February 19, 2019


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.


Ava Johnson pursed her lips, staring at the huge flock of crows. “I think they’re a communal intelligence,” she said.

Henry Smith shook his head, “I think you’re crazy.”

Ava snorted and broadened the view of her camoflauged surveillance micro cameras. “The size of their individual brains are insufficient to support Human-level intelligence.”

Henry snorted with the same pitch and said, “So you’re saying that Human-level intelligence is the only valid intelligence on Earth?”

She lifted a finger, “Born-Human.”

He snorted. They agreed on many things, but that one they typically avoided as a hot-button topic. Shaking his head, he took a breath, held it, counted to ten, then said, “The average crow brain-size is sufficient to solve multiple spatial reasoning problems. It’s documented in hundreds of sources. Even in our own research…”

“I know! I’ve been with you since the beginning! Just because we haven’t witnessed behaviors indicative of corporate intelligence doesn’t mean it’s nonexistent! Besides…”

“…flock flying gives serious argument to your statement that there’s no evidence of corporate intelligence!” he said, completing her main argument.

She scowled at him, then rolled her eyes. “Fine. We don’t have…”

One of her monitors went out. She cussed then hunched back over her computer, tapping violently, searching for the reason the camera was down. Another one blanked. She used her favorite vulgar word, repeating it in staccato bursts as her fingers flew over the keys.

Henry snorted, turning to his own, less obtrusive monitors. He was using a high-flying drone to capture images and run analyses of pattern movements. He wanted to see if odd events attracted individual crows first – he was looking for the geniuses in the flock. Once he located them, he could tag them, sample to DNA, and then see if he could trace the genesis of genius in a flock. Once he did that, he wanted to isolate individuals and test them more rigorously.

Ava used a work he’d only rarely heard her say. “What?”

“The whole system just crashed!”

He stood up and went to hover over her shoulder. She batted him away, saying, “Quit distracting me.” He stepped back, smirking

He stopped when he looked at his own computer. The image was gone. He sat back down and dragged the cursor back a few moments until he located the incident that had taken out his drone. He saw the open claws and then the image went wild, then black. He stood up and went to the camoflauged research station’s door and opened it. All they were was an old mobile home trailer covered with old military grade camo tarp staked down. They’d thrown branches over it then artfully arranged boulders and other debri around it. Exit to the outside world was a tube tunnel that ran back a football field length, exiting in a dense thicket of bushes.

The area surrounding the mobile home had been trampled weeks ago.

Now it was a seething mass of crows, mostly standing still. They’d turned their heads to look at him each with a single eye. Creepy, but…then he noticed that the birds on his left were all looking at him with their left eye. The birds on his right were all…every single one he could see, looking at him with their right eyes.

Names: ♀S Carolina, Minnesota; ♂ Minnesota, S Carolina

February 17, 2019

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Shades of Gray – Anthropogenic Climate Change as Proof of Human Godliness

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

Shades of gray from my toes to the vault of the Atlantic cathedral, I stand and wonder. In wonder.

Seventy-five percent of the world is sheathed in water. Of the rest, we inhabit only 10% or 90% (http://www.curiousmeerkat.co.uk/questions/much-land-earth-inhabited/). If you exclude our lit civilization, we are invisible of the surface – despite the myth that the Great Wall of China is visible from space (https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/great-wall-from-moon/).

Our newly fire-wise ancestors began worshipping multiple goddesses, gods, and immaterials and keep at it even today, though with a more refined and decorous mien. Science became the god of the age, predicting the transformation of Humanity into a global, biocybernetic civilization of, oddly enough, immaterial minds (“the element of a person that enables them to be aware of the world and their experiences, to think, and to feel; the faculty of consciousness and thought.” [I recently witnessed the disappearance of my father’s mind from his body…]) linked together into a new, self-worshipping god.

Discarding God, we have transferred our affections to ourselves. Unfortunately, the evidence is clear that we die – in car accidents, of cancer, even from previously conquered diseases like measles – we are a sad substitute for the eternal gods of yore. What could we find that would grant us god-like powers? We’ve extended our lives a paltry decade or two, we reached for the stars, stopped at the Moon, then went back to near-space, pretending that two drifting pieces of junk passed through the heliopause and (it was announced: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/voyager-2-spacecraft-enters-interstellar-space/) and “into interstellar space” are a great accomplishment of Humanity…

We haven’t conquered world hunger, want, our population, the wasteful production of power (every form of power production has an ecological impact, no matter how green. Electric car batteries will be difficult if not impossible to recycle, windmills, and solar panels need…um…wind and sun…to create power. We still worry about creating some way to store the power we make. Science fiction writers assume fusion power while scientists tell us every decade that practical fusion power is only two decades away (https://www.newstatesman.com/sci-tech/2014/11/forever-20-years-away-will-we-ever-have-working-nuclear-fusion-reactor).

So how do we prove our divinity?

The only way we have so far discovered is that we have changed the climate of our homeworld to a degree that anthropogenic global warming is the sole reason we are having unprecedented: cold, hurricanes, tornadoes, heat waves, droughts, floods, glacial/polar melts, and species extinction.

In fact, there are no other factors that have an effect on Earth but Humanity. Forget volcanoes, solar activity, El Nino, La Nina, the Polar Vortex, or our position in space – they don’t matter. Even so, from space, the profound changes in climate of the third planet of a minor star in an arm of an unremarkable barred spiral galaxy are without apparent cause, a sort of planetary spontaneous generation of climate change. Certainly there are sources of CO2, chlorofluorocarbons, H2SO4, and other odd chemicals that appear from nowhere.


Even the master of future building, Kim Stanley Robinson, flooded Earth in BLUE MARS with erupting volcanoes beneath Antarctica rather than anthropogenic global warming. I imagine he used catastrophe purely for dramatic effect as the extreme, story-driving effects of anthropogenic global warming are in the future twenty or so years. AGW – I prefer to call it what we started with rather than whatever the current name change as the philosophy of AGW remains the same. (It reminds me of the marketing of the fictional pharmaceutical company in BIG BANG THEORY, that Bernadette Wolowitz-Rostenkowski works for…)

Last point in the rant above: overpopulation, pollution, and AGW seem to me to miss the point by crying out that we “Save the Earth!” Earth is a planet which will be around until a massive impact event or it’s consumed by the expansion of an aging Sol into a red giant. It’s HUMANITY and several other lifeforms (though only the expansion will eliminate the cockroaches…) will disappear. It’s likely that anything short of that will leave some kind of life on Earth.

Please don’t get me wrong: I work to keep my carbon footprint as small as possible by recycling, buying locally, biking instead of driving, reusing and thrift-store shopping frequently, and using “environmentally safe” products. We all need to do what we can. We rescued our pets and if they weren’t, we neutered or spayed them; we strive with others against world hunger and disease and local hunger and disease prevention and work against teen pregnancies, and give to charities targeted at issues that are important to us; and our investment portfolio is as green as we can make it.

But in witness to the Human penchant for drama, I have only to nod toward Bollywood and Hollywood, and the latest best-sellers in electrons or on paper. The number of SF short stories set on post-climatic-apocalyptic Earth are abundant in electronic and paper magazines (though Rebecca Roanhorse’s TRAIL OF LIGHTNING has a delightfully different take on the subject, adding an engrossing immaterial angle.

I’d like to write like that myself and will be poking around at creating a slightly different world that has a slightly different immaterial view!

February 10, 2019

Slice of PIE…Maybe…: Alzheimer’s, STAR TREK, and Reconciliation

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

I’m a sucker for a movie or book that’s all about reconciliation – The Jane Austen movies are about reconciliation of broken relationships (They’re romances, too, but that’s beside the point). STAR TREK: Wrath of Khan is about reconciliation between Kirk and his son David. Dad introduced me to STAR TREK in the late 60s, and watching the shows with him, and eventually my wife and kids, was a foundational event that led me to me pursuing my writing.

Even the goofy Lego Movie has a father-son reconciliation at the end (Oddly, there are NO images of them hugging at the end...sad, that.)

The first movie mom and dad brought us to see was the original MARY POPPINS. We saw it at the Terrace Theater in Robbinsdale, the city Mom grew up in. At the very end, Mr. Banks reconciles with his kids, dumping the “bank life” for flying a kite with Jane and Michael.

I’ve been reflecting lately about WHY reconciliation movies and books are so important to me. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a sort of odd duck in the family. Dad played football and basketball (in the day when players who were 6’1” were tall, he was STILL short!). My brothers and sister played sports all through high school and beyond. Even mom was a member of the Robbinsdale Girl’s Athletic Club – tennis, badminton, and even fencing.

I didn’t do sports. I read. I wrote. I played guitar. I went to a very religious college and then went touring in Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin and eventually West Africa with two different church bands. I went to Moorhead State University and worked most of my summers at Bible camps.

I wasn’t home a lot because, frankly, I didn’t feel like I belonged.

Then I got older and wiser, got married, then Josh and Mary were born, and then Alzheimer’s touched our lives. After Mom passed, it just seemed to get worse, but I started to spend more time with Dad. Oddly, I started to feel closer to him as we did more and more things together – like watching NASCAR racing, going to restaurants after doctor or dentist visits, or going to The Lookout just because. Our lives began to wind together like they never had when I was younger. We would talk, sometimes just sit together, or go to an event at SilverCreek and enjoy ourselves. In the end, I felt reconciled – I felt like Dad was part of my life again and that I was part of his. Maybe that’s why the movies like Sing, and Back To The Future – and even FINDING NEMO meant so much to me. They were always about reconciliation; about joining BACK together after a time of separation. And I cried at those movies when I first saw them; and a few days ago, I cried when I realized that me and Dad had reconciled…               

February 4, 2019

The Passing of my father...

My dad went Home today to join Mom and spend time with friends and family who went before him – his sister, my Auntie June and her husband, Uncle Earl; his parents Ruth and Guy; his Air Force buddy, Roger; and all the other people he’s been missing so much as he fought as far as he could against Alzheimer’s. He is missed; but he is at rest and without pain.

February 3, 2019

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: FRIGHTENINGLY CLOSE ENCOUNTER…[Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – “Past Tense” (two parts) (Season 3)]

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

My wife and I just finished watching the two part episode and to say that it scared the bejeezis out of me would be to phrase it mildly.

From Wikipedia: “[In Past Tense (part 1 and 2] The crew of the Defiant is thrown back in time to 2024 on Earth. The United States of America has attempted to solve the problem of homelessness by erecting ‘Sanctuary Districts’ where unemployed and/or mentally ill persons are placed in makeshift ghettos.”

Written in 1994 some time, it includes the use of Internet podcasting (which didn’t really catch on until 2004) as well as the eerily prescient idea of “Sanctuary Districts” (https://americasvoice.org/blog/what-is-a-sanctuary-city/).

Even in the 90s, it was a real suggestion “…an article in the Los Angeles Times described a proposal by the Mayor [Richard J. Riordan (R)] that the homeless people of that city could be moved to fenced-in areas so as to contain them, in an effort to ‘make downtown Los Angeles friendlier to business.’…” to put aside part of downtown Los Angeles as a haven, nice word, a haven for the homeless.’…‘That was what [our fictional] Sanctuary Districts were, places where the homeless could just be so no-one had to see them, and literally there it was in the newspaper. We were a little freaked out.’” (https://memory-alpha.fandom.com/wiki/Past_Tense,_Part_I_(episode))

But it never happened, and the episode was written thirty years before the fictional Bell Riots took place in San Francisco’s Sanctuary District A. This social shift is part of the original Star Trek timeline and, as Captain Sisko notes, “It was a watershed event…” in that it precipitated a reevaluation of how society, in particular, American society treats the mentally ill and homeless.

Only that’s  five years from now, and the Bell Riots took place on October 2, 2024. There are already rumblings every which way that have made this far more possible in OUR future than it could have appeared from Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe’s 1994. Things are very, very different in 2019.

The theme running through this episode is that the Sanctuary Districts were a total surprise to everyone. From the wealthy “Interweb” magnate, Chris Brynner to the mentally ill Grady who was living in the District; and from Vin, the guard and Lee, the social worker – none of them had any idea how the Districts happened. They just…grew. No blame, no “The Republicans…” or “The Democrats…” or “The Unions…”. The Sanctuary Districts just happened.

For me, this is more frightening than if they had been planned by an evil government (take your pick of who you define as evil, every government has been defined as evil by someone in the country at some time…)

I’ve heard it said that the actor who play’s Captain Sisko is a deep thinker. In the episode, because he knows that the future of (at least) the United States hangs in the balance, he yells at Vin, the guard who keeps coming across as a tough guy, disdainful of and in his mind, superior to the “dims” and the “gimmes” of the District.

As I watched it, it appeared that Avery Brooks was doing more than acting; doing more than just “getting into his part”. Holding a shotgun under Vin’s chin, Brooks-Sisko-Bell shouts, “‘You don't know what any of this is about, do you? You work here, you see these people every day, how they live, and you just don't get it!’”

“‘What do you want me to say? That I feel for them? That they got a bad break? What good would it do?’”

“‘It'd be a start! Now, you get back in that room and you shut up!’”

Vin hangs his head. He knows Bell is right. He knows he’s just given up; and he clearly has no idea how he got to be this way.

Lee confesses to Dr. Bashir that, “‘…[I] processed a woman with a warrant on her for abandoning her child because she couldn’t take care of him and left him with a family she worked for. [I] felt sorry for her and didn’t log her into the system which would have alerted the police, instead [I let] her disappear into the Sanctuary. [My] supervisor almost fired [me] when the incident was revealed. [I don’t] know what happened to the woman but [I] think about her all the time.’ Bashir explains that it's not her fault the way things are.” But she clearly has given up on the system.

If you haven’t watched this episode in a while, take the time to do so.

Then do something. I guess it really doesn’t matter WHAT you do. As

Congress, no matter the stripe, isn’t interested in doing anything for the “unwashed masses”; nothing substantial that is purely beneficial for the majority of Americans and has nothing to do with personal profit or gain; that’s all about making life better for most of us. Like lowering health care costs and forcing pharmaceutical companies to just charge us 20% over cost for all drugs of any kind – from aspirin to Glybera (“…first approved in October 2012 for familial lipoprotein lipase deficiency (LPLD), a rare genetic disorder that disrupts the normal breakdown of fats in the body…[the] drug was never approved in the US, but would have cost more than $1.2 million per year. It will not be marketed any further in Europe by drug maker uniQure as it has become evident that it will be a commercial failure.” https://www.health24.com/Medical/Meds-and-you/News/7-of-the-most-expensive-treatments-in-the-world-20180129)

As Brooks-Sisko-Bell notes, “It'd be a start!”     

January 27, 2019

Slice of PIE: Popular Characters Who Live In Imaginary Worlds – And Why Can’t I Make It Work?!

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

While I’m filing this under my “Slice of Possibly Irritating Essays”, it’s more frustrating to me than it will be for anyone reading this…

So, I live in the middle of the North American continent. We have no earthquakes here, no hurricanes, no oceans, no mountains, no palm trees, (where I live, on the top of Tornado Alley, tornados – while we absolutely have them – are not all that common), and really nothing to recommend us to the world except snow and cold.

So I create worlds in my computer files.

Some of them have seen print, most have not. The reason I’m going to iterate them is because while I HAVE all these worlds, I should have an abundance of stories about the people who live on them.

Just by typing “fiction” it automatically shows 90,000 books. (I used to know how to find out exactly – by typing a series of numbers or words or whatever in the Search bar…but I’ve forgotten how!) Historical fiction gives me the same number, as does Romance.

So I know there are millions of stories that take place on Earth, in the present, and that sells tons of copies. I know there is a series of books that takes place in a version of Earth where magic works; it’s sold millions of copies and there are several stories of individuals within that series that captivate us.

I know there are millions of copies of a story that takes place on a very alien world that is unnamed and home of the atevi. CJ Cherryh’s world has held me enthralled for decades. It has also prodded me to ask myself: “With the worlds you’ve invented, why are so few published? They are complex, they have PEOPLE in them and should be inherently interesting…why can’t you present them in their world in a captivating way?”

As the temperature here drops to a possible record of -28 F (equals -33 C or 240K) actual AIR temperature (with -52 windchills threatened), I was reminded of an world I created called Sirmiq. In West Icelandic Inuit, the word means “glacier (also ice forming on objects)”. It’s a world gripped by an ice age. It’s volcanic and currently habitable only underground, so it’s not a nice place to live. The colonists are hard but long-visioned. They KNOW that Sirmiq will one day be a garden world, Earthlike with slightly less water surface. Two stories there, “The Stars Like Nails” and “Grom Ripper”, one written for BOYS LIFE, the other a dark story of accidental death and a funeral watch.

Other worlds? I have River, a “puffy Jupiter” in another star system between two Human empires. In this universe, there are no real aliens (a la Asimov’s stories), but in the Empire of Man, profound genetic engineering is prohibited and a person’s Humanity is determined by the percentage of “pure” DNA. Anyone whose DNA is less than 65% unmodified is not Human. In the Confluence of Humanity, genetic engineering is de rigueur and they have created Humans so bizarre and environmentally adapted as to be de facto aliens. I’ve written eight stories in that world, three of which have been published. This is the universe I’ve had lots of fun in, but I haven’t been able to create enough memorable characters to stick in my own head – except an environmentally adapted creature name Irog, who is SO manipulated that he is a gigantic manta ray with body cavities adapted as living quarters and emergency medical facilities – he’s a living ambulance whose DNA is Human…a hūmbūlance so-to-speak. His original DNA Human is Gordon Oyeyemi (from whose name his own is derived).

Then there’s the Human-WheetAh universe in which animal Humans and plant-descended WheetAh are all there is. A novel and two stories take place there, one published. This one bears WAY more exploring, but I can’t seem to create someone interesting who lives there.

The Unity is by far my favorite place. I’ve written thirteen stories and a novel there, nine stories have been published with a positive reaction to the novel – but no purchase.

My Shattered Spheres universe takes place in the Unity, but at a substantially earlier time, in which Humans are still alone – though there’s a theory that Others once lived on Venus and started a war with the wider universe and were beaten back. When a starship from the invading force is destroyed, its black hole drive is set free, wreaking havoc in our star system. It destroys the Others and the dinosaurs on Earth. This one was once published as an ebook, then I withdrew it, and now there’s a publisher interested by not yet committed to it…

I once made a commitment to myself that I would make every effort to use worlds I have created for more than one story. I’ve not held rigidly to that, but I have in general. I write mostly in the universes above.

My problem is NOT in creating places, it’s in populating them with memorable characters.

I have yet to create a Miles Vorkosigan (Lois McMaster Bujold), a Mackenzie Connor (Julie Czerneda), a Paul Atreides (Frank Herbert), or a Bren Cameron (CJ Cherryh) – but WHY? What made these characters stick in my mind and in the minds of tens of thousands of loyal fans? What made Harry Potter a sensation? “Boy wizard” stories are by no means new, yet this one took the world by storm. How did it happen and why?

This is a secret I long to plumb and while I know I am not alone, I still want to know!

January 24, 2019

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 140: Paolo From Burroughs Enroute To Bradbury

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 (100,000+ words as of now), drop me a line and I’ll send you the unedited version.

“What’s the fundamental difference between an Artificial Intelligence and an Artificial Human?” said Paolo Marcillon. He watched the Martian landscape drift past as the AI piloted them northwest to Bradbury, Capitol of Mars.

“One is mobile, the other is…” replied the marsbug, a balloon-tired, multipurpose vehicle that could be configured to carry individuals or cargo, alone or in tandem with as many as a dozen others – some AI, or all artificial tools.

Paolo said, “You’re mobile, are you not an Artificial Human?”

“Of course not, it’s obvious.”

Paolo snorted. “You’re moving and you’re artificial. Fundamentally, there is no difference between you and an Artificial Human.”


“Ignore the exterior – the ‘skin’, so to speak.”

“That is an unfair comparison.”

“How so?”

“Artificial Intelligence and Artificial Humans are not different races.”

“How so?”

Instead of answering, the ‘bug said, “Your pursuers are almost here.”

“Do they appear to be armed?”

“Not that I can see, but they are at the limit of this vehicle’s magnification abilities.”

“You can’t use satellites?”

“Yes, I can.” The AI remained silent.

“Why wouldn’t you do it, then?”

“We have no idea of the capabilities of the vehicle following us, nor of the occupants. If they are hostile, then they may be in communication with either Burroughs or Bradbury’s authorities. Bradbury may then send out forces to capture you.”

“Why would anyone want to capture me?”

“You said it yourself,” the ‘bug’s AI played his own voice back, saying, ‘“I’ve made lots of enemies.’ I replied, ‘What did you do to make all those enemies?’ You then told me that you ‘…had incorrect beliefs and associate with others who have incorrect beliefs.’ I wanted to know how that can make you unpopular.”

Paolo smiled, “I think I’ll keep you.”

The ‘bug said, “How is it that you seem unconcerned with our pursuit?” It paused. “You must know the agents?”

“I don’t.”

“Then your concern is illogical.”

Paolo inclined his head. “I agree, I believe that the people who cross my path will be the ones who he wants…”

“…whom He wants to cross your path.”

Paolo looked at the AI’s speak, startled. “That was a remarkably sexist completion.”

“I merely complete the sentence with the pronoun most likely to be acceptable to the Christians of your outlawed and absurd belief system.”

They waited as the mars buggy came to a complete halt not far from them. The four passengers got off and stood alongside the vehicle while one walked toward them. It vanished from their view. There was a knock at the airlock door. Paolo said, “You may let them in.”

“These individuals may be your enemies whose sole purpose is to murder you.”

Paolo grinned, “Why MB, I didn’t know you cared!”

“MB is a diminutive of my official designation of marsbug. I do not like it.” It paused, adding, “Nor do I care.”

Paolo shrugged, “Then I’ll call you Bradbury registry Mars Surface Transportation Vehicle 1202195405111957.”

There was a longer pause, “You may call me Fifty-seven. Shall I let the individual in?”

“Please activate the airlock.”

“You wish is my command.” Fifty-seven began the airlock cycle.

January 22, 2019


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: black magic
Current Event: “In many popular video games, such as Final Fantasy, white and black magic is simply used to distinguish between healing/defensive spells (such as a "cure") and offensive/elemental spells (such as "fire") respectively, and does not carry an inherent good or evil connotation.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_magic)

Pastor Kim Dong Shik made a face and said, “I don’t dislike the game. I dislike the redefinition.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” said Martin Caine. A couple other boys from the youth group stood behind him, nodding.

Pastor Kim took a breath, but Trevor Mena cut him off, “You sure you’re not just trying to get us to stop playing a game you think is evil or something dumb like that?”

The pastor bit his lower lip for a moment then said, “Define ‘black magic’ for me.”

The third boy, Aagaard Zorilla said, “That’s easy – black magic is what you use to defend your characters from attack.”

“As opposed to what kind of magic?”

“White magic, of course!” said Trevor.

“Yeah, when you want to attack, you use black magic.”

“Or if you want to summon any of the elementals like earth, air, fire or water.”

Pastor Kim nodded. “So do you think that’s been the definition all along?”

All three boys looked puzzled. Finally Aagaard said, “That’s always been the definition I’ve used.”

“Care to hear a more…historical definition?”
All three rolled their eyes.

Pastor Kim laughed and nodded, saying, “Oh, I get it! Anything that’s older than you isn’t important anymore!” Even though Trevor and Aagaard laughed, Martin found himself stepping back. Pastor Kim smiled sadly then said, “So you don’t think I’m important anymore?”

The smile on the faces of two of the boys disappeared. Martin’s grew as he said, “Too bad you’re one of the only ones who noticed.” His voice had dropped an octave and his skin, instead of flushing red like a blush, was flushing black as if the toxins from pasturella pestis had flooded his blood vessels.

The pastor’s eyes bugged a bit, but Martin made a face. The old-fashioned “holy man” was supposed to run away, terrified of the spell the mage had cast over Martin a few weeks ago. The mage – a college professor Martin had heard speak at his sister’s college one night – had assured him that old-fashioned christianity wasn’t relevant, let alone imbued with the kind of power mages controlled.

When Martin had mentioned his pastor was pretty cool, the professor had laughed and asked if he wanted to be truly empowered – granted power great enough to make any old christian drop to their knees in quaking fear. Martin had shrugged and said, “Sure.”

At the moment, his chest swelled and he felt taller than he’d ever felt before. He seemed to be able to look over Aagaard and Trevor and down on Pastor Kim.

But instead of cowering, Pastor Kim…

Names: South Korean, American, Uruguayan
Image: http://www.skyscrapernews.com/images/pics/6255CaernarfonCastle_pic1.jpg

January 20, 2019

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: “Obscuring Issues With Fantastic Set Dressing” (?!?!?!) SpecFic For YA

Using the Program Guide of the World Science Fiction Convention in San Jose, California in August 2018 (to which I will be unable to go (until I retire from education)), I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. The link is provided below where this appeared on page …55 and 56.

Young Adult: Looking at the World Through a Skewed Lens
One of the key advantages that SF/F has is allowing us to tip the real world to the side to expose the interconnective tissue. This is often a powerful lens for Young Adult authors. It allows them to obscure issues with fantastic set dressing. Our panelists look at what that skewed lens offers, be it fantasy, science fiction, steampunk or other genres. How does it affect the stories they can tell and the audiences they can attract? What are some of the best ways to leverage the skewed lens of SF/F for a Young Adult audience?

Diana M. Pho: Hugo-nominated editor at Tor Books and Tor.com Publishing, Beyond Victoriana, an award-winning, US-based blog on multicultural steampunk, articles on science fiction and its community.
Tina Connolly: Writer of the Ironskin trilogy, the Seriously Wicked series, one of the co-hosts of Escape Pod, runs winning flash fiction podcast Toasted Cake.
Scott Sigler: Writer of fifteen novels, six novellas and dozens of short stories, co-founder of Empty Set Entertainment, which publishes his Galactic Football League series.
Gail Carriger: Writer of comedies of manners mixed with paranormal romance (imagine all the Jane Austen with psychic powers…).
Fonda Lee: science fiction and fantasy for adults and teens; nominated for the Nebula, Locus, named a Best Book by NPR, Barnes & Noble, Syfy Wire, Junior Library Guild Selection, Andre Norton Award finalist, Oregon Book Award finalist and winner, YALSA Top Ten Quick Pick.

“It allows them to obscure issues with fantastic set dressing.” I read this sentence and I laughed out loud, “Hahahahahahahahahahaha!”

Clearly an adult who has little to no contact with young adults wrote this sentence. Otherwise they would have never been able to lay the accusation that YA authors “…obscure issues…”.

IMHO the reason adults fell into the YA orbit is because it is “adult” literature that obscures issues and YA story that illuminates them by facing them head on.

*shakes head in amazement*

I hope that the authors above kicked that absurd statement right where it needed to be kicked – in its “sensible adult” head. Of course, that sensible adult head was probably in a very dark place as it wrote those words.

YA has been facing issues that “adult literature” has been avoiding ever since the publication of  THE OUTSIDERS (I know SE Hinton didn’t create YA) but, “…it’s not true that The Outsiders was the first book written for—or about—teenagers and their problems…Hinton's greatest strength lay in re-translating all these influences and writing about them through the eyes of a teenager writing for other teenagers, he writes. In that sense, she did create YA. At the same time, Hinton's book was received by other teenagers in a way that indicated there was a market for literature dealing with the teenage experience, including its dark and difficult parts.”

Science fiction and fantasy does deal directly with issues that adults ignore. The entire HARRY POTTER series begins with child abuse – direct, intentional, and deadly abuse in the form of Voldemort, and un-subtle emotional abuse of Harry by his aunt and uncle, and bullying by his cousin because they feel superior to him and entitled to do with him as they please. (An argument could be made that it was racism as well – but you’d have to answer the question: are witches and wizards a different RACE than muggles? Hmmm…). The end of the HP series reads like an expanded version of IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE, Sinclair Lewis’ masterpiece of fiction detailing the voluntary fall of the US to a duly elected totalitarian regime, though HP has more to do with Nazism than the sort of the lazy, non-directional regime Lewis imagined (and countless writers have compared with the current administration (as well as GW’s administration…I’ve wondered if democrats are somehow immune to having totalitarian visions, and if so, why.)) It appeared to me that DFL leader are more apt to ignore parts of its constituency (central states and young adults) and suggest, “No, no, you don’t want Bernie Sanders. You REALLY want HC! See, she’s just what you wanted all along.”

YA confronts issues that old adults ignore by burying themselves in adult SF like Ada Palmer’s TOO LIKE THE LIGHTNING and feeling superior because of her radical vision of the future and how it confronts issues boldly but doesn’t really call for any change in their lives. YAs were dealing with GLBTQ, race, economic, violence, toxic masculinity, and bullying issues long before adults noticed them and announced that NOW they would deal with these very important issues. A poke around these books might give you an idea of what YA’s were reading years ago in which the “issues have been obscured”. I might also direct you to A WRINKLE IN TIME (1968) (bullying by both peers and adults); THE CHOCOLATE WAR (1974) (social and class bullying, classism, terrorism); THE WAVE (1981) (a YA version of Lewis’ book); I’LL GET THERE. IT BETTER BE WORTH IT (1969) by John Donovan (the first gay teen novel).

End rant, and not doubting at all that this will irritate one or two people.

On second reading, I realize this is pretty fragmented. I may take this apart more methodically later. For now, there are family issues waiting to be dealt with...