April 26, 2015

Slice of PIE: Leaving Science Fiction

As I sit here, my son, his wife, and my two grandchildren are travelling to their new home in South Korea where they will stay for the next three years.

I cannot quite explain the complex mix of emotions I have – I’m thrilled that they are embarking on a new adventure. I’m terrified that my grandchildren will forget me the way I forgot my grandfather. (All I can bring up of him is a black and white picture of him sitting at the desk of his job at a pipe fitting company. I don’t remember anything else...) I’m proud that my son – along with his family – are serving the country

As is often the case when I am confused, I turn to writing.

Do any science fiction books have the theme of “leaving”.

Huh…as I never asked the question before, I never noticed how profoundly  the idea was woven into the fabric of science fiction.

From Jules Verne’s FROM EARTH TO THE MOON in 1865, to Robert A Heinlein’s PODKAYNE OF MARS and HAVE SPACESUIT: WILL TRAVEL, through David Gerrold’s DINGILIAD books, and arriving in the present at Neal Stephenson’s much anticipated novel, SEVENEVES (which I haven’t read yet) in which, “The world is ending, and the human race makes a desperate effort to get some survivors off the planet. Five thousand years later, the descendants of humanity are divided into seven different races, all of which decide to pay a visit to the old homeworld.”

Frank Herbert’s DUNE, “...the world's best-selling science fiction novel”, begins with a leaving that would have completely altered the storyline if it hadn’t happened, “In the week before their departure to Arrakis, when all the final scurrying about had reached a nearly unbearable frenzy, an old crone came to visit the mother of the boy, Paul. It was a warm night at Castle Caladan, and the ancient pile of stone that had served the Atreides family as home for twenty-six generations bore that cooled-sweat feeling it acquired before a change in the weather.”

I don’t think I’ve ever written a story about “leaving”, though I clearly began to think about it recently as this line of a story I wrote – and am agonizing over whether or not an editor’s directions to “shorten it” are right or not – shows:
“The other man was panting when he finally said, ‘I don’t have to do anything except get you to thumb the contract. Then we’re free of each other.’
“‘What if I have other plans? What if I want to leave, too?’
“‘Where would you go? That stupid university thing? You’ll never get in! That kind of education’s for Pure Humans! You’ve got a life here!’”

From: “Prince of Blood and Spit”
In fact, I notice that I’ve been writing more about leaving lately...

All of this, in this short Slice of PIE, is to shove you into examining how your life events come out in your writing. Whether you believe they do or not, our minds are powerful things. They often work without our conscious volition and clearly, since I found out “my kitlets” were leaving, my deepest heart and mind have started to churn out fiction along the same lines as my concern.

Have I produced a solution to my grief at saying goodbye, or do I need to recognize – like all of the works I cited above – that to leave is to leap into a new adventure. HOWEVER…these stories are all about the “leavers”. I’m going to need to find stories about the “ones who stayed behind” and how they dealt with it.

Anyone have any books they’ve read that deal with the “ones who stayed behind”?

If they are NOT there, then I guess I have my work cut out for me!

April 21, 2015



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. ? z Z

Alambil shook her head and said, “I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to be writing down what I say.”

Uvilas snorted, as any good centaur can do, and said, “Who said you were Sherlock and I was Watson?”

Alambil, once a star in Narnia and currently a visitor to the Court of Caspian XII, snorted just as loudly. Her mother would have said it was unladylike – or unstarlike. Alambil didn’t really care as she said, “You were Sherlock last week. I get to be it this week...”

“Him. In the book Queen Susan the Gentle sent with Her Most Kind and Royal Majesty Queen Lucy the Valiant, Sherlock Holmes is a Human male.”

She brushed him away, saying, “Whatever.”

There was a knock at the door. Alambil and Uvilas looked at each other then she bowed and gestured to the door. Uvilas scowled and crossed the floor of the cottage, reached for the door then stepped back.

“Just do it, Sissyhoofs!” Alambil hissed. Uvilas clenched his jaw cantered a meter forward, threw the bolt and yanked the door open.

Four Calmorenes, wicked scimitar swords drawn pointed at Uvilas’ heart but instead of swinging, they prodded him backward until he gave way. A moment later, a woman, whose head was wrapped in a turban and whose face was entirely veiled swept into the room. She turned once, then clapped her hands. The soldiers and their swords fell back and closed the door softly behind them.

The woman lifted her turban, trailing the veils over her face until they saw that she was an older woman, face seamed with laughlines and hair silvered with age.

Alambil gasped and fell to her knees, “Your majesty!” She looked up at Uvilas and hissed, down on your front knees Sissyhoofs! This is Queen Aravis of Archenland, Princess of Calormen, Duchess of the Lonely Isles!”

The elderly woman smiled and looked down on them and said, “I have need of your criminal detection skills.”

“Your majesty?” said Uvilas.

“Yes, my horse, Hwin, has been kidnapped. You must find her!” She looked from one to the other, "Which one of you is Sherlock Holmes?”
Uvilas pointed to his Human partner and said, "She is!"

Names: ♀ Narnia; ♂ Narnia                                              

April 19, 2015

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Astrobiology, the Pseudoscience and Wishful (though very, very Educated) Thinking – Part 2


Using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in London this past August, 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…

Hart-Tipler are WRONG! (add echoing sound effect); Sagan-Anyone That Believes Wildly Enough MUST BE RIGHT!!!! (add earthquaking and echoing sound effect)…

It’s funny, because the author George Dvorsky here (http://io9.com/11-of-the-weirdest-solutions-to-the-fermi-paradox-456850746) says, “Most people take it for granted that we have yet to make contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. Trouble is, the numbers don’t add up. Our Galaxy is so old that every corner of it should have been visited many, many times over by now. No theory to date has satisfactorily explained away this Great Silence, so it’s time to think outside the box.”

What exactly does “the numbers don’t add up” and “No theory to date has satisfactorily explained away this Great Silence” mean to these people? Apparently it means, ignore reality and propose ever more fanciful and wild explanations when Occam’s Razor is quite clear: “...among competing hypotheses that predict equally well, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. Other, more complicated solutions may ultimately prove to provide better predictions, but—in the absence of differences in predictive ability—the fewer assumptions that are made, the better.”

Thus far, all of the hypotheses are equal: not one has produced evidence of intelligence beyond Earth. Ergo, the one hypothesis that DOES explain the evidence: “There’s no one but us”, is correct.

But science fiction writers and pseudoscientists refuse to accept such a conclusion and try to come up with wilder and wilder explanations for the observable fact that there are no intelligent alien life anywhere but here. In fact, despite brightly optimistic claims from NASA its very self, “‘I think we’re going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth within a decade, and I think we're going to have definitive evidence within 20 to 30 years,’ NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan said April 7, 2015 during a panel discussion that focused on the space agency's efforts to search for habitable worlds and alien life.” There remains no EVIDENCE that there is life, space scientists insist that there is WATER everywhere, “For example, oceans of liquid water slosh beneath the icy shells of the Jupiter moons Europa and Ganymede, as well as that of the Saturn satellite Enceladus. Oceans covered much of Mars in the ancient past, and seasonal dark streaks observed on the Red Planet's surface today may be caused by salty flowing water.”

For whatever reason, they leap to the conclusion that where there is water, there certainly must be life. While evidence on Earth certainly supports this belief, “...extreme heat and some synthetic laboratory environments might be the only sterile conditions on the planet’s surface that it’s possible to find zero traces of life. New organisms are regularly discovered that push the boundaries of life as we understand it, although where that line will ultimately be drawn remains unknown. As Santos says, ‘What does not exist is more difficult to prove than what does exist.’”

While it is certainly possible – and despite the abundance of negativity above, I still hope we discover life off of Earth – confirmation of life off Earth awaits presentable, incontrovertible EVIDENCE. As for the arrival of that dubious day – I am not holding my breath.

April 16, 2015


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.

When Tommy Hastings and Freddie Merrill saw the first glimmer of sunlight on water, they bolted off the road, stumbled through another ditch, and made through the brambles and over rough ground until they came to a flat, cow-pie marked meadow. By the time they reached the shore after laughing hysterically, dodging the cow-pies, they’d started to peel off their clothes.

The shore was rocky – but by then, they dove together and the cold water just under the surface brought them both up laughing, screaming, and clean after days hiking on the road and swimming in muddy ditches.

It also brought a small group of men watching them from across the road. Neither of the boys noticed right away until, after an excited dunk, Tommy said, “I think it’s them.”

Freddie lunged to dunk him back, but Tommy dodged, slow-swiping Freddie’s feet out from under him, then pulling him up by his armpit. Freddie sputtered and said, “Why’d you do that? Who’s ‘them’?”

Tommy spun his friend toward shore and said, “‘Them’ them.”

Freddie’s eyes bugged out as he shouted, “We’re naked!”

“They’re all men, who cares?”

“I...” Tommy dunked him and turned around. When Freddie came up sputtering again, he said, “We dive down as far as we can go, hold our breaths and swim as far as we can to the left.” Freddie started to gasp. Tommy said, “Good idea. We gotta be able to hold our breath a long time.

“I ain’t doin’ it to hold my breath! I’m gonna die naked!”

Tommy said, “We was born naked. If we die that way, who’s gonna care? One, two, three!” He dragged Freddie under with him and arrowed left, swimming like a frog for all he was worth, very, very slowly bubbling the air out of his mouth. It wouldn’t help them at all if they swam on the surface, but him and Freddie’d done frog racing a million times before. [MENTION FROG RACING AT MINNETONKA – instead of or in addition to Chicken Fighting – AT THE BEGINNING!] He swam until he thought his lungs were going to burst, then he swam some more. Finally he felt like he couldn’t move his arms any longer and let himself glide to the surface, feeling for the rocky bottom. He couldn’t hold it any more. He lifted his head and pulled in a deep breath of sweet, clean air.

Freddie surfaced right beside him. Tommy tried to wipe the water from his eyes, but Freddie was the first to say, “We’re in the middle of the lake!”
Tommy waved his hands alongside his body – Earl had called it sculling, what they taught every Navy man to do when they fell into the – and turned to shore. They were like, a million miles from shore!

That’s why he almost had a heart attack when a boy’s voice said from behind them, “The hell are you guys doing out here? Near as night gave me a heart attack when you jumped outta the water! Thought you were Mille Lacs Millie!”

“Who’s that?” Freddie asked.

“The local lake monster, of course.” He scowled at them from under his baseball cap and said, “You’se guys ain’t from around here, are you?”
“We’re from the Cities!” Freddie cried. “And there’s these men up on the shore who wanna kill us!”

His scowl got even deeper as he looked up at the shoreline. “I don’t see nobody.” He looked down at them and said, “You ain’t wearing swim suits, are you?”

“How can you tell that?” Tommy cried.

“I can see your white butt cheeks through the water. I’s gonna have ya come up in my boat and I can take ya ‘cross the lake to my place, but I don’t think I can. Mom’d ask about me bringin’ a couple of naked boys to the house.” He turned from them, sat down and pulled up a pair of oars, dropping them into the oarlocks, and raising them in the air.

Freddie yelled, “You’re just going to leave us in the middle of the lake?”

“Well, I can’t take you to my house naked, now, can I?”

Tommy thought frantically, then called, “I’ll pay you!”

Freddie slugged him, “We don’t got no money!”

The boy in the boat looked down at them, then back in his boat and held up a light blue denim shirt that was obviously too big for him and said, “Hey! I forgot I had my brother’s shirt in here!” He looked down at them, adding, “He died during the Guadalcanal Campaign.”

Tommy said, “My sister’s boyfriend just came back.” Freddie tried to slug him but sank over his head.

The boy was reaching down to Tommy, and said, “My brother and your sister’s boyfriend were family. I guess I can save your life. You can wear his shirt so Ma don’t have to see nothing. My brother, Lars was long in the waist. His shirt’ll hang down to your toes, pro’ly.”
“What about me?” Freddie cried.

The boy shrugged, reached down and pulled up a flannel shirt. “You can have this one.”

The boy helped Tommy and Freddie into the boat and they pulled on the shirts. The boy started rowing, though not back to where they’d come in. Finally Tommy said, “Why do you keep his shirt in here?”
The boy rowed in silence for a while, then said, “I dunno. I guess ‘cause Lars taught me to fish and when I’m out here with the shirts, I feel like he’s sorta-like still alive.” He kept rowing for a while, then added, “I know that sounds weird.”
Neither of the other boys said a word as the other boy rowed in silence. Freddie finally said, “You got a name, buddy?”

“Wangenstein; Nilson.”

They rode in silence for a while longer, then Tommy said, “Thanks for saving our lives.”

Nilson shrugged then said, “Your sister’s boyfriend probably saved someone’s life. Could have been my brother, maybe.” He shrugged again. Tommy and Freddie looked at each other, nodded, and kept quiet for the rest of the ride to shore as the sun slid down to sunset.

April 15, 2015


http://www.blogcdn.com/blog.moviefone.com/media/2011/03/frank-the-pug-180-031511.jpgEach 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.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/69/Qapla'.svg/220px-Qapla'.svg.pnglooked over at his Human handlers and said, “What’dyou think this is, WHEN THE TRIPODS CAME?”

Aradhya Morais shook her head, “Of course not. You’re not funny.”

Heitor Saigal managed to choke back a guffaw as the alien inflated its side-of-body sacks, something they’d come to recognize as his look of indignation.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/69/Qapla'.svg/220px-Qapla'.svg.png said, “I am very funny! Among my birth-moment peers, I am conisdered a real cut off!”

“You mean a ‘cut up’, don’t you?” said Aradhya after she snorted. Heitor was pretty sure she had no idea she did it. It had bugged him during their first months together, but as they’d been matched with by the command structures of both Humanity and its people.

 “Humans have their metaphors, we have ours – only it’s not a metaphor.”

Heitor frowned, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“What it says. I am a ‘cut off’. A Big Mistake.” With that, http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/69/Qapla'.svg/220px-Qapla'.svg.png hurried ahead of them.

Aradhya had said “scuttle” more than once, because the aliens looked more like small crab-puppies than anything else – though they looked like crab-puppies as much as a chimpanzee looked like a Human. She leaned over to Heitor and said, “What do you suppose it means?”

Heitor shrugged, “Its an alien – we’ve only been hanging around each other for four weeks. What do you think it means?”

From around the corner, http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/69/Qapla'.svg/220px-Qapla'.svg.pngbent the tube it used to whistle through and more-or-less speak its oddly accented English-Portugeuse patois and said, “It means exactly what it sounds like. My people sent a wasted life to be the Contact team to you Earth people…”

Names: India, Brazil; Brazil, India, Klingon (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/69/Qapla'.svg/220px-Qapla'.svg.png) is barely spoken correctly “qaPla” which is roughly “success” – but this isn’t Star Trek, so it is barely spoken “ri” which means, in Alien language, “a grave mistake”                                       

April 12, 2015

WRITING ADVICE: What Went RIGHT With “Simple Science” (TURTLE – The Magazine for Preschoolers, January/February 2011) Guy Stewart #16

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’ve been a science teacher for over thirty years, having taken the opportunity to teach everything from Astronomy to Zoology, at levels both low and high, and to students both gifted and challenged by ability and language. My first book was an outgrowth of my life as a science teacher.

But the fact is that science is my JOB, so when I write, I don’t really want to write about what I do every day. I’ve avoided writing about experiments ever since the publication of SIMPLE SCIENCE SERMONS FOR BIG AND LITTLE KIDS (SSS) because I neither want to lock myself into a career as a science writer nor do I want to back away from writing fiction.

Even so, this seemed like a fun project and I had the time – and I had a demonstration that was ALWAYS a favorite with both kids and adults. Filling a plastic resealable bag with water and driving a sharp pencil through it while not causing a disastrous leak always impressed people! It was simple, spectacular, and as I had grandchildren growing up, I thought I’d try my hand at a simple science experiment.

The format was easy enough to find after checking out and studying a couple of years of science experiment articles, the format seemed relatively straightforward and consistent with how I’d written SSS. Admittedly, the format was adapted from Janice Pratt VanCleave’s multiple “how-to” science books with an introduction, procedure, and an explanation.

I wish I could tell you I agonized over it, but that would be a lie. This article played directly to my strengths in both knowledge and style. There was no stretching; no research. I knew exactly what I was doing and how to go about it. There’s an aphorism in writing, “Write what you know” which is usually attributed to Mark Twain and against which uncounted inexperienced writers rail citing hundreds of exceptions which (I hear) proves the rule...or something. This is evidence that it works to the advantage of a writer to write what they know. I’d put this together fairly easily; after all, I’d been doing science demonstrations for three decades! I was definitely playing to my strength here.

I typed it up (US Kid’s TURTLE and HUMPTY DUMPTY editor Terry Webb Harshman didn’t accept electronic submissions at the time) along with another idea, sent it off, and forgot about it. To tell the truth, I often forget about submissions. It’s the only way I can remain sane in this world of craftsman story writing and publishing. Don’t get me wrong, I check up on my subs – I’m just not obsessive about it!

When I got the note back from Terry Webb Harshman accepting the manuscript, I was thrilled! Everyone seemed to know the magazine and I’d read it even when my kids were young; it seemed like every other doctor’s office had a copy lying around usually right next to HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN. She wanted a few edits, which I happily did, and the demonstration appeared several months later – with a really fun illustration. As an aside to anyone who’s a new writer, you should know that you have absolutely no control over the illustrations that are paired with your writing. I have never regretted the illustrations – though I’ve been surprised by several.

If I had to categorize this experience, I’d say it was pretty painless. It was also FUN!