2,1_blast-off!_(15871161250).jpg


March 19, 2017

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Making Science Fiction and Fantasy FEEL Real!

NOT using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City in August 2016 (to which I was invited and had a friend pay my membership! [Thanks, Paul!] but was 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. But not today.

This past week, I presented at an annual conference wherein experienced writers – of scripts, spoken word, music, stories, journalism, fiction, and any other form of writing I missed – share their methodology with young people in order to encourage the next generation of writers.

My subject was “Wardrobes to Warp Drives: Making Science Fiction and Fantasy FEEL Real”, and while I was searching for ways to bring our characters to life (a problem for me because I can’t seem to CONSISTENTLY do it), I found this…“genre-ist” gem:

“Characteristics of Realistic Fiction”
“A quick way to classify a story or novel as realistic fiction is to identify the following characteristics within that literary work:
  1. Realistic fiction stories tend to take place in the present or recent past.
  2. Characters are involved in events that could happen.
  3. Characters live in places that could be or are real.
  4. The characters seem like real people with real issues solved in a realistic way (so say goodbye to stories containing vampires, werewolves, sorcerers, dragons, zombies, etc.).
  5. The events portrayed in realistic fiction conjure questions that a reader could face in everyday life.”

“Kara Wilson is a 6th-12th grade English and Drama teacher. She has a B.A. in Literature and an M.Ed, both of which she earned from the University of California, Santa Barbara.”


It shocked me – though I suppose it shouldn’t have – that not only is this teacher promulgating this attitude in her own classroom, she is preaching it to a very large public that utilizes this website for lesson plans. Her impressive credentials state emphatically that she knows what she’s talking about.

While I was preaching to the choir in the classes I taught – the kids choose what interests them from a plethora of offerings – what she wrote deeply offended me! So I showed the kids how we can take ideas from reality, slip them into the future, and say something about today. I did the same thing for fantasy with the rejoinder that, “Harry Potter didn’t capture us because he was a wizard and learned magic spells (you all know that there IS no such place as Hogwarts [at which point they grabbed their hearts and gasped…then giggled] – he captured us because he was a kid who was bullied in the real world of London AND in the magical world of Hogwarts.”

They emphatically agreed.

So lately, I have been using SF  ideas to explore feelings and situations I have personally experienced: how an elderly Hmong neighbor must view this country (“Carpe Hnub” – see AURORA WOLF, an online specfic magazine); how a teen deals with a mentally ill parent (THE MARTIAN WAVE, (https://www.amazon.com/Martian-Wave-2016-Alan-Erwine-ebook/dp/B01J8Z3LGM/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8), how do an estranged grandmother and grandson rebuild their relationship? (“Fairy Bones”, (CAST OF WONDERS, a teen specfic podcast site)  http://www.castofwonders.org/2015/11/episode-181-fairy-bones-by-guy-stewart/)

My early fiction didn’t really tie today and tomorrow together well – again, there’s that consistency issue! – but it’s drawn much closer in the past year or so. Though not entirely, except in the real world, where my new son-in-law and I wrote a zombie story together (DEVOLUTION Z, “Rolling Zombie Bones”,  https://www.amazon.com/Devolution-Horror-Magazine-January-2017-ebook/dp/B01N5LIIQ2/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8)

I know I can make characters seem real – I just have trouble doing it consistently. The observations my esteemed colleague in education made above are, in general, helpful and I’ll be applying her methods to my writing, despite them being genre-ist (which, of course might have real world applications as well…)

But the essential handle on  making characters in our SF and F feel more real is to make them as much like us as we can.

…and we do that…how?

I’ll share some stuff I’ve learned next week.


March 18, 2017

LOVE IN A TIME OF ALIEN INVASION -- Chapter 59

On Earth, there are three Triads intending to integrate not only the three peoples and stop the war that threatens to break loose and slaughter Humans and devastate their world; but to stop the war that consumes Kiiote economy and Yown’Hoo moral fiber. All three intelligences hover on the edge of extinction. The merger of Human-Kiiote-Yown’Hoo into a van der Walls Society might not only save all three – but become something not even they could predict. Something entirely new...

The young experimental Triads are made up of the smallest primate tribe of Humans – Oscar and Kashayla; the smallest canine pack of Kiiote – six, pack leaders Qap and Xurf; and the smallest camelid herd of Yown’Hoo – a prime eleven, Dao-hi the Herd mother. On nursery farms and ranches away from the TC cities, Humans have tended young Yown’Hoo and Kiiote in secret for decades, allowing the two, warring people to reproduce and grow far from their home worlds.

“We had nearly fallen into stagnation when we encountered the Kiiote.”
“And we into internecine war when we encountered the Yown’Hoo.”
 “Yown’Hoo and Kiiote have been defending themselves for a thousand revolutions of our Sun.”
 “Together, we might do something none of us alone might have done…a destiny that included Yown’Hoo, Kiiote, and Human.” (2/19/2015)

“Who’d want these scruffy old things?” said GURion. He lifted me to my feet and shouted, “Run like the wind, Bullseye!” A line from my favorite movie as a kid – one I’d watched over and over when I was little. Right upstairs in the house that was probably a disintegrated fog of ashes blowing in a cyclonic wind over our heads.

“My name’s not Bullseye!” I managed to shout over the increasing rumble around us.

“I don’t think we’re gonna make it to the blast doors before your bodyguard blows the nuke!”

“He’s not my bodyguard!”

“Then he’s your worst enemy! Run!”

Instead of arguing with my great uncle, I ran, pounding after Pack, Herd, and Bodyguard – or whatever Retired was. Him and me were gonna have  major conversation once I caught up with him.

“Hang on…” GURion shoved me and I dove at the floor, head up, like ‘Shay and I had learned from our swim instructor when we were little. That didn’t keep me from bumping my chin on the floor as me and Rion slid across a floor that was smooth and frozen solid. We passed under a slowly lowering door that thudded into place as we hit a slide that took us deeper underground. It also cut off the roaring maelstrom we’d left behind and magnified my scream as we accelerated downhill.

The ground bucked once more, tossing me into the air, the landing knocking the air out of me for the second time in as many minutes. The ceiling of the tunnel groaned, dumping sand and clods of damp, cold earth on us. We slowed down really fast. I ended up rolling wildly, on my side, somersaulting, smashing into the walls, bouncing like a ping pong in a tumble dryer. For a second, I thought the tunnel was going to come down on us. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t scared or anything.

I was terrified.

Being raised in the Triad – all nineteen of us had the best of everything Earth could offer. We didn’t get hurt except when we were training with each other. We didn’t have to worry about being “accepted” by our peers. We were all without peers. That’s what the Tutors told us. We were the last hope for the Universe – at least our part of it. See, the worst calculations said that we’d be alone in the Milky Way; the best said there’d be zillions of alien races.

According to the Yown’Hoo and the Kiiote, the three of us are all there is. According to the Triad Corporation, we were the last, best hope of knitting the three intelligences into one civilizations. A Van der Walls society.

In the split second it had taken me to think all that, I found myself face-down and panting, my heart racing and my hands balled into fists like I was clutching the ground but pressed against a wall.

GURion said, “Are you alive?”

I managed to gasp, then said, “Yeah.”

“Good. Get up and get moving.”

“There’s a door in front of my face but pressed against a wall. If I stand up – and I’m not sure I can – there’s nowhere to go.”

I heard Rion’s foot step next to my head rather than saw it. I couldn’t see anything because it was cave-dark. The only light I could see was the phosphenes in my retina when I rubbed my eyes. He said, “I know there’s got to be a handle here.”

“Why does there have to be a handle?”

“It’s how I made it.”

“You dug the tunnel?” I couldn’t help sounding amazed. “How long did it take?”

“Not alone,” he said. “But a lot of it I did. But I never had to use a shovel or anything like that. We could use Yown’Hoo and Kiiote tools.”

“How far does it go?”

“All the way,” he said softly. “Here it is.” I heard a sharp crack and the door swung out a bit, creating a breeze there on the ground.

“What’s here?”

“The doorway north.”

“North to where?”

“Grendl. Manitoba.”

The idea of walking a zillion miles underground… “Insane!” I blurted.

GURion snorted in the dark, though I noticed the walls beyond the door were starting to glow a faint green. He said, “Not insane. Just a long walk. Staying down here will keep the Triad safe.”

“Where’s this ‘Grendl’?”

“Canada.”

I blinked, startled and started to get to my feet. “Canada,” I said. Even the echo of my voice was flat.

“Yep. Let’s go.” He started walking.

No matter how crazy he was, I didn’t have anywhere else to go.

And I didn’t hear any noise from the rest of my family…


March 14, 2017

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 297

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.

Current Event: Ebola Outbreak (http://cydathria.com/ebola.html)

Haysam Akbhar-Sosa shook his head and said, "This is impossible. I can't do it."

Bao Coppage stood beside him. She said, "We don't have any choice. If Ebola spreads any farther, it's gonna take over the world." They looked down at the waves of refugees fleeing Egypt and the Middle East, ravaged by a nearly uncontrollable strain of Ebola. They were on foot, in cars, buses, being pulled by donkey, oxen, and even other humans whom they whipped. She said, "It's stop it here and now or we all go down."

"I don't much care if Europe and the US go down..."

"There are people of faith everywhere, Haysam. They're all gonna die. This strain of Ebola doesn't care if you're a holy man or an avowed atheist."

There was a long pause and she'd known him long enough to expect him to argue. But this time he said only, "I know." He leaned over the sights of the monstrous flamethrower. Mounted on the gondola of the massive helium balloon, they flew slowly along with the river of sick humanity.

"We might not have to do anything," Bao said.

He shot her a look and she was surprised when he said, "Thanks for trying to make me feel better, but it's either kill these...ghūl...ghouls..."

"You know what these things are?"

He nodded slowly, "They're from ONE THOUSAND AND ONE ARABIAN NIGHTS." He paused for a long time, then added, "My brothers would tell me stories about them after I tattled on them."

"Your brothers told you the stories?"

He snorted, "Yeah. They hated me because I was the baby of the family and mom loved me more." She scowled and looked at him. He batted his eyelashes and then burst out laughing.

Leaning into him, she opened her mouth to reply when a commotion broke out below. Directly under the gondola, all they could see was people bunching up instead of trudging on. Bao had to pull back on the throttle and then give it a short reverse spin.

"What's..." Haysam began. Then the faces below looked up at them. There was a wet, gurgling sound, then a mass of humans looked up, opened their mouths. An instant later, what looked like a fountain of tarry black liquid rushed up.

It wasn’t. They’d been  told them to wear gas masks, so they were suited up. What no one had mentioned was tentacles. Black, dripping, horrible, the slender, pestilential whips grabbed them, slammed Bao and Haysham, then tore the masks from their faces. Convulsing in a paroxysm of agony, they screamed until...

Names:  China, England;   Egypt, Bahrain

March 12, 2017

WRITING ADVICE: Can This Story Be SAVED? #11 “The Stars Like Nails” (Submitted 9 Times Since 2014, Revised Twice)

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, In April of 2014, I figured I’d gotten enough publications that I could share some of the things I did “right”. I’ll keep that up, but I’m running out of pro-published stories. I don’t write full-time, nor do I make enough money with my writing to live off of it, but someone pays for and publishes ten percent of what I write. Hemingway’s quote above will remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales, but I’m adding this new series of posts because I want to carefully look at what I’ve done WRONG and see if I can fix it. As always, your comments are welcome!

ANALOG Tag Line: What would forcing your child into a career of YOUR choosing; and then losing that child do to your ability to perform your job to save a world?

Elevator Pitch (What Did I Think I Was Trying To Say?) That life goes on, then you die – or someone you love dies…or someone somewhere dies and you have no idea why or if it had any meaning…

Opening Line: “My boss led me to believe that in the council chamber on this frozen world of Sirmiq, I would find enlightened discourse.”

Onward: Gordon Oyeyemi  is a clone of the Confluence of Humanity who has been on active duty for some three hundred Solar Years. Married with two children, he’s now a widower with one son left. His daughter and wife died in a bloody insurrection and now he’s trying to force his son to do what he was gengineered to do: communicate clearly. The only problem is that on a backward world locked it its ice age, his son is murdered. Negotiations have fallen apart, and Gordon is about to end his career in both a personal and professional shambles while on the surface waiting to take his son’s body home.

What Was I Trying To Say? I first submitted it in August of 2013. It usually takes me about six months to a year to write a short story, so let’s just assume that I wrote it during the summer of 2012. A year before, my wife had been diagnosed with breast cancer, suffered a double mastectomy, and then endured six months of chemotherapy. She was at that time, a breast cancer survivor. That was also around the time when my faith was shattered. Thanksgiving of 2012 had seen the onset of lymphedema as well. We’d left our old church in 2011 or so after the woman pastor deeply wounded my wife.

I was angry. This story shows that clearly. I was trying to say that nothing matters; it doesn’t matter how hard we try, life still sucks…

The Rest of the Story: The story ended with the grandmother of the boy who murdered Gordon’s son falling from a cliff after they’d spent a night in silent, frozen vigil. With down, they were able to communicate and she explained how the murder was her fault because her grandson had been badly raised. Gordon insists that it’s all HIS fault because he was unable to get the opposing parties – one that favored joining the Confluence of Humanity; the other the Empire of Man. Bitter argument had not budged either side and the population of the world was divided. Add to that the fact that in the oceans of the world, swam a creature whose blood carried a compound that could seriously extend the lifespan of Humans.

As Grandmother fell, instead of screaming, she’d called out the Inupiaq word for “balance”. She meant for her death to balance the life of Gordon’s son. But he wasn’t buying it. His final reflection implied that he was going to commit suicide.

End Analysis: This is a grim story. ANALOG would never publish it mostly because it’s primarily internal reflection and dialogue. There’s no action except the murder, and that’s offstage. Grandmother’s death has nothing really to do with Gordon. It’s her own choice – he wasn’t consulted and his agreement or disagreement with her choice is irrelevant. It’s a helpless and hopeless story – except that, in the end the colony chooses to join the Confluence, preventing a war over the resources. Both Confluence and Empire have dreadnaughts hovering over the planet. Each could take on the other in a firefight, so there is a balance of power there as well…

F&SF said: “I really love the diplomacy premise because it provides the perfect setting to explore cultural and social conflicts resolved through intelligence instead of fists, which I feel like I don't see enough of. But overall this story just didn't connect with me so I'm going to pass on it.”

GIGANOTOSAURUS said: “The writing is strong, but ultimately the story just didn't grab me.”

Can This Story Be Saved? I don’t think so. The message is grim. I sent it to F&SF, ASIMOV’S, CLARKESWORLD, APEX, STRANGE HORIZONS, INTERGALACTIC MEDICINE SHOW, GIGANOTOSAURUS, THE DARK, and in the end, I did send it to ANALOG. No dice.

But my thoughts still stand. My interpretation of the world also still stands. Given what the story was about then and the number of times it was rejected and the markets that tossed it back at me, I don’t see that there’s any way of fixing it. It will go into the dustbin until…well, it decays into its component electrons.


March 9, 2017

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 98: DaneelAH & Company

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. It makes good sense, right – get rid of religion and Human divisiveness on a societal level will disappear? An instrument of such a pogrom might just be a Roman holiday...To see the rest of the chapters and I’m sorry, but a number of them got deleted from the blog – go to SCIENCE FICTION: Martian Holiday on the right and scroll to the bottom for the first story. They are HanAH, the security expert (m); DaneelAH, xenoarchaeologist (m); AzAH, language expert (f); MishAH, pattern recognition (f).

MishAH said, “The tunnels are definitely older than most of the settlements of Mars. But they aren’t older than the original missions. The way this is phrased makes it clear that someone on Mars knew about these deep tunnels. It’s not clear if Humans made them or not, but we know about them.”

DaneelAH pursed his lips then said, “Then that makes it even more important that we connect with this Paolo and the Hero of the Faith Wars. I think they must be working together.”

“Why do they want us here ?” AzAH said. MishAH, HanAH, and DaneelAH turned to her.

DaneelAH said, “When we find that out, they we’ll know where we’re going and why.”

HanAH grunted then said, “Fine. We’re at the beck and call of Naturals again.”

“What do you mean, ‘again’?” AzAH said. “We were made to be at their beck and call. We’ve never been free, brother. What do you mean?”

He brushed her comment away. “You know what I…”

“No, dear vat brother, I don’t think I’ll let you off the hook this time. You said what you said for a reason. You’re in security – and I’m pretty sure you neither say nor do anything without reason. So, you spoke your mind and in this case I think you slipped. I’m the language expert. I also listen to tonality and annunciation as well as note body language and tribe position.” She paused to let him speak. He scowled darkly instead. She smiled sunnily. “You’ve maintained a superior position in relation to the three of us since our arrival. Your tone of voice implies that you know something we do not and your annunciation is unusually concise, so you’re thinking carefully about each word. Either you are doing this subconsciously or with intent. I’d love to think you don’t know what you’re doing, but that would be uncharacteristically sloppy of you.” She smiled again, then added with a perfectly straight face, “So, it would be best if you spoke the truth now.” She glanced at DaneelAH, “Or I’ll ask dear brother Daneel to speak the secret word in your ear.”

HanAH stared at her. He opened his mouth then shut it slowly. He pursed his lips then bowed deeply to her, his hand sweeping back. DaneelAH caught his wrist and disarmed him before HanAH could do more than twitch his fingers on the grip trigger. His older brother pocketed the weapon. He began to straighten up. MishAH, a mercenary-trained combat specialist from long ago swept his feet out from under him and had the wedge of her fingers pressed against the soft spot under his jaw and above his larynx before he could do more than cough. She also smiled, leaned forward, kissed his cheek, and subvocalized, “I think we’ve convinced them. They aren’t watching anymore.”

He let out a strangled cough, squirmed out from under her, kicked his feet over his head, knees touching his ears, and popped to his feet – a kip up. He pulled his tunic down where it had run up over his ring-shaped navel. “I didn’t think they were.” He sighed. “We’ve been unmonitored since we got aboard the marsbug back home. Something this Paolo did to the ‘bug rewrote the security protocols in the artificial nerve nets. No one has known where we are for some time.” He tugged his tunic down again.

MishAH nodded. “The pattern of this Paolo person’s maneuverings is clear. He’s freed us from the Mayor – who doesn’t know it yet, apparently and while he hasn’t made any formal claim, we are under his authority by dint of the fact that he knows exactly where we are. He could report us at any moment and our time here would be over.”

“But he hasn’t, so it’s probable that either we have something he wants – or he has something we’ll want.” DaneelAH said.

“What could we have that he wants?” HanAH said. Irritation written on his blue face was clear.

“We might not have anything he wants. But he may want to give something to us. Something that would bring Mayor Turin over to his side or induce the Mayor to…to…” said AzAH.

“Do something for him,” said MishAH. “Do something like send him on a mission to get the rest of the proof. The…bones, perhaps? Or artifacts?”

DaneelAH pursed his lips then said softly – as softly as he could over the low-pitched roar of the Dome’s mall, “Maybe both. If he has the proof Mayor Turin has been after all these years, there’s no telling what the Mayor would do for our new master.”

March 7, 2017

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 296

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: dark lord
Current Event: While this isn’t exactly a current event, it IS a current list! Read it if you love fantasy because you’ll see everything your favorite Evil Overlord has ever done to cause his, her or its defeat. http://www.eviloverlord.com/lists/overlord.html

I ran into this list something like ten years ago and I read through it at least once a year. I don’t write fantasy often, but still dabble and have a couple of worlds I’d still like to write stories in. Anyone who was reading this blog two years ago might remember my pieces of flash fiction for a concept called THREAT OF MAGIC. In it, I have developed (using the Evil Overlord List!) a reasonable world…

Ah, but this isn’t about ME! It’s about an idea. I can’t even say that I came up with it, either. An author who teaches a writing workshop, Teresa Neilson Hayden has her students use this method for generating stories.

Today, I’ll ask you to try this one – or go to the website above and choose your own: “If I learn the whereabouts of the one artifact which can destroy me, I will not send all my troops out to seize it. Instead I will send them out to seize something else and quietly put a Want-Ad in the local paper.” (this is #49)

We’ll update this to the 21st Century and have a smart 15-year-old girl who collects small statues skimming through Craigslist looking to add to her collection. The ad asks for a small stature of a man squatting, with arms wrapped around his knees. It also states that this is a fairly common object – but what the buyer is looking for is a heavy, iron version of this; probably rusted. The head has a small gold ring set on it and in the ring is a tiny diamond. The buyer claims it was made by their father and the ring is their mother’s engagement ring. The ad offers $5000 for the figure.

The girl looks up from her laptop. The statue sits on her shelf – in fact, it’s the center of her collection. She shakes her head. She starts college next Fall. She could use the cash. After all, it’s only a statue.

She bookmarks the ad and returns to surfing. She eventually ends  up on msn.com where there is breaking news of a daring raid on an Egyptian museum by art thieves…

Have fun!


March 5, 2017

Slice of PIE: “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”…

NOT using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City in August 2016 (to which I was invited and had a friend pay my membership! [Thanks, Paul!] but was 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. But not today.

My wife and I re-watched the movie, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, starring Ben Stiller. The screenplay was based on a short story of the same name, written by well-known humorist, James Thurber.

Apparently they really have nothing to do with each other, so I’m going to treat the Stiller movie as a science fiction flick.

Why SF and not Fantasy?

It involves both psychology (soft SF) and technology (hard SF) – and advances in technology and how they affect society (classic hard SF)…

The premise is how advances in technology will affect society, in this case, how the internet affects the lives of people whose employ was in a paper magazine that depended on physical film images; at its heart, the kind of SF we all enjoy reading – the book I’m reading now is an exploration of what post-humanity will be like when our psyches can be uploaded to vastly more advanced computers and how that might overtake the biological Human. John C. Wright’s COUNT TO A TRILLION is no more hard SF than Stiller’s TSLOWM.

The psychology is obvious and where in Thurber’s TSLOWM, Walter never moves from his imagination to any kind of reality at all, Stiller’s Walter begins his life lost in a sort of fantasy world, he enters the real world and begins to bring some of those fantasies into reality.

Of course, the only way he can do that is by the application of everyday technology – a combination of jets, helicopters, ocean-going vessels, cars, subways, elevators, high-altitude/low temperature gear, and eHarmony (an online dating site)…

Most importantly to me, however, is that the movie is inspiring. While I can’t say exactly why, I do know that as a writer, I tend to live in my head as Walter did. I can also say, though, that I’ve had my fair share of adventures as a missionary in Nigeria (where we experienced a coup d’état) and I helped perform a puppet show on national TV; Cameroon where we experienced an attempted coup d’état, stepped on a scorpion in the middle of the night, and came down with malaria; and Liberia where nothing of “adventure” happened except that we traveled up and down the coast and I walked along a black sand beach. I was also in Haiti for two weeks, helping to lay the foundation of an orphanage. I guess traveling with a band counts – twice – counts too…two summers running a Bible camp in the center of the Chippewa National Forest and actually SEEING wild timber wolves. Having lunch with Newbery Award-winning author Kate di Camillo. Meeting Mary Grandpre, artist of Scholastic Book’s HARRY POTTER books and a cover of TIME magazine…I have a “real” letter from Madeleine L’Engle, a response to a letter I wrote her, as well as a different one from Anne McCaffery and another from David Brin…

I was the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Teacher of the Year in 1997…

OK, so I’m not exactly an example of Thurber’s Walter Mitty; but I’m certainly not Stiller’s Walter Mitty, either. It’s Stiller’s Walter Mitty, though who is the character of a science fiction movie. While it doesn’t involve space or time travel, it does involve MIND travel as we got to see what he was imagining – saving the dog from a building about to erupt into a fireball; the guy who came out of a LIFE Magazine ad from the Himalayas to talk to Cheryl; being Benjamin Buttons to Cheryl's Daisy Fuller; plus a few others I can’t recall (and can’t seem to find listed anywhere). For a moment, we see what he sees – or where he goes when life isn’t going in the direction he wanted it to. It's a sort of...time travel or psychotic adventure that moves me to want more in my life.

So there you have it – why I think Stiller’s SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY is a science fiction film rather than a fantasy film and why it is SF in the very best of the tradition.