August 27, 2014

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 58: DaneelAH Leaving Emie Shan

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.

“The four of you have become a crux.” The Dalai Lama smiled, adding, “a cross if you will.”

DaneelAH shook his head. “You can’t be serious.”

“Why not? You are young. You are excited. You are also skilled in areas I cannot even describe.” The Dalai Lama lifted up a hand in benediction and said, “It’s time for you to go.” He turned away from them and headed back into his quarters, deep inside the underground tent – the only Buddhist monastery on Mars.

DaneelAH said, “Now what?”

HanAH said, “You’re the one with the box of religion porn. Should I arrest you now or do you want to get going?”

“I vote for ‘get going’,” said AzAH. “We shouldn’t stay here any longer.”

“Why?” asked MishAH. “I like it here. It’s got a peace I’ve experienced nowhere else on Mars.”

HanAH snorted, “Since when did your mystical gene activate?”

MishAH scowled, “Longer than you’ll ever know. But in general for some time now I’ve been having thoughts I can only describe as ‘spiritual’.”

HanAH turned away and picked up his helmet and put it on. Watching him walk to the airlock and stand, loosed armed, AzAH said, “I guess the discussion is ended.” She followed him, pulling on her helmet.

DaneelAH looked at them, then back to the doorway the Dalai Lama had taken and said to HanAH, “I’m not converting to Buddhism, but what this man has done is amazing.”

HanAH only grunted and put his helmet on, heading to the others. He pushed past them and opened the inner lock door and clumped through. The rest followed him. They all turned at once, fixing DaneelAH with a monocular, gold-plated sun visor glare. Holding up one hand in surrender, the other holding the holy library. He had always had perfect recall and quoted the Dalai Lama, “‘No one on Mars has a complete holy book. The Koran here has been tampered with as have the Analects, the Aqdas, the Kojiki, the Tao Te Ching, the Torah, the Tripiaka, and the Vedas. Others less well known but just as important to their adherents have also been tampered with.’” He held up the crystal, “I’ve been given a holy library. The Dalai Lama charged me to bring people their corrected holy words.”

He put the crystal into a protective pocket and sealed it then put on his helmet. He tapped his radio control and heard HanAH say, “You have a chance here to stop all the other heretical faiths in their footsteps and allow only the true word of God to spread on Mars. What are you going to do?”

DaneelAH shrugged – a huge effort wearing the stiff fabric of the Martian surface suit. “Right now, I’m going to get us out of here. We have a mission on Mars and I intend to accomplish that first. After that, we can discuss a mission to Mars. But the Dalai Lama said that he was set on using peace and compassion in my treatment of the Christian on Mars as well as his oppressors – in this case the Mayors of the Domes. The marsbug we were riding in was programmed by a man named Paolo. His public file makes it quite clear that he’s a Christian evangelist.”

MishAH said, “This Lama and the evangelist aren’t even the same religion – why should we have anything to do with either one?”

DaneelAH paused and pulled the inner lock door closed and set it to cycle them out. “If you’re trying to provoke me to anger, I’m of the same mind as Dorje Gyatso. I don’t hold anything against the Buddhists, just as this Paolo evangelist has counseled the Christian community on Mars to forgive as Christ would also forgive them. Our greater danger is the Mayors and a growing pogrom. It will not be against the Jews only this time. The Mayors will direct it at anyone who disagrees with them; anyone who refuses to conform to the philosophy of the Unified Faith In Humanity – and as we are not true Humans, we will be swept aside in that pogrom.”

“Then we need to defect,” said HanAH.

“That’s absurd,” said AzAH.

MishAH didn’t say anything until they reached the marsbug. “Well? What are you thinking, MishAH?” snapped HanAH angrily.

She pulled her helmet off, stared at him, then looked to DaneelAH, “I think we have a mystery to solve before we start a evangelizing mission.”

DaneelAH nodded, “Something happened on Mars a long time ago and it’s driving the Mayors – almost as much as the rest of us fighting against Unified. We have to finish that.”

By then, AzAH, MishAH and HanAH had moved to their stations. Again, they all turned to look at him. He took a deep breath and said, “Out of the frying pan and into the fire.”

Only AzAH, the biological translator laughed. She glanced at the other two, shook her head, “I’ll explain once we’re under way.”

HanAH grunted, but started the marsbug and pulled away from Vogel Station.

August 26, 2014

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 171,fl_progressive,q_80,w_636/17rmaeh22ge1bjpg.jpg
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: Super Powers

The entire classroom was staring at Fajr Nazor. She said, “What’s wrong with you?”
Wiremu Song, the boy she liked, sat behind her, and whom she often wanted to drop dead, raised his hand. He didn’t wait for Mr. Beidelman to call on him though, saying, “We’ve never seen a real mutant before, Mr. B. It’s creepy. I was wondering if you could ask Fajr,” he always pronounced it “fudger” even though she’d corrected him a zillion times, “to demonstrate her super powers?”

Mr. B hooked a thumb over his shoulder as he said, “You, Mr. S., can take a short hike to the

“Aw, Mr….”

Mr. B hooked his thumb again and touched his Bluetooth, sawing, “I have your dad’s number in my eye and all I have to do is blink.”

Wiremu – whom, Fajr admitted she often called “Wired Cow” – stood up and slouched out of the room, firing a venomous look at her. Once he was gone, she stood up and said, “I don’t mind talking about it, Mr. B. It is sort of interesting.”

He nodded and said, “Go ahead if you want to.”

“I do. My mutation is actually a pair of mutations. I can memorize anything anyone shows to me in a split second.”

A girl at the back of the room said, “I can do that!”

Fajr cleared her throat and said, “And then I can draw it with a pencil without looking at the paper.”

A boy by the window piped up, “I seen her do it! It’s amazing! But you can only do it if you seen that thing the first time, right?”

Fajr blushed. Only a few people had known that little wrinkle to her brain kink. She shrugged, “I never told anyone I was super.” She started to sit down then stood up again and said, “I never told anyone this, either, but it’s about the superist thing I can do.”

Both of Mr. B’s brows went up. The rest of the class leaned forward as she said, “I can make electrons slow down to almost zero velocity.”

Mr. B scowled then said slowly, “That’s quite a claim, Ms. Song. Do you have any evidence to back that up?”

She gestured to Wiremu who suddenly appeared in the classroom as she said, “I stopped his electrons from moving right after he started out of the room.” No one moved or seemed to breathe – the all of a suddenly the room exploded with screaming seventh graders…

Names: ♀ Egypt, Croatia ; New Zealand, Korea

August 24, 2014

WRITING ADVICE: What Went Right In “Absolute Limits”? Guy Stewart #5

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.

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 to the left will now remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales! As always, your comments are welcome!

I started writing when I was thirteen – I turned thirteen in 1970. While I wasn’t thinking about writing my own stories, I’d started reading ANALOG SCIENCE FICTION AND FACT with this issue:,204,203,200_.jpg

I’d read the science fiction in the school library and when I finished this book: wrote my first story – in pencil on lined paper. It was called THE WHITE VINES and took place in a corn field I saw every day while riding home on the bus.

I was hooked on the writing habit. Twenty-seven years later, I reached my first goal: publication in ANALOG with a Probability Zero story called “Absolute Limits”.

I’d been submitting to Stan Schmidt, who’s been editor of ANALOG since 1978 and only retired in 2013, giving his spot to Trevor Qachri. I had over a hundred rejections from ANALOG since my first submission in the middle 1970s.

What did I do right? What changed the unbroken string of rejections by my favorite magazine? For years, I thought I did everything right, yet my stories were bounced back to me without comment and the standard “Dear Contributor,” sheet of paper.

In a word – passion. Not the sexy kind of passion -- the EXCITED kind of passion. The INVOLVED kind of passion

“Absolute Limits” was a short story about something that bugged the living daylights out of me. People who drive faster than the speed limit – not matter what the speed limit is. The Germans solved the problem by removing those limits on the autobahn to allow anyone to go any speed.
In that impassioned piece of fiction, I sort of flew “sideways” to the German solution. I imagined a world where the development of a Faster Than Light drive had come up against a brick wall. People in that world, despite the average speed limit being 100 mph (161 km/hr), STILL speed. The FTL researcher, as frustrated with speeders in his future as I am in this world, sees a car with a jet engine roar past him. This sets off a rant and he rails, “It doesn’t matter what the speed limit is, people are going to break it!” – and the rant sparks an idea.

A few months and several legislative sessions later, the highway departments of several states put up brand new speed limit signs: SPEED LIMIT 186,000 Miles Per Second…
I believe that no matter what kinds of limits are put on people, they'll do their level best to break the limits. Break the law.

Presented with a sign that said that they could NOT go faster than the speed of light, what's the first thing people will try and do?

Absurd? Yes. I didn’t set out to write a PZ story and initially the 600 words that were published were a story that was about 2000 words long.

Humorous? I tried to make it funny.

I sent it and for the first time in my career, Stan sent a note back asking me to shorten it. Stunned, I did exactly what he asked and sent it out again.

My next contact with ANALOG was a contract. The day my wife called me at work to tell me the contract had arrived, I wept.

After I got the check, I waited. The proofs arrived, though I had no more contact with Stan Schmidt. The next thing I knew, my name was on the Table of Contents of the August 1996 issue of ANALOG.

So what did I do RIGHT?

  1. I was passionate about the “subject”. In other words, people who speed irritate the living daylights out of me. But I couldn’t write a short story about me destroying them…well, I suppose I could, but George Miller’s Mad Max was written and filmed in the late 1970’s already...I had to do something different. How about absurd exaggeration instead?
  2. I had a market I dearly wanted to break into.
  3. Everything I wrote was aimed at that market.
  4. I kept writing – trying a new story, new ideas, and new manuscripts regularly.
  5. I had a clear idea of what I wanted the story to say.
  6. When the editor wanted a re-write, I offered no argument. I re-wrote it.
  7. I was fast with the rewrites.

Since that manuscript, Stan – and now Trevor Qachri – usually rejected my work with a personal note. But sometimes there were acceptances. I’ve had three stories in ANALOG and I’ve tried to write my stories for them (and for every editor) with passion. I'm working on my first sale to Trevor, and I'm hoping it will be soon.

August 23, 2014


I'm one of FIVE stars in this SAMPLER of the magazine for which I am a slushpile reader. I wrote the story...well, a long time ago and it was so tragic in the end that editor Bruce Bethke was the only one who saw what I wanted to do in the story.

If you're interested in THAT, I may have to do a PIE on the subject...hmmm...
ANYWAY, buy the book if you're interested in sampling what Bruce is doing at STUPEFYING STORIES!

August 21, 2014


This series is a little bit biographical and a little bit imaginary about my dad and a road trip he took in the summer of 1946, when he turned fifteen. He and a friend hitchhiked from Loring Park to Duluth, into Canada and back again. He was gone from home for a month. I was astonished and fascinated by the tale. So, I added some speculation about things I've always wondered about and this series is the result. To read earlier SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH clips, click on the label to the right, scroll down to and click OLDER ENTRIES seven or eight times. The FIRST entry is on the bottom of the last page.

“What kind of trouble?" asked Tommy Hastings, suddenly  feeling cold down to his toes. It had nothing to do with the cool night air, damp with the water flowing up on to the land from Lake Superior.

Arnie Volz, truck driver and boyfriend of Edwina Olds, Lieutenant, WACS (ret.) down-shifted the truck and said nothing.

“What? What happened?” Freddie Merrill asked.

“People that are with you – you whose parents are in deep trouble with powerful politics – might get in the way of the politics and be hurt. I don’t think this is something that Ed wanted to get involved with,” said Arnie. “I think it would be best if you boys got off here,” he slowed the semi and finally squealed to a halt. Nodding to toward the truck’s door, he added, “I’m gonna have to ask you boys to get out.”

Freddie cried out, “We’re not even to the city yet!”

“I’d say that’s a good thing for me,” he said.

Freddie said, “But...”

Tommy shoved him against the door as he reached for the handle. He turned back to Arnie and said, “I think you’re wrong, Mr. Volz. But thanks for the ride, anyway.” Tommy shoved Freddie out the door.

“Hey! It’s not my ma and dad’s in trouble with Commies!” He landed on his feet, turned and looked up at Tommy. “They want to kill you! I wanna go home!” He pushed past Tommy and said, “Take me home! The Commies don’t want me! They want Tommy!”

Tommy stepped away from the semi, stumbled when he came to the edge of the asphalt, staring at Freddie. He said, “You leaving me?”

Freddie looked up into the cab. Arnie was staring down at him from the driver’s seat. He looked back at Tommy who sighed, turned, and started walking.

Arnie called out, “Better turn around kid, Duluth’s the other way.”

“Not going back home,” Tommy said. A moment later he disappeared along the back of the semi.
Freddie looked up at Arnie and started to climb into the cab. He paused, looked back at Tommy, then finished climbing in. He slammed the door. Without a word, Arnie put the truck in gear and started south down the highway to Duluth.

August 19, 2014

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: ZOMBIES! (*sigh*, again…)

Quân Nhung sighed as he swiped the story off his comppad and said, “This claim that Ebola doesn’t create zombies out of Humans is just a ploy by Chinese Imperialists to annex us and create another prefecture for Beijing to bleed us dry.” He laid it down on his desk and returned his attention to his own computer, and tapped his screen, saying, “What do you make of Ebola jumping to Haiti?”

Chenda Dara shook her head, “Everything’s a ‘ploy by Chinese Imperials’ to you. How did you ever make it into the International CDC if you think everything’s a plot against normal people?”

Quân looked over at her and snorted as he activated his keyboard projector and began typing while he ranted, “The reason they hired me, Chenda is because I’m a paranoid conspiracist. They need people like me to generate the scenarios they use to create plans to counter endless permutations of apocalypse. If I wasn’t like this, people who trust the rest of the world implicitly would all be dead now.”

“You used circular logic to prove only that you’re good at using circular logic to justify your paranoia.”

He genially flipped her off. Even though they were both seventeen, they were the best Vietnam had been able to produce since calling up the debt America owed them – a debt they counted in permanently denuded a countryside, a slaughtered generation of men, and an infrastructure totally fractured. The US responded guiltily by boosting every child whose family desired it. He and Chenda each had the informational equivalent of a PhD in microbiology and computational simulation technology. The Center for Disease Control had moved to Hanoi when the US government sterilized Atlanta after an outbreak of pneumAIDS appeared from a mutated virus and leaped out of control, taking most of the state of Georgia with it.

However...however...Quân said, “This whole idea of a zombie plague is idiotic! Who do the Chinese think we are? Superstitious ancestor worshippers?” He rolled his eyes and looked up, “Chenda?” Cussing, he stood up, stretched and followed her out to the smoking deck. At least that’s where he thought she’d gone. He stepped out into the steamy night air of the fiftieth floor balcony of the Hanoi CDC Needle – both symbolic and practical – on top of it was a communication center with a direct link to the American-owned CDC satellite as well as a broadcast tower that could use any frequency known to Humanity. “Chenda?” He took out a pack of real tobacco cigarettes – rare and heavenly as well as affordable on his salary – and lit up.

From the shadowy area near the window, Chenda said, “You have to be the most foolish paranoid I’ve ever met, Quân.”


Chenda stepped out of the shadows, “You really think zombies shamble in this day and age? You think we walk around with our arms stretched out and grunt and groan incoherently?” He hand lashed out, grabbing his, knocking the cigarette over the balustrade. He screamed as she bite the fleshy part of his lower arm; bit through the expensive silk shirt and tore a piece of living, bloody flesh from his body…

Names: Khmer, Old Celt ; ♂ Vietnam

August 17, 2014


The classic example of overwriting is this, paragraph... “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.” — Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul CLIFFORD (1830)

These words have inspired generations of writers since its publication to AVOID such writing like the plague.

And yet people still write like this. On purpose. Without knowing that millions of other writers will mock them and make comments like, “I should enter this in the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, “Where ‘WWW’ means ‘Wretched Writers Welcome’”!

What is overwriting – besides the obvious resulting fifty-eight word sentence...

Excuse me? You don’t see anything wrong with the paragraph above and see difference between it and the first sentence of Charles Dickens’ classic literary novel, A TALE OF TWO CITIES (1859)? The line that is oft-quoted but almost never completed – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...” (see the COMPLETE, one hundred and twenty-eight word sentence here: No difference to you?


I would love to use some examples of unpublished works I’ve read recently in my volunteer position as slush reader for STUPEFYING STORIES. There are some real humdingers I’ve read there, let me tell you! But not only would that be unethical, putting them up on my blog would constitute publishing them – and would give them the same, slightly less elevated status as Bulwer-Lytton’s and Dickens’ work. So I’ll dissect my own work.

While editors have never, in my experience come right out and said, “OVERWRITING!”, they have employed several euphemistic phrases I’ve quoted below:

“I actually found the language you used to be rather dense and information-heavy, which didn't make for particularly easy reading. I would suggest revisiting it with a thought to simplifying it a little for more ease of comprehension.”

“Almost impossible for me to get around the massive amount of information in this piece. It seems like you were attempting to squeeze a novel into a short story.”

“some sentences were difficult to parse (e.g., on p. 18, "Human bodies would flare into the atmosphere and burn up so that the many would put troops down on Weedworld.")...The preponderance of alien names made for some confusing passages, though, and we find our readers prefer things a bit more straightforward -- smoother, with less chance of getting jarred out of the story…”

“Story exceeds our 8k maximum word count”

So what does overwriting mean?

In my experience, it means using more words than are necessary to say something in the story – more than that, though, it means not using the RIGHT words to say something.

Let’s go to poetry – I know, what does poetry have to do with writing stories? I deal with this question the first day of every Writing To Get Published summer school session I teach. In fact, I deal with it on a personal level as well. But when I look at the definition of POETRY, these definitions reflect what I usually get from kids as well as my own perception of it: “Poetry in the Bible has been well defined as ‘the measured language of emotion.’ Hebrew poetry deals almost exclusively with the great question of man's relation to God. Guilt, condemnation, punishment, pardon, redemption, repentance are the awful themes of this heaven-born poetry.” (

“When I used to ask students what a poem is, I would get answers like ‘a painting in words,’ or ‘a medium for self-expression,’ or ‘a song that rhymes and displays beauty.’... ‘One might argue that the page is just a metaphor for all that can’t be put on it, and that a poem is merely a substitution, for better or for worse, for a lived feeling or event.’” (

When I overwrite, I am trying to say something profound. I’m ALWAYS trying to say something profound. My most recently published story looked at the morality of using organic monkey brains instead of computer chips in disposable work satellites. (“612 See, 612 Do”, Sometimes I do a better job of it. My wife says that short stories are my forte, and maybe that’s true because I work so hard at saying what I’m trying to say with as few carefully chosen words as possible.

And THAT is what overwriting doesn’t do – a writer just…vomits on to a page without giving proper weight to each word. I rarely notice when I’m overwriting; I usually think I’m being profound. But like comparing Bulwer-Lytton to Dickens, the first simply vomited on the page. It’s apparent to me he was just writing.

In Dickens though, the author clearly considered every word and while we don’t remember the entire first sentence, it left a deep enough impact on literature to be repeatedly quoted – even in a Star Trek movie.