October 17, 2017

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 326

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.


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!”

Names: ♀ Narnia; ♂ Narnia                                                

October 15, 2017

Slice of PIE: Alternative Venerations – or Christian vs Not-Christian

Using the Programme Guide of the World Science Fiction Convention in Helsinki Finland in August 2017 (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 Programme Guide. The link is provided below…

Religious Diversity in Fiction
Religious quests are often used in science fiction and fantasy and - very often - they draw on Christianity. But how about other religions? How are they used in fiction?

Naomi Libicki: a science fiction and fantasy short fiction writer who lives in Jerusalem
Mrs. Philippa Chapman: Authority on eldercare and religious diversity, Church of England
T. Thorn Coyle: writer of science fiction, fantasy, and alternative history; understands pagan practice
Brad Lyau: science/fiction historian (http://www.rawbw.com/~mikeb/BL_SFList.html)

This is a strange statement. What kind of proof does the person who generated the subject of this panel offer for the statement that “religious quests…in science fiction and fantasy…very often…draw on Christianity.”?

Certainly Lewis’ CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS, and Donaldson’s THOMAS COVENANT books do (though only tangentially), Steele’s COYOTE books certainly (but, IMO, only to create sympathetic dramatic attention between oppressive conservatives and heroic…non-conservatives) as do David Weber’s SAFEHOLD series which draw on Christian hymns (but my objection is the same for Steele’s COYOTE books); but Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS, Herbert’s DUNE books, Rowling’s HARRY POTTER books (though there may be pseudo-Christian architecture and ritual), and Alastair Reynold’s REVELATION SPACE novels, have markedly not-Christian worldviews. Quite a few feature no gods at all – the STAR TREK universe is the best-known a-theist society, after that, Cherryh’s ATEVI books, McDevitt’s several universes, Czerneda doesn’t touch on religion as far as I can remember.

While none of the above (except the Lewis and Tolkien books) are specifically “quest” series, certainly all of them contain characters who set off on quests of one form or another.

So what was this discussion like? Was it Christian-bashing?

I DO have a friend who was there and he had this to say: “I did make it to that one, but I'm afraid I don't remember much. Looking at the names of the panelists, I remember one was a pagan, one was a lay minister in the Anglican Church, and the moderator was an Orthodox Jew. There was one other, but I don't remember what, if any, his affiliation was. It was a decent conversation, but nothing new or earth-shattering. – Paul Foth, 10/15/17”

WHEW! It was good to hear they didn’t waste time in venerational hair-splitting (as in, “Paganism is WAY better than Christianity” or “If there was no Christianity there would be no war on Earth” or “Christians stole all of their pathetic religion from the druids, indigenous peoples, and Babylonian pantheons”…)

So then, after poking around at the books listed above, I thought I’d add the following from my collections: While Robert A. Heinlein himself was not a Christian, strictures of publishing for young people in the 1950s dictated at least a non-aggressive attitude (his adult novels are different stories); the Pern books of Anne McCaffrey have no religion at all; the UPLIFT books of David Brin have multiple religions and are THE driving forces in the series; the DERYNI series by Katherine Kurtz are deeply intertwined with Christianity; Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s THE DISAPPEARED science fiction mystery novels occasionally use alien religions but not (that I can recall) Christianity; Tobias Buckell’s XENOWEALTH books seem rooted in Mesoamerican religion; Zelazney’s CHRONICLES OF AMBER have some Christian threads, but more “Celtic...Norse mythology, and Arthurian legend…Philosophical texts...Plato's Republic…and the classical problems of metaphysics, virtuality, solipsism, logic, possible worlds, probability, doubles and essences are also repeatedly reflected on.” (From the Wikipedia article) As well, the science fiction of some writers has been heavily influenced by the decidedly a-Christian worldview of the Singularity (the works of Charles Stross, Iain M. Banks, Vernor Vinge); Peter F. Hamilton’s next series will feature aliens in search of their god, though the VOIDSHIP series didn’t seem to have much to do with Christianity.

So – while it’s true that several novels and series draw from Christianity, I’d say that in my experience it’s far more evenly split and may in fact, lean more toward what I would call alternative venerations…

Image: https://dhilipkumarek.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/christianity-vs-non-christians1.jpg

October 14, 2017

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 112: 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.

“You probably have a tracker on you!”

Aster Theilen shook her head, “Dad, please give FardusAH some credit.”

“Who’s that?” said Abedne Halle-Theilen.

“She’s a friend of mine.”

“How did you meet her?”

Aster frowned, then said, “She’s one of the Artificial Human who serves the Mayor. She knows I want to use my position to change Martian society. I’m sure anything the Mayor put on my to track my whereabouts – and I don’t think it’s come to that yet – she would have neutralized or redirected…”

“It’s not the Mayor I’m worried about, Aster. It’s vo’Maddux…”

A woman’s voice in the darkness said, “And you’d be correct to worry about just that, Madame Consort. Entirely and completely correct…”

Aster and her father spun in different directions and ran out of the tunnel junction into two of the three corridors what didn’t appear on the map. Aster shot a glance over her shoulder. There were no lights and she didn’t hear anything behind her. Only the voice and only the one time. She did, however, know vo’Maddux. She ran and didn’t stop until she had a stitch in her side. Finally, chest heaving as she gasped for air, she stopped to lean against a wall she could only feel in the stygian darkness.

The same woman spoke again, low-pitched, threatening, “These tunnels may be dark to you, Madame Consort, but there are those who can see in them as if it were only twilight instead of cave-dark. Others could see you glowing as if you were a lantern because they have genetically engineered eyes enhanced to see into the infrared.” She paused, “I am one of those.”

“You can’t do anything to me vo’Maddux. Even you can see that the Mayor would suspect you if I disappear.” Aster kept her voice level, calm, as if she were speaking to FardusAH. “He’s never trusted you.”

She heard the shrug in a faint rustle of fabric. “I don’t want his trust. I want his job.”

Aster shook her head. “That’s not how it works, Dear.” She used the diminutive on purpose. vo’Maddux had a well-known temper, goaded by certain people with ease. “Besides if you can see me, then you must have genetic adaptations. What makes you different from any other Artificial Human?”

“I’m not Artificial!” the woman shouted, then cleared her throat. “My gene scan will show that I’m almost seventy-four percent Original DNA Human.”

“Hmmm. Not as high a percentage as I am, but I suppose that’s adequate. It certainly keeps you in a respected job.”

She didn’t speak for some time. When she did, her voice was very low, “I may have underestimated you, Dear.” Aster pursed her lips. Her own hearing, while not genetically enhanced, had always been superb. From movements, breathing, and the location of the woman’s voice, she was certain to within centimeters of where she was; where her throat would be. vo’Maddux finally spoke, “I won’t do so any more. Your career in the Mayor’s office…”

Aster cut her off, “…was not anything I ever cared for. You would have it if I could give it away.” She paused, waiting for the other woman opened her mouth before she cut her off, “But I’m the one who has it and you won’t get rid of me as easily as you got rid of the other Consorts.”

There was a long pause, the vo’Maddux said, “Don’t make the mistake I just made.”

Aster hummed and waited for the sound of receding footsteps, the followed after her.


October 11, 2017

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 325

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.

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: robots

“The Serpent In Eden, Nebraska”

Caleb Ogallala stared at the hole in the ground. “‘bout wide enough for me to get my arm down. Probably to my elbow,” he said. Looking up at his sister, Isabella Pearson nee Ogallala, he said, “You probably don’t believe I saw what I said I saw.”

Isabella – who went by Bell at SolaRobotics in the far, frozen northland of Winnipeg – said, “You’re my brother and I believe you saw what you thought you saw.”

“Not the same thing. You may be all of twenty-three and all I am is seventeen, but I know what I saw. It was a robot shaped like a snake and it dug this here hole.”

Bell winced at the Plainsism. She’d barely managed to ditch the weird accent after she did her undergrad work at the University of Minnesota. She’d finally got that accent right. Now she was struggling to fit in at her newly adopted home in Canada. She nodded, then squatted, “All right then. I apologize. You saw a robot shaped like a snake go down this hole.” She looked up at her brother. He didn’t seem as happy as he used to. Mom and Dad dying from MERS while she was away at college probably hadn’t helped with the mood. Not that their family laughed much. Salt-of-the-Earth Dad had called them...She shook off the melancholy image and shielded her eyes with her hand as she said, “First question is: has the county let the prairie dogs back in?”

His lips twitched in a smile. It was the first one since he’d picked her up at the skip-port in Ogallala, sixty klicks straight north of here. He said, “Not that I know of, but people ‘round here, they don’t much trust nobody’s government, even when it’s the Accordion Party.”

She stood and straightened up, “It’s the Accord Party.”

He shrugged then said, “It had your logo on it.”

“What?” she said, suddenly intent.

“The second letter of your name the round sun with black diamond eyes. It was on the snake head.”

Unexpectedly, Bell was cold despite the heat from the late morning sun…

Names: Nebraska, Nebraska ; Nebraska, Nebraska           

October 8, 2017

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: Flash Fiction -- More Powerful Than NOVELS!

Using the Programme Guide of the World Science Fiction Convention in Helsinki Finland in August 2017 (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 Programme Guide. The link is provided below…

Ready, Steady, Flash: Writers are given a theme, or phrase, around which they must each write a piece of flash fiction. Live, in front of the audience. They have FIVE MINUTES in which to write it. At the end of each round the stories are read out, and the audience votes on the best!

Lee Harris: Tor’s novella editor…whoa!
Karin Tidbeck: Swedish fantasy and weird fiction writer
Peter Newman: English fantasy (VAGRANT) and short story writer
N.S. Dolkart: Fantasy writer
Nalo Hopkinson: Nothing else needs to be said…


Novels have been known to change the world, but today, Flash Fiction, particularly speculative flash fiction, may hold the key to changing our perceptions and ideas...which no one seems to recognize...

If you’re reading this (which means you read my blog), you know that I have published more short-short or flash fiction than I have anything else.

I love flash fiction because its purpose is to make a single point in as few words as possible. The writer uses words to paint a vivid image in the reader’s mind.

This probably lends strength to the fact that flash fiction can cut through the nicey-nice wordage usually associated with science fiction and fantasy – all writing, in fact – and say what the author wants to preach. Oh, make no mistake, the purpose of fiction is to make a point of some sort. Every story we read is the author’s attempt to advance their agenda whether it’s conscious or not. If you look above these posts, no less writer than Gene Wolfe speaks the truth of this as well as holding the respect of the field. Many of those writers don’t share his beliefs but readily acknowledge his brilliance. Literary luminary Neil Gaiman wrote, “He's the finest living male American writer of SF and fantasy – possibly the finest living American writer.”

While writers need to entertain first and can have their messages later – in Heinlein’s words: “I must always bear in mind that my prospective reader could spend his recreation money on beer rather than on my stories; I have to be aware every minute that I am competing for beer money-and that the customer does not have to buy. If I produced, let us say, potatoes or beef, I could be sure that my product had some value in the market. But a story that the customers do not enjoy reading is worth nothing.” (GRUMBLES FROM THE GRAVE, Chapter 1, January 10, 1972), he also said in the same section, “…if possible…cause my readers to think.” [http://www.e-reading.club/bookreader.php/73033/Heinlein_-_Grumbles_From_the_Grave.html#label4]

So why do I seem to do better with short fiction – and the SHORTEST fiction – than I do with my stories and novels?

I stumbled across Nalo Hopkinson’s first book, BROWN GIRL IN THE RING after reading a short story in DARK MATTER in the early years of the 21st Century. I loved it and wrote her a letter – didn’t hear back, but she was on her meteoric rise! No surprise! – and kept reading her work as well as others. She spoke volumes and continued to write short/flash fiction (http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/soul-case/).

Karin Tidbeck’s “Starfish” is haunting (http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/starfish/), even so, it entertains – and whether or not the author intended it, it reflects her view of the world. Wolfe says it all above and he also writes flash fiction! https://boingboing.net/2012/02/12/sf-flash-fiction-from-gaiman.html). An American “hero” of a writer is also accused of writing (and at the same time inventing flash fiction) one of the shortest pieces of fiction that packed a powerful punch. I’ve memorized the entire piece, but writing it here might lead me to a lawsuit for copyright infringement. You can find it (and the legend of how it was written!) here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/For_sale:_baby_shoes,_never_worn

While I wish I could have been there to hear the end result of this competition, I can comfort myself in the knowledge that I write in the midst of a great company of writers. My most recent piece of flash appeared on February 22, 2017 (http://nanoism.net/stories/736/): “She looked to the future, mom lived in the past. Beloved dad and husband saw or remembered neither, but in the present all three reconciled.”

If more people -- especially science fiction writers -- realized the power of flash fiction, then climate change evangelicals would write it more often. Seeing as how they don't get that, they haven't used this powerful tool to shape the climate...so to speak...of the country. Much as I loathe Trump, he DOES get it with his constant posting of Twitter fiction...


October 5, 2017

LOVE IN A TIME OF ALIEN INVASION -- Chapter 72

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)

I wrapped my arms around my chest and tried thinking about how cold I’d be when Retired searched me for tracking devices. He’d search Great Uncle Rion first; who would then search Xio – while Retired checked me out for tracking devices. The feelings that brought on I shoved really deep down. For a second, the image of me stripped down and him scanning me with some device as well as checking anything that looked suspicious hit me as unexpectedly intimate and a little bit exciting.

Then I thought about who might be tracking us, and my pounding pulse slowed down as I felt cold fear wash over me.

Xio came out of the refuge shaking her head. “When Retired is finished with your great uncle, you’re up.” She slid a heavy sweatshirt over her head, tugging it down. “It’s a good thing Retired has hiking gear stashed back there.”

“That’s just a sweatshirt!” I said.

“Way more than that, my best Human friend. Way more than that!” She threw another look over her shoulder as GURion came out of the room.

It nodded to me and said, “Like I said, I’m clean of bugs. So is your Tribe-mate.”

“She’s not my mate!” I said. “Why would you think that?”

As it passed me by, it patted me on the shoulder. “I’m going to go find out what our youngest Herd member’s discovered farther on.”

Retired stepped out of the room. “You’re next Romeo.”

“I’m not in love with Xio!”

Scowling, Retired motioned me in as he said, “I never said anything about love, kid. Why would I do that?”

“Because…because…” I snorted and pushed past him and started shedding my clothing.

“You can stop at your underwear if you want,” he said. I peeled out of them and tossed them on the pile with my other clothes.

The room was warmer than I was expecting. Retired held up a scanner box then whistled. “What?” I said, my voice cracking again.

He shook his head, passed the scanner again and said, “You’re a real redhead, aren’t you?”

I was suddenly embarrassed and excited at the same time, then embarrassed at my excitement. I bent over to grab my underwear. Retired laughed. “Sorry, son. I couldn’t help it.”

“What?” I said as I tried to force my foot through the leg hole, caught my toe on the material and had to throw my arms wildly into the air. My excitement was so obvious, I probably blushed blood red. I’m pretty sure an infrared scanner would have shown me lighting up like a beacon.

“Natural reaction, kid. Don’t worry about it. Flattered even.”

“I don’t love you!”

He shrugged. “Maybe not, but your great uncle loves you.”

“It’s a robot. It can’t love anything.”

“It was programmed to look like a Human at one time. You thought he was Human.”

 I couldn’t look at him while I dressed. I was dying of embarrassment and just wanted to get out of there. But I had to defend myself. “I was just a kid. What did I know?”

“You knew your great uncle loved you.”

“He…it…it couldn’t love. I was programmed to act like it loved me!”

“If you act a part long enough, maybe you start to become the part,” said Retired.

“Just because I take the part of King Lear and don’t do any other part my whole life,” we’d watched the series of performances by the incredible Human actor, Master Deepak Ogomelenday. He played Kind Lear six thousand, four hundred and twenty-one times before he died in the first wave of the Yown’Hoo attacks on Earth. “It doesn’t make me a king at the end!” Ogomelenday had been executed with the two billion seven hundred million four thousand eight hundred and seventeen other Humans who’d died immediately after the Yown’Hoo and Kiiote ran into each other head on – they’d been used as pawns and died like pawn, hostages in a conflict they didn’t understand and hadn’t known existed. Until they died.

Retired hung his head and said, “Truth.” Dressed, I turned to leave, pausing when he said, “I’ve also known people who were brilliant, and were told repeatedly that they were stupid, finally believed it…and let themselves become stupid.” He paused again. “Thank you for loving me.”

“I don’t love you, I said! Not…not…like…that!”

“Not that. That was just biology.”

“Huh?” So much for sounding smart.

“You were embarrassed. People are only embarrassed when they value the opinion of the person observing them.”  He stepped up to open the door for me. “I love you, too, Oscar Simak Paulson.”

I left before I could say anything else.


October 3, 2017

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 324

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: forbidden rooms

Thirty years after the infamous McMartin Preschool Incident, Tayna Hopewell’s parents buy the land the day care once stood on to build a golf equipment shop. Everything is past and even though she finds out about the lot’s history through a Google search, she doesn’t say anything.

They aren’t opening a day care!

Tanya who lives in Alondra and takes classes as a high school senior at El Camino College wants to be a forensic scientist after she graduates. Her parents are “golf semi-pros” and while she supports them now that she’s “grown up”, she loathes the sport and avoids it at every chance.

On the eve of a big semi-pro tourney at the nearby Alondra Golf Course, and shortly after the excavation began, Tanya NEEDS to escape her parents! They’re driving her CRAZY!

She lights off along Manhattan Beach Boulevard, jogging toward the beach and some much-needed alone time. When she reaches the excavation site, she sees that the gate is still standing open and she figures her parents own the land, so she has every right to check things out.

A warm breeze is wafting off shore a mile or so away and even though the sun is sinking toward the horizon, she’s comfortable poking around the site.

It’s not particularly interesting until she gets to the back of the lot. It’s been built over more than once – before the infamous daycare (demolished in 1985) it was a housing development, since then The Strand Cleaners which went out of business. Now her parents are building a two-story building; the ground floor will house Hopewell’s Pro Golf; the upper story was unrented yet, but there were plenty of people interested.

At the back of the property, Tanya nearly pitches into a narrow hole in the ground that runs under the fence to the property behind their land. As well, there’s evidence of the trenches running toward Manhattan Boulevard. Scowling, she looked into the hole, though she can’t see a thing. She takes out her cell, flips it to “flashlight mode” and aims it into the hole.

She still can’t see much more than the far side of it. Muttering, she unrolls her towel, lays it on the ground and lays down, scooting to the edge so she can see over it clearly.

The flicks on the flashlight, holding it ahead of her and pointing down and looks carefully.

At the bottom of the trench, at the edge of the cell phone’s light reach, she clearly sees a pile of bones.

Heart pounding, she remembers that there was a buried trash heap under the property that they’d found evidence of even during the trial in the olden days. It’s probably just animal bones.

That’s when she sees it. To one side, barely visible now, staring at her without eyes, is a small skull.

A small HUMAN skull…

Image: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_OCWXw6InF70/TKigMBk87NI/AAAAAAAAAy4/tL7MhIfL9CM/s1600/2212_1025142570.jpg

October 1, 2017

WRITING ADVICE: What Went RIGHT #41 “Skipping School” (Submitted 5 times, Published June 2007, Aoife’s Kiss)

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. Since then, I figured I’ve got enough publications now that I can share some of the things I did “right” and I’m busy sharing that with you.

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

I liked this world, but because it’s so dark, I haven’t gone back since.

Why is it dark? Because there is still racism; there is still poverty and its attendant violence; there is still despair; there is still child abuse.

Stan Schmidt didn’t want it for ANALOG because it was “too bleak”. I wonder what Trevor Quachri would think now? Bleakness seems to be the name of the game that our politicians are playing, no matter their stripe. Argument and bad-mouthing seem to be the order of the day – whether Republican or Democrat, with both loudly blaming the other for, well, everything.

So maybe “Skipping School” would play better today. I’ll have to see. You CAN read the story in its entirety here: https://theworkandworksheetsofguystewart.blogspot.com/2013/12/skipping-school.html

In it, I postulate matter transmission has become commonplace; but it doesn’t work over large distances. There are limiting factors, unlike in Star Trek where you can even do “transwarp beaming”. In my story, you can beam – or “skip” – only a fifteen meters. Strictly line-of-sight travel.

For safety reasons, the technology has been implemented as a way of crossing busy streets. I know, would you REALLY trust a skipgate to transfer you over a busy street without slowing down are stopping?

Hmmm…I can only say that it took about a half century for Humans to go from experimental heavier-than-air flight to commercial trans-Atlantic crossings, and now people don’t give a second thought to flying from Minneapolis to London, non-stop fully expecting to get there in eight hours. Few, if any, think of the possibility of crashing in the North Atlantic because it just doesn’t happen.

In my future, the skipgate has been accepted as the only way to cross a busy street and no one gives it a second thought. But there are rumblings that it’s possible to program the ‘gate to transmit to distant ‘gates.

The information is underground though probably in labs, too. A former street cop and teacher has the information, but none of the kids – skipsnatchers – trust her to learn the technique. They also don’t go to school because in this future, schools are entirely privatized. The government can hardly afford to feed and medicate the public, let alone educate it, too. (PS – I don’t see this as an impossible future. The school I work at is bogged down by both endless regulations and endless expectations. The system as it is can hardly take any more weight before it begins to hemorrhage both talent and resources – because the schools do not produce anything tangible. We can’t even agree on what it means to be “educated”…)

I’ve commented on “education” in the past: https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2011/09/possibly-irritating-essays-educating.html, https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2014/10/possibly-irritating-essays-science.html, https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2017/07/slice-of-pie-another-stab-at-teaching.html, https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2016/08/slice-of-pie-does-science-fiction-still.html, so I won’t go on a rant here. But in this future, which I admit is bleak, Jonterrius has only had a rudimentary education because his father was an English teacher in one of the corporate schools. Also, don’t get me wrong, the aim of a corporate school would be to create educated workers, so the curriculum would be slanted at an angle designed to produce the best employees. This however, is no different from the stated goal of public education as condensed by Mortimor Adler in 1982: “to the develop citizenship, [stimulate] personal growth or self-improvement, and
occupational preparation.”

Is that what we SHOULD be developing? Or should we be working to create men and women who can think for themselves? But THAT wouldn’t be testable, would it?

At any rate, Jonterrius and the “legless woman in a wheelchair” strike a deal: he would lure homeless kids in with a key code to jump to one other skipgate. She would educate the kid – hopefully not at a desk and by rote…

It took me awhile to sell this one because it IS dark. But I think there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. One commenter noted that the ending was too pedantic and obvious; I’d have to agree. I need to tighten it and maybe make parts of it more explicit. I don’t know. I DO know I’d like to update it and sell it again!


September 28, 2017

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 111: Stepan of Burroughs

On a well-settled Mars, the five major city Council regimes struggle to meld into a stable, working government. Embracing an official Unified Faith In Humanity, the Councils are teetering on the verge of pogrom directed against Christians, Molesters, Jews, Rapists, Buddhists, Murderers, Muslims, Thieves, Hindu, Embezzlers and Artificial Humans – anyone who threatens the official Faith and the consolidating power of the Councils. It makes good sense, right – get rid of religion and Human divisiveness on a societal level will disappear? An instrument of such a pogrom might just be a Roman holiday...To see the rest of the chapters, go to SCIENCE FICTION: Martian Holiday on the right and scroll to the bottom for the first story. If you’d like to read it from beginning to end (70,000+ words as of now), drop me a line and I’ll send you the unedited version.

Stepan Izmaylova leaned on the door. It didn’t budge. He set the stick down, found the seams of the door then ran his fingers up and down. Nothing happened. He pressed the center of the door. Nothing happened. Stretching his arms, he ran his palms over wall beyond the door. His fingers caught on a square, raised slightly from the wall, about waist height. Scowling, he turned his light on it. “There’s a switch here!”

“Don’t touch it! Come on back up, Master!” QuinnAH, a blue, artificial Human boy who’d joined Stepan several days earlier.

Stepan leaning back as he looked up at the light, Quinn’s head hanging over, looking down. Then he pressed the switch.



When he woke up, he was flat on his back, staring  up at the same square of light, minus Quinn’s head. He took an experimental breath, held it, and coughed from the dust in the air. From that, he figured he wasn’t hurt – at least not obviously. He stood up, picked up his flashlight and played it around the room he’d opened. He gasped.

A surface pressure suit, deflated but with the helmet attached, lay on the floor, sleeve with the glove sealed on stretched toward where he stood. Taking a step forward, he examined the suit more carefully, noting that it wasn’t lying exactly flat. It was lumpy as if it had something inside of it. He knelt down, slowly reaching out his hand. He thought of the thousands of horror movies he’d watched during his teen years. After a terrified night under the covers when the scene with a farmer sprawled in the corner of a room, empty, dark blood crusted sockets where his eyes had been staring sightlessly at the camera had come up in the two-hundred-year-old masterpiece of horror, THE BIRDS; no horror film had ever bothered him again. He knew this for certain because he had tried watching everything from zombies to alien creatures devouring colonists. Virtually every one had elicited nothing but laughter from him.

This wasn’t any different. Even when he realized that he could clearly feel bones in the flaccid parts of the suit. “Someone died in this suit,” he said to the still air. He stepped to the side of the suit and put down the flashlight. Gently sliding his hands under it, he turned it carefully over.

The former occupant’s other hand, inside its glove, was underneath. It had clearly clutched an oddly shaped object. Stepan scowled, picked up the flashlight and examined it without touching it.

The main part of the object had once been a rectangular piece of glass. It had been broken in half, one side with smooth, rounded edges, the other jagged. The glass was scratched and pitted, old most likely, and embedded with sand or some other kind of grit. A coil of dull metal about fifty centimeters long was attached to the corner of the glass, then twisted so that it ran across the top of the rectangle. It made a clear U-turn, then ended in a broken end, as if it had been bent several times before being snapped off.

Stepan touched it, but nothing happened. He looked around the room and stood up, moving deeper into the room. It turned out to be an airlock, most likely set in the base of the Dome and opening to the surface of Mars beyond.

It was a secret airlock.

“For what?” He turned back to look at the suit on the floor, making the obvious deduction – someone had found the odd object outside and brought it back into the airlock. After cycling through, it fell – or the person died somehow and collapsed on the floor. The body had decomposed down to a skeleton inside the suit. Decades for certain; possibly longer than that up to a hundred years. He looked down at the suit. This could have been one of the original colonists for all he knew. They lived long lives, the last one dying some seven years ago at the very ripe old age of one hundred and fifty-three. The question remained. He knelt to study the artifact again, went back into the airlock, and opened one of the storage compartments. Inside was a box of specimen bags, usually used for geological samples. He took one, shook it out, and returned, picking up the glass and wire object – ‘glasses’ he dubbed them, ‘cyclops glasses’, he decided finally – into the bag. He gently tied the top and stepped out of the airlock, debating whether or not to close it.

He looked up and called, “Quinn?”

He wasn’t expecting Quinn to have been joined by four other heads, peering down at him, silhouettes in the brilliant light from above.

Image:https://media.recovery.org/wp-content/uploads/recovery-shutter280148666-man-watching-sunrise-over-city-640x300.jpg

September 26, 2017

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 323

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