June 19, 2018

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 360


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: a sorcerer who is dead but his “soul” lives on trapped somewhere
  
Martin Jönsson stared at the blog and said, “You’ve read this stuff?” He scratched his scruffy blonde beard – little more than rough peach fuzz

Vukosova Gavrilović, long-time friends and NOT girlfriend, smirked. She learned the Swede phrase for her buddy’s newly sprouted beard was duniga skägg. She considered teasing him, but the look on her face warned her that he probably wasn’t in the mood tonight. Instead she said, “I read it. What about it?”

“It like, says that people can soak up ancient energy and transport it from place to place!”
Vukosova shook her head. Her friend was a philosophy major – she wished him luck in finding a job as something more than an intelligent garbage collector. She was a physics major, and if her freshman grades and undergrad presentation were any indication, she may have just written herself a ticket to the Cooperative Lunar Colony Fusion Research Center after she graduated. The CLCRFC – better known by its euphemistic name, The CooL Co. FuR Center and what NASA insisted on calling ClickerFick in its press releases – was every physicists dream. Nuclear fusion was a hop, skip and a jump away from becoming practical. All they needed to do was solve one or two containment issues...she yanked her attention back to Martin and said, “We’ve been soaking up energy and taking if from place to place since the evolution of the first life form.”

He finally looked up from the screen that showed some wackoid Egyptian goddess background overlain with a the foolish ranting of someone who was certain they’d been able to imbue and ancient Egyptian site with energy sucked up in their souls from Atlantis. He said, “This is amazing! It sounds like what you guys are doing in that science class you’re taking!”

She sighed and said, “It’s called Elementary Nuclear Fusion – and it doesn’t have anything to do with storing energy. It’s about creating energy.”

He frowned then said, “I had some science classes in high school...”

“That was last year, wasn’t it?”

“Hey! Just ‘cause I’m a prodigy doesn’t mean I don’t deserve respect!”

“You were a prodigy in acting, Martin! Now you couldn’t shake a stick at an T-comp without breaking into a cold sweat!”

He stood up abruptly, snapping the cover in his computer. “Shows how much you know! I’m gonna see if I can soak up some fusion energy from...from…”

She smirked and said, “Idfu – it’s on the east bank of the Nile in east central Egypt.”

He glared, “You think you know everything just because you’re a physics major! But there’s another world out there, too. One you can’t see! It inhabits the same realm as your gravitons.”

“Gravitons are real!” Vukosova exclaimed.

“Yeah? Show  me one!”

“Well, you can’t just open your eyes and see one! You need special equipment…”

“And then can you see one?”

“Well...not exactly. But we can see evidence that gives a strong indication of the properties and the effects of...”

“So your gravitons are as imaginary as my negative Atlantean energy.”

“They aren’t the same...”

Martin turned away and stalked out of the dining hall. He stopped just before he slammed the door and shouted, “We’ll see whose god is more powerful! The trapped sorcerers of Atlantis and Ancient Egypt or the trapped gravitons of the Unified Field Theory!”

She blinked in surprise as he finished his rant and stomped away. She muttered, “I didn’t know he knew anything about the Unified Field Theory!”

Name Source: Serbia; Sweden

June 17, 2018

WRITING ADVICE: Can This Story Be SAVED? #22 “And After Soft Rains, Daisies” (Submitted 9 Times Since April 2017, Revised 1 time)


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!

This story started out as a paid job.

A company called SciFutures works with hundreds of companies who are looking at the future. This one wanted to know what the future of home computers (up to and including artificial intelligence) might be. We already have computer-integrated homes, they wanted to see how far things might go. I got the job and started thinking…

On an apparent tangent, my father is in a Memory Care facility because he suffers from Alzheimer’s.

On another tangent, Ray Bradbury’s dark and insightful look at the very same idea held me spellbound when I was a teenager, coming out of reading Heinlein, Christopher, and Nourse. “There Will Come Soft Rains” was published first in the “normal” magazine, COLLIERS (May 6, 1950), later that year collected into THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES.

Back to the thought stream: I wondered what a home AI could do for families who have an Alzheimer’s parent. The way I expressed it was a simple scenario in which an AI interacted with my dad as if it were my mom, who’d passed away a year earlier. Never an expert at self-care when it came to feeding, cleaning, and doing laundry, the disease only exacerbated those issues and introduced new ones. The home AI was installed along with a self-contained “dad apartment” and he was “locked up” by his kids. [ASIDE: This is probably my first mistake, though I’d intended for it to look like he was in a memory care unit, that’s not what happened.]

But the job only called for a vignette – how could I turn that into a real story?

ANALOG Tag Line:
Could a self-contained AI given an entire environment to manipulate, care completely for an Alzheimer’s patient?

Elevator Pitch (What Did I Think I Was Trying To Say?)
Because of the exorbitant fees “age-in-place” facilities charge, the industry has become one that limns the issue of haves/have nots. Can AI coupled with current technology bring that cost down?

Opening Line:
“You really think this will be what I’ve been looking for?” Dayvon said. [ASIDE: Should have been, “You really think this is going to make me feel less guilty than putting him in a home that will bankrupt us in two years?” But is that too critical of the current dark reality?]

Onward:
Sherrell made a soft noise. Five screens were connected to Dayvon’s dad’s basement apartment. The office wall showed five views, including the bathroom. Dad was still sleeping.

His ancient full bed shared space with a micro kitchen and a breakfast bar with a fridge, sink, table and chair; a couch in front of a wall-sized TV that currently shimmered charcoal gray with sparkles of light; entryway with closet; and the bathroom.

“Pat”, the Artificial Intelligence who cared for him, brought lamps up over a bank of plants to match a sunrise outside their house. He had no real windows. In the pots, daffodils were green stalks beside tulips now faded, and daisies unfurled on slender stalks, not quite open. The AI, said softly, “Time to get up Chuck.”

What Was I Trying To Say?
In essence: we need to figure out how to care for the growing number of Alzheimer patients not only here, but world-wide.

(This LA Progressive article from 2012 and is mostly a rant against the Right, but it does raise the issues that poverty and Alzheimer’s raise…though it has no answer for those issues… https://www.laprogressive.com/poverty-and-alzheimers/); GOOGLE-ing “Poverty and Alzheimer’s” just gets me more hand-wringing articles interspersed with advertising for expensive “Memory Care” living. (Don’t get me wrong, the people who work for these NYSE companies actually care – it’s the CEOs and shareholders who saw a chance to make bank playing off of people’s fear of dying without memories and families stressed to the breaking point and incapable of doing anything but finding the best care for Mom and Dad even if it bankrupts them…Why does this sound like the Housing Bubble crisis?)

The Rest of the Story:
Plague intervenes, the world’s population is wiped out, but Dad survives because he lives in a sealed environment and the AI pretends to be the son and his wife, as well as brief forays into impersonating my mom.

As infrastructure breaks down outside and Dad’s Alzheimer’s grows worse, the AI debates how to end it all. Finally, a year later, the external power dies and the solar panels are covered with dust – nothing had been built that could survive long with no maintenance. Yet Dad still lives. Does the AI overdose him? Does it starve him? Does it shut down and just let him live as long as he can? Does it “release him into the wild”?

I actually don’t end the story…

End Analysis:
It’s depressing, out and out. On the other hand, why is it any more depressing than the original? “There Will Come Soft Rains” was published at the very height of the Cold War when the US and the USSR were constantly rattling their sabers. There’s a scene that imprinted itself on my young mind: “The entire west face of the house was black, save for five places. Here the silhouette in paint of a man mowing a lawn. Here, as in a
photograph, a woman bent to pick flowers. Still farther over, their images burned on wood in one titanic instant, a small boy, hands flung into the air; higher up, the image of a thrown ball, and opposite him a girl, hands raised to catch a ball which never came down.” (http://www.btboces.org/Downloads/7_There%20Will%20Come%20Soft%20Rains%20by%20Ray%20Bradbury.pdf)

Bradbury’s story ends up with the house burning down, unable to fend for itself any more. Why was this published in a magazine “everyone” read? I think it was because it was impersonal. While nuclear devastation was a fear, the ultimate victory of Americans over Russians was an ideal held with religious fervor.

Not so with Alzheimer’s. I fear it with a visceral terror. I know there are plenty of others who do as well; possibly even the CEOs of all those for profit corporations they preside over…who preside over the draining of billions of dollars of personal savings…

Can This Story Be Saved?
Like I said, it’s personal. I can make some tweaks, but in the long run, most of us don’t want to think about Alzheimer’s if we don’t have to. I tried all the top markets with this one: ANALOG, CLARKESWORLD, F&SF, COMPELLING, ASIMOV’s, ESCAPE POD, and APEX. I might just post it on the blog…or I might try a rewrite.

Anyone have a thought?


June 14, 2018

LOVE IN A TIME OF ALIEN INVASION -- CHAPTER 89 The Trials of Team Two - 3


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 Xiomara; 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)

Xurf snapped his jaws, “Then we shall do it. I place the safety of my body on your back, Zei-go.”

The Yown’Hoo whistled orders to his tiny Herd and as the Kiiote changed shape and mounted, he felt a strange strength flow through him.

Zei-go said, “I will trust your sense of smell to direct me wisely,” he paused, adding the Human words, “My friend.”

Xurf placed a hand on the side of Zei-go’s neck, leaned forward, and said, “I will hold your trust as I would hold a puppy. My friend.”

Zei-go surged forward and Herd and Pack, merged as if they were some strange coyote-and-llama centaur, thundered into the light of the setting sun.


Two hours later, it was pitch dark out. The Herd leader said, “I cannot run any longer on my own sight. Everything has become so dim to me that in these woods, I’m afraid I’ll run into a tree or rush under a branch that impales you.”

“I agree. We should stop.”

The Herd slowed and Xurf gave the signal to return to the lower form. Shortly, the mixed Herd and Pack – seven of them, one third of the North American Triad – was huddled beneath the heavy, thick branches of a massive white pine. “Do we wait the night?” said Fax.

“No,” said Xurf. “We have not been charged to stay hidden and safe. We must keep going.”

“How do we know where to find our goal?” said Eel-go-el, the youngest of the Herd.

“Scent,” said Xurf. “We seek a Human with a transport.” He paused, “A transport from our own people.”

Even Zei-go snapped his tentacles in surprise. “An unusual arrangement, indeed. How can we travel unseen if we use such obvious transport?”

Xurf snorted and farted emphatically, “Retired has assured me that the vehicle is ancient, possibly even from the earliest reconnaissance of this world as a nursery. It would be essentially undetectable to current Kiiote and Yown’Hoo technology.”

“Though Humans might note it.”

Xurf shook himself. “Human technology has descended to the level of ‘stone knives and bear skins’.”

“What does that mean?” said Doj, a faint whine of worry in his voice.

“Nothing,” said Zei-go. “Human technology was as nothing compared to our civilizations when we arrived. It has broken down even further since then.”

Hil-hi-el, Second of the tiny Herd said, “We may have mighty fleets in space, but the moral fiber of our people has decayed so far that we are fortunate to still be able to fly them. The day is coming that we will have fallen so far that we will have no knowledge of how the ships fly.”

The entire group turned to look at the small Yown’Hoo. He slipped his pack from his back and pulled forth a tube which he bent. It started to glow blue. He said, “This will be difficult to detect during the night and will provide an adequate amount of heat for us to survive until morning.”

Xurf looked to Zei-go. Certain basic emotions were easy enough to read among the three species – not because they shared them but because they had grown so familiar. Other times, responses had been adopted across species lines – acknowledgement had once been a head nod by Humans, tip of a tentacle flick from Yown’Hoo, and a tightly-squeezed fart from the Kiiote. Now all three nodded. Irritation had once been a Human scowl, a Yown’Hoo shiver, and a Kiiote jaw snap – all three snapped their jaws now. Other body language had been adapted or adopted over the years until the nineteen members of the Triad spoke its own language in some ways.

One thing remained the same, however: fear of the future. All three shivered; as the six-member Herd-Pack and Pack-Herd did just then and huddled closer to the heating stick. “Xurf and I will take first watch. Doj and Ell-go-el, middle watch; Fax and Jus-hi-el Last watch of the night. At first light, we will set off and not rest until we find the Human that Retired has set us to recruit.”

“What if it has no wish to be recruited?” asked Jus-hi-el.

Zei-go turned to Xurf who said, “Then we kill it and take what we need under Lieutenant Commander Patrick Bakhsh’s order.” This time Xurf did not stumble over the Human name. He didn’t stumble because it was the moment of commitment. This small Pack-Herd would do what it had to do or die trying.


June 12, 2018

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 359

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: Dystopia Is Hard

Adéla Stoica hung her head. She’d practiced abject submission just like all the other teenagers in the Orientation Class did. Beside her, Enio Cassar did the same thing.

What the Master before them didn’t see was Adéla open her eyes and shoot a sideways glance.

This time she beat Enio to the punch and could barely hold in the giggle that bubbled up inside of her when he opened his eyes an instant later. They were supposed to be contemplating the worthlessness of their own lives in submission to the Great Cause. She sighed – an acceptable sound – because the Masters of the Great Cause thought they’d beaten everyone down.

Standing before the class, Master Farkas scowled at her. He said to the class in Esperanto, the Language of Submission, “Estas bone ke vi kontempli vian propran senvaloreco ĉiutage, kaj konsideru la grandecon de la Lando anstataŭe.”

This time Enio sighed. It was the motto of the regime, “It is good that you contemplate your own worthlessness every day, and consider the greatness of the Country instead.” The education of the youth after fourteen years of the Society of the Great Cause was predictable. Master Farkas continued, “It should make you feel the weight of that responsibility so deeply that your spirit groans with the burden of it. It is only through sacrifice to society that the individual might live best. It is only through society that all wisdom, all knowledge and all discovery might be directed by the National Science Foundation. Through that wisdom, humanity might live again in the luxury to which it had become accustomed.”

Enio muttered, “Ai mund të marrë zbetë e tij idiot horseshit gojën dhe të fus atë deri gomar e tij, ku ai erdhi nga." Like everyone else at the camp, their mother language was the one they cursed and made love in; Esperanto was the language they learned to mock in; English was the language everyone could communicate across ethnic walls in. Of course, there were to BE no ethnic walls because the Great Cause united all of North America into one Cause – the betterment of humanity.

It was too bad Master Farkas was also a linguist from the Old Order. His gaze arrested Enio and he said in the same language, “Merrni ass tuaj i dobët këtu lart tani, ju mut pak.” Enio’s eyes bulged as Master Farkas added, “Your girlfriend can come up here, too.”

“She’s not my girlfriend,” Enio blurted.

Adéla elbowed him and they stood their ground. The line behind theirs shoved them forward and the lines in front of them opened up. She looked at them and said, “Cowards.” But none of them looked the slightest bit afraid. They looked bored. Like they wanted something interesting to happen; kill the mold growing on their lives of dull sameness. Like jackals. When Master Farkas looked up at them though, their faces transformed to slack idiocy then morphed into hanging heads.

He gestured to them and led them out of the classroom, his white lab coat flapping behind him. Two other technicians wearing the shorter, lower-ranked blue lab coats went into the classroom to take his place. Leading them down a half dozen short flights of stairs, he stopped at a metal door and used his passkey to unlock it. Pushing it open, Adéla and Enio could see that a huge screen covered one wall and that a face filled the screen, looking at them. Master Farkas grabbed Enio’s arm and shoved him into the room. Enio sighed and walked in. “I can’t believe you’re doing this…” The door slammed ponderously.

He touched Adéla’s shoulder and said, “You’re next.”

She knew exactly what was coming and shook her head, remembering the really fascinating books she’d read as a precocious two year old. First she grabbed her older brother’s copy of THE HUNGER GAMES and read it, then the other six sequels. She fell in love with Scott Westerfeld’s UGLIES books. Devoured Haddix’s  THE HIDDEN. Every dystopian book she could find from HG Well’s TIME MACHINE to the seven LAST SURVIVORS books; she read and cherished in her heart.

Then the Great Cause overtook the countries of North America – and her life had been tedious boredom ever since...

Names: Czech, Romania ; ♂Albania, Malta
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

June 10, 2018

Dr. Claudia Alexander -- NASA Project Director, Victim of Breast Cancer, and Steampunk Author (Commonly Known as a Jack of All Trades)



I've never done this before -- cross-posted from GUY'S GOTTA TALK ABOUT BREAST CANCER & ALZHEIMER'S blog, but I realized this morning that not ONLY was Claudia Alexander a victim of breast cancer, she was ALSO a Steampunk author as well as managing several projects at NASA! So, from my Breast Cancer blog at http://breastcancerreaper.blogspot.com/, I give you the following eulogy written by the LA Time three years ago this August. I've also included the TED talk she gave about engaging young people in the sciences. And a link to her stories! From this point, I've just pasted the original article into this blog...

From the first moment my wife discovered she had breast cancer, there was a deafening silence from the men I know. Even ones whose wives, mothers or girlfriends had breast cancer seemed to have received a gag order from some Central Cancer Command and did little more than mumble about the experience. Not one to shut up for any known reason, I started this blog…That was four years ago – as time passed, people searching for answers stumbled across my blog and checked out what I had to say. The following entry appeared in August of 2015.

Colleagues at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory said Claudia Alexander was particularly keen on engaging the public in space science. In her spare time, she wrote two books on science for children.

Claudia Alexander, a NASA scientist who oversaw the dramatic conclusion of the space agency's long-lived Galileo mission to Jupiter and managed the United States' role in the international comet-chasing Rosetta project, died July 11, 2015 at Methodist Hospital of Southern California in Arcadia. She was 56.

The cause was breast cancer, said her sister, Suzanne Alexander.

During nearly three decades at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, Alexander was known for her research on subjects including solar wind, Jupiter and its moons, and the evolution and inner workings of comets.

JPL scientist Claudia Alexander, pictured in 2014, was the U.S. manager for the international comet-chasing Rosetta project. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

She was the last project manager of Galileo, one of the most successful missions for exploring the distant reaches of the solar system. Alexander was leading the mission when scientists orchestrated its death dive into Jupiter's dense atmosphere in 2003, when the spacecraft finally ran out of fuel after eight years orbiting the giant planet.

Most recently, she was Rosetta's U.S. project manager, coordinating with the European Space Agency on the orbiter's journey to rendezvous with the 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet as it circles the sun.

Colleagues said Alexander was particularly keen on engaging the public in space science.

She spearheaded Rosetta's efforts to involve amateur astronomers through social media and recognize the value of their ground-level observations of the spacecraft's path toward deep space. In particular, she spurred the creation of a Facebook group where members of the amateur community post comments on their sightings and interact with her and other scientists.

“Claudia's vision was to engage and empower the amateur community via various social media… a new wrinkle on the concept” of public engagement in NASA’s missions, said Padma A. Yanamandra-Fisher, a senior research scientist with the Space Science Institute who coordinated the outreach.

I was a pretty lonely girl. I was the only black girl in pretty much an all-white school and spent a lot of time by myself -- with my imagination.- Claudia Alexander

She "had a special understanding of how scientific discovery affects us all, and how our greatest achievements are the result of teamwork, which came easily to her," JPL director Charles Elachi said in a statement. "Her insight into the scientific process will be sorely missed."

Alexander was born in Vancouver, Canada, on May 30, 1959. She moved to the Silicon Valley with her family when she was 1 and grew up in Santa Clara. Her father, Harold Alexander, was a social worker and her mother, Gaynelle, was a corporate librarian for chip-maker Intel.

As an African American in a predominantly white community, Alexander felt isolated. Writing became a refuge for her.

According to the obituary: 'She wanted to study journalism at UC Berkeley, but her parents "would only agree to pay for it if I majored in something 'useful,' like engineering," she said in an interview for the Rosetta website.' Fortunately, her parents steered her...
"I was a pretty lonely girl," she recalled in a feature for the University of Michigan's Engineering Magazine. "I was the only black girl in pretty much an all-white school and spent a lot of time by myself — with my imagination."

She wanted to study journalism at UC Berkeley, but her parents "would only agree to pay for it if I majored in something 'useful,' like engineering," she said in an interview for the Rosetta website.

During college she became an engineering intern at NASA's Ames Research Center near San Jose. But she found herself drawn to the space facility and visited it as often as she could. Her supervisor eventually arranged for her to intern in the space science division.

She went on to earn a bachelor's degree in geophysics at UC Berkeley and a master's in geophysics and space physics at UCLA. At the University of Michigan, she wrote her doctoral thesis on comet thermophysical nuclear modeling and earned a PhD in atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences.

In 1986, she joined JPL as a team member for Galileo, which was still years from launching.

In 2000, she became Rosetta's U.S. project scientist at the relatively young age of 40.

"She was always looking to improve the project and make things flow better," said Paul Weissman, an interdisciplinary scientist on Rosetta. "Europeans can be difficult about collaborations. Claudia would get people to open up and work together."

In 2003, she became Galileo project manager, guiding efforts to destroy the venerable spacecraft to prevent it from accidentally crashing into and contaminating any of Jupiter's moons.

She had also served as a science coordinator on the Cassini mission to Saturn.

In her spare time, Alexander wrote two books on science for children and mentored young people, especially African American girls. "She wanted children of color to see themselves as scientists," her sister Suzanne said.

A fan of the steampunk movement in science fiction, Alexander wrote and published short stories in the genre. She wore the Victorian-style clothing associated with steampunk fashion when she taped a TED talk on how to engage youths in math and science. Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxzkw0EYHIw

Alexander was never married and had no children. Besides her mother and sister, she is survived by a brother, David Alexander.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times

Her story, "Leo's Mechanical Queen" is included in the anthology THE ANTHOLOGY OF DOCTOR WILLIAM SHAKES... ( https://scottfarrellauthor.com/book/omnibus-doctor-bill-shakes-magnificent-ionic-pentatetrameter/ )

June 7, 2018

Cooper High School Class of 2018! Young Men and Women of Whom I Am Proud!

No post on Thursday, June 7, 2018 because of the following:
Congratulations to the Cooper High School Class of 2018 (that's me, the white blob just to the right of the center pole of the goal posts...

June 5, 2018

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 358


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: Human animal Chimeras                     

Kaimana took a deep breath before he managed to say, “If we were the only ones they made…”

Rawiri swung her tail through a riptide, opening her mouth to show the serrated edges of tiny shark teeth, and disrupting the chaotic swirl with concentrated sonar. The water calmed instantly. “I wouldn’t start a race of urgizon [Basque for “merman”] with you if you had the last…”

“Hey! I’m right here!”

She cast him in sonic shadow and said, “I know. Now shut up and listen. Their voices are hard enough to stand above water; salt water’s wreaking havoc with their tones!”

They drifted three meters below the trawler, easily avoiding the nets the boat had dropped. Kaimana said, “They aren’t fishing much…”

“That’s because they’re smugglers, stupid!” She pitched her voice so high, he winced.

“Of course they’re smugglers – and they have a static tube filled with embryos of our clade.”

Rawiri shot a querying drab of sonar. “I didn’t think you’d noticed.”

“Hard not to. The suspension fluid’s so dense it even shows up in the air.”

“How did you…”

He gnashed his teeth, every bit as sharp and hard as hers, then said, “I may be two generations behind you, but they were well on their way in breeding for smarts even before they got to me. It’s expression my generation struggles with.” He sent an obscene blast of sonar at her, deliberately clipping her tail so all she caught was a taste of dirty water. He added, “I hear your generation’s genechanics slipped up a bit on temperament.”

She spun, using her sonar to vibrate his intestines – and had the forceful blast ricochet back at her, albeit at a greatly reduced volume. “We have some secrets, too, daughter.” She opened her mouth just as the Humans in the boat started up their engine, flooding the area with so much noise, she could barely hear herself think. As the boat roared away, Kaimana added, “Our only choice is to kill and eat them, daughter. Would you like that?”

She spiraled to the surface, gulped air, then dove back, barely missing him in pursuit of the ship. As he watched her go, Kaimana wondered if the genchanics had gone too far in the other direction – eschewing the philosopher and psychologist for the warrior. He followed her, muttering, “Only time will tell…”

Names: Maori ; ♂ Hawaiian

June 3, 2018

WRITING ADVICE – Lisa Cron #2: The Solution To Two PLOT Problems In Order To Meet Reader Expectations In My Work In Progress…


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, 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/)

2. The reader expects the story to revolve around one, single plot problem that grows, escalates and complicates, which the protagonist has no choice but to deal with…The plot problem is constructed to force the protagonist to confront, struggle with, and hopefully overcome a long standing internal problem…Can my plot problem grow, escalate and complicate from the first page to the last? If so, can it force my protagonist to struggle internally, spurring her to make a much needed internal change in order to resolve it?

I just got Lisa Cron’s book from the library, WIRED FOR STORY, and from the introduction, I’ve already learned something! Using clear references from brain research, she makes the point that “Story is what enabled us to imagine what might happen in the future, and so prepare us for it – a feat no other species can lay claim to, opposable thumbs or not.”

Whew! I expect that this will be a book I’ll buy soon so I can write in it. I will also make sure the kids in the Writing To Get Published classes know about it.

Back to the point at hand. I’ll be analyzing my work in progress through the lens of this expectation, which is currently called “Road Veterinarian”. I’m not going to go into plot detail mainly because the point above is concerned with character motivation.

Dr. Scramble – who I WANTED to call Dr. Scrabble, but the word is a trademark and I don’t want to get into trouble – is an urban veterinarian and researcher. He works with people who don’t have big budgets but need big budget things done with animals. But until this moment, I didn’t realize that Dr. Scramble – whose real name is Javier Quinn Xiong Zamar (Spanish (place name); Gaelic/Irish (descendant of Conn = wisdom, reason, intelligence); Chinese (cultural hero); Arabic (= secret)) – had NO motivation for doing what he’s doing.

But he’s got this job where he could make loads of money if he moved to the suburbs (which are being subsumed into the monolithic Vertical Villages, which are growing because the population of Earth has reached ten billion and the surface has to be returned to its wild and/or cultivated state. A loose world-wide confederation f independent states (NOT the United Nations any more) and seated in New Zealand (I think) has declared that Humans on Earth need to move to one of 20,000 Vertical Villages. He lives in the growing shadow of the Minneapolis Saint Paul Vertical Village (from a future I’ve created that culminates with Humans joining a Unity of Sentients whose foundation is interconnected debt…)

But who the heck IS he???
Until I started reading Cron’s book, I didn’t think it was important. His presence served my purposes…but now, apparently, I can’t really write the story until I know what his motivation is. So, you’ll now witness the creation of a character so that he will WORK in the story I’m writing!

Outward motivation: he’s a veterinarian, but WHY? He grew up in Minnesota, so that’s established. Northern Minnesota. In his time, roughly 60-80 years from now, the decay of the iron industry is complete and that part of the state has become a haven for the elderly – those who were born in the early years of the 21st Century. They’re characterized as Generation Z (born between 1995 and 2010): the complete integration of social media into their personal lives; AVATAR and HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL; the Disney channel, the submersion into porn; the rapid Islamization and sexual fluidity of Western society; their learning takes place online, but they have a terrible time separating fact from fiction; they believe that they will be in debt to others for the rest of their lives; as far as their pets go, they depend on veterinarians (one MORE debt) but see their parents more involved with PETS than they are with kids (whom they may treat as pets), they prefer non-traditional venues for their pet services, they are VERY eclectic in their ownership…

So Javier grew up as a child/pet and resented it. OTOH, his parents hated taking their pets to a “veterinarian” rather than the trendier Pet Hospital or (even worse), Animal Hospital, Pet Health Center, Veterinary Center, Partners in Veterinary Health Care, Animal Wellness Center, Advanced Veterinary Care…etc… He showed an aptitude for science, biology in particular, and they cultivated it, giving him more and more care of their iguana, pot-bellied pig, Hyacinthine Macaw, mouse house, Emerald Tree Boa, and turquoise Discus 400 gallon tank and four 40 gallon breeding tanks – with the intent of breeding a true Emerald Discus (they like green). Both of them are licensed, practicing pharmacists in a Box Store with a bent toward holistic remedies. Both of them were opioid addicts when they were YA and so he cannot EVER have painkillers. He is an only child as well (though mom had six miscarriages between 14 and 36 when she carried him to term and dad had two other kids outside of marriage and has no idea where they ended up; they married each other at 41 (dad) and 43 (mom) and he was born a year later without any kind of intervention). As they lost interest in taking care of their pets, that fell more and more to him. Then they were killed in a car accident (one of the newest, safest auto-autos) when he was 13 and all of the animals were sold off. He remained for the rest of his life with an older couple who were friends of his parents and who had two old dogs and a cat; until he graduated when he was 18 and went to college to be a vet because the dogs and cat were his only real companions…

So – his motivation to become a vet was to make sure he had someone around him at all times. Someone he could trust, someone who would take care of him. He narrowly escaped a drug addiction after starting to use a chemical called pegfilgrastim, originally used to stimulates to production of white blood cells after cancer chemotherapy, but with the conquering of 86% of cancers, there was an overabundance of it that made its way to the drug cartels. It became important after a mutation in the AIDS virus created a strain that could survive in saliva and mucus and was viable when passed by sneezing, called “pneumAIDS”. More virulent than the original AIDS virus, it was suspected that it was a Russian, Chinese, or North Korean bioweapon. The street name for pegfilgrastim became Boost, Stimwhite, SWBC (or Sweet Becky), and Peg or Phil (it became a trend to genderize the drug based on sex).

He lost friends to it and became more or less a loner, dependent on his animals. He preferred the anonymity of the city and had no trouble running his business from there as if it wasn’t actual animal treatment, he could consult anywhere in the world.

His motivation: don’t let anyone get close to you; help and trust animals (but don’t be stupid about it!); live and let live.

“Road Veterinarian” draws on his skills; he also has to interact with a very big woman, whom, he comes to suspect, is the product of some sort of genetic engineering or gene grafting…she looks like an attractive Bigfoot. The external story will be the two of them – she’ll be named Theodora Ujin Thatcher (Theodora: Empress of Byzantine Empire; wife of Ghengis Khan; first female PM of the UK) – who is very protective of her own heart – working together to save America from war with Canada…

They will each let the other get a little closer to them (they’ll also be sarcastic and there WILL be humor…)

So, there you go. Development of character in order to satisfy Reader Expectation #2!


June 2, 2018

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 127: Aster of Opportunity


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. 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.

“There’s a snake loose in your paradise, Dear Consort,” said Aster Theilen, former office pool; unintentionally become current Consort of Mayor-for-Life (something like fourth or thirty-fourth in a line of women seriously escorting) his Excellency Etaraxis Ginunga-Gap.

Etaraxis said, “vo’Maddux can’t…”

“Not her. She’s more like the bull in the china shop.”

“The what?”

“Doesn’t matter – an old Earth saying Dad would toss at me when I got overly enthusiastic about something but didn’t understand exactly what I was doing.”

Etaraxis nodded slowly. “So, this snake?”

“Nothing certain yet, but my source seems to think that it will strike soon – and it will strike here.”

He frowned. “I can tell you know something – who?”

“I don’t have any real evidence…”

He held up an imperious hand, and unlike many things he did, it irritated her. He was, in fact the Mayor-for-Life, typically benevolent like his childhood Earth hero, Paul Biya, President-for-Life of the prominent nation of Cameroon; but the gesture was so…He broke into a wide grin and held up his hands in surrender, saying, “If looks could kill, dear Consort, you would be arrested for my assassination in a moment!”

Aster stomped her foot in fury, knew exactly when she fit an ancient stereotype and flushed with just as much fury. The smile fell from his face and he said immediately after, “Forgive me, Aster Theilen. I went too far.”

She growled, tilted her head into her hand to rub her temples, then looked up and said, “One of your aides, Shafter?” He scowled, gesturing for her to continue. “FardusAH and I were discussing the Orphan’s Ball and he passed us coming out of your office. He’d just delivered a pile of encrypted, ‘Physical Transfer Only’ chips to your desk. FardusAH’s friendly to him, but all he ever does is glower. I think he’s irritated because he believes she thinks she’s better than him.”

“He thinks that of everyone – even the ones he’s stepped on to climb as high as he can in the Bureaucracy, but go on.”

She hummed. “He lived on the Rim at one time, so I know he’s a valuable source of information about what happens there. He’d slowed his stride, listening until he couldn’t linger any longer without making us think he was eavesdropping. After he was past us and the door slid closed behind him – and she ran a proximity check on him to make sure he wasn’t listening outside – she said, ‘Credits to beignets he’s headed one place: to see how much this little bit of intel will buy him with Security Director vo’Maddux.’”

Etaraxis was listening intently now, “Go on.”

“FardusAH said, ‘Vo’Maddux may hate you, but based on a my quick assessment of the Mayor’s three biggest backers, your ideas are going to be a hit for the season.’”

The Mayor exhaled sharply. “I’m not surprised by the general public supporting the Ball – they love nothing better than to spy on bigwigs and hobnob with the wealthy and intelligent. But if – who, Castro, Naidoo, and Zhāng?” Aster nodded, “…give the Ball their blessing, the rest of the Opportunity will pretty much fall into line.” He studied her a moment longer, “I may have to extend our contract, Dear. You’re starting to make yourself indispensable to me.”

Aster felt the blush on her ears, saying, “I’m doing the job you wanted me to do. I’m trying to be a good Consort.”

He sniffed, “You’re doing more than just being a good Consort, Aster – you’re becoming a power in the Dome.” He squinted slightly for an instant then said, “I have to think about this, send some of my own security snooping,” at her small gasp, she brushed off her concern, “No torture – actual Service footwork. I need to know what’s going on.” He pursed his lips, “And you need to actually hire a Service worker – this could get much worse before it gets any better. Would your friend, FardusAH be interested in a promotion to your personal Security detachment?”

Aster hummed, nodded, and said, “I’ll talk to her shortly.”


May 29, 2018

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 357


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

Fantasy Trope: Witchcraft For World Peace!!!
Current Event:

Saga Pai-Teles shook her head then said, “How much do you really expect us to accomplish?”

Djamel Vlach sighed, “I’m sure nothing, but what else can we do that might even conceivably make a difference? I’m not a soldier, and unless you enlisted in the Royal Marines or fought a stint with the Aegis Mercenaries in the past few months, I’m pretty sure you don’t have much experience with fighting, either.”

“But we’re not ‘fighting’ – not like that anyway. Our powers are of Earth, wind, ice, fire, and water.”

“Sounds like the name of an American band from the nineteen seventies.” She frowned at him and made a faint movement with her fingers. He laughed, “You think charms and wardings are going to be able to stave off the black market weaponry of Daesh, or Boko Haram, or the Taliban?”

“Shows how much YOU know! We’re not here to fight anger with anger. We’re here to fight anger with the power of nature and of the true spirit of Humanity. There are way more...”

Djamel wasn’t listening to her. His eyes had grown wide. “OK! Now you’re talking! Taking out Daesh with a hurricane or an earthquake or even a flood is totally cool! I could get into that and I even have a couple of spells that enhance water movement!”

“That’s not what I was talking about,” she stopped talking abruptly. “Then again, I have a couple of other spells that help anyone who’s got a gift for dowsing.”

“What’s that?”

She looked at him steadily and when she had his complete attention, she said, “Dowsing is all about FINDING water, Djamel. If I could find the water…”

“I could direct it.” Djamel scowled again. “My powers aren’t that…um…powerful.”

“Mine, neither. What we need is someone who can magnify or enhance our simple powers,” Saga said.

“I don’t have simple powers! They’re plenty strong enough!”

“That’s not what I meant! In order to deal world peace and muffle terrorism in our time, we have to overcome terror with peace. But it can’t be done if we’re weak.”

“We need, like, a talisman.”

“A crystal, or a…” Sag was saying.

Djamel cut her off, “The Vial of Trench!”

“What’s that?”

“A Vial of water collected from the bottom of the Marianas Trench.” He looked down at her, “Can you think of a more powerful talisman to increase our mission to bring peace on Earth than focusing our meager powers through a vial of water from the bottom of the Earth’s sea?”

“I can’t…”

“We’ll do it and it’ll start now?”

Names: Finland, Portugal; ♂ Algeria, Hungary