February 7, 2016

PIE POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: THIS IS WHAT I WANT TO DO!!!!!


Using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Spokane, August 2015, I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. This is event #3297. The link is provided below…

Hard SF for Teens

Hard science fiction isn’t just for adults. Kids today are more tech savvy than ever and fiction featuring real (or at least possible) science for teens is gaining steam. However, how hard should a hard SF novel get for young adults? What hard SF is getting it right? Who should we be reading? How can teens effectively pick through those old SF classics that they would find compelling today?

Steven Gould (m), Jennifer Brozek, Fonda Lee, Marissa Meyer, William Campbell Powell

Except for the moderator, I didn’t recognize any of the names on this list, so my first question is “What are these people doing here?”

Your first question should be, “So what if you don’t recognize any of the names? You’re almost sixty years old! What would you know about hard SF for teens?”

I’ll look into the answer to the first in a second. The second I’ll answer right now: I’ve been a middle school and high school teacher for 34 years. I know what kids are reading because I SEE what they’re reading. I talk to them about what they’re reading. I teach summer school classes to the gifted and talented – THEY are the true future of hard SF – and I see and talk to them about what they’re reading. I’d be willing to bet that I have a pretty dang good idea of what they are and are not reading. I worked at Barnes & Noble a couple of years ago, tried to order a set of the Heinlein classics and put them in the Teen section…and they were repeatedly moved back to the “regular” science fiction section because the brick and mortar giant DIDN’T RECOGNIZE THEM AS BEING FOR TEENS, a cursory skim through the twenty-six pages of “hard science fiction for teens” on Amazon didn’t net a single Heinlein book.

So who are these people and what are they doing here?

Steven Gould is described by Booklist as writing “novel[s] straddle the line between YA and adult fiction; its lead character is a teen, but the story has many adult-themed elements”. He also has a couple of the YA “beasts” of his own. Perfect!

 Jennifer Brozek seems to be well-experienced short stories and anthologies – but I’ll say right up front, that is not where and how most teens read. As an author of several RPGs as well as a BattleMech YA novel, she absolutely has the experience. But…not so much with the “beast” itself. And short stories isn’t the usual direction teens take in their reading. The ones I know want to be immersed in story; they want to escape the harsh reality of the here-and-now.

Fonda Lee has a novel, though nothing else published (Internet Speculative Fiction Database).

Marissa Meyers is the author of the best-selling LUNAR CHRONICLES (which consistently remained in the top three spots when my book came out last summer.)

William Campbell Powell is the author of a YA novel.

So all of them are more-or-less qualified to comment on YA hard science fiction.

However, I didn’t see that any of them are intimately involved with their target audience. I didn’t note that they TALK to young adults – though Mr. Campbell Powell and Mr. Gould each have two teens, and Ms. Meyers and Ms. Lee are still very much young adults themselves. However, this is not an absolute qualifier. I have two beasts of my own and they are notoriously opinionated – in my favor.

I would have loved to be there for the discussion and I’ve added books by all of them to my list of “to-reads”. However, the fact remains that I have not SEEN their books on the check-out lists of the high school I work in, and that, in the long run, is where we have to win middle and high school students over to the science fiction camp.

As for the Heinlein books – I love them and collect them, but the loving is more in the memory than in the re-reading. I find their prose clumsy and (also) very privileged “white folk”. Sorry, there’s no other way to write that; which in my own personal book disqualifies them as having any relevance for teenagers today. They live in a diverse world in which HALF of all Americans will speak Spanish as a main language by the year 2050, and it’s nearly impossible to advise kids what to take in school and college to prepare for their future career – because that career may not exist yet.

Maybe that’s what we need to do as SF writers for YA – imagine careers (and games, which is what Fonda Lee has did in her novel) that might be there when they arrive.

That’s my mission. I wonder what the mission is for these others. Tell me if I did OK; read my hard SF novel for YA – a link to it is posted on your right.

(DANG! I need to get to one of these World Cons…someday!)

February 2, 2016

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 241


https://i.ytimg.com/vi/VTxw9t2dGLI/hqdefault.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.

SF Trope: The Arcology + gravity modification (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Arcology)


Amar Shamarki Shimbi shook her head and said, “We can’t modify gravity at that level – not to suspend an entire city secretly over the Chinese Republic!”

Renz Villanueva snorted, “You don’t have to try and hide it from me – everyone knows the East African Federation is experimenting with large scale gMod!”

“I don’t have to hide anything because I don’t know anything.” Renz stared at her, chin down, eyes up. “I don’t! I’m a nobody...”

“I hardly think the daughter of the president of the EAF is a nobody...”

“My MOTHER is a somebody. Daddy’s even somebody because he can do whatever he wants as long as he doesn’t embarrass Mom – and what he chooses to do is stump for free education from pre-K through bachelor’s degree for every EAF,” she said it like someone would say “eef”, “who wants it.”

Renz shook his head and got back to work on their joint “gravity sword”. He straightened up, “You think we can really make a flowing forcefield strong enough to fight with?”

“If we can build a working lightsaber, we won’t have to apply for grants anymore and we can work on figuring out how to really modify gravity – on a large scale!”

“I have to admit, it’ll be fun playing…”

“Who said anything about playing?” Amar exclaimed. “If we can tune these suckers right, they’re going to be real, honest-to-goodness lightsabers!”

He hummed, “They aren’t going to make cool noises like the ones in the movies. The sound comes from the fighter’s connection to the spiritual plane.”

She harrumphed and went back to her laptop, clicking on the story about the supposed city supposedly floating over Shanghai, China. She played the video again, made a strangled sound and leaned forward. Muttering in Somali, she tapped keyboard until she’d managed to zoom in on a tiny speck on the video. “No,” she breathed.

“What’s wrong?”

“I was…”

Names: ♀Somalia; ♂ Philippines     

January 31, 2016

WRITING ADVICE (Part3): What Happened When I Read Ursula K. LeGuin’s Newly Revised Book, STEERING THE CRAFT: A 21st Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story (September 2015) Guy Stewart #30


https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/73/Ernest_Hemingway_Writing_at_Campsite_in_Kenya_-_NARA_-_192655.jpg“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one

ever becomes a master.” Ernest Hemingway

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!

“Any shift of POV…to another is a dangerous one. It’s a major change of voice…The shift will affect the whole tone and structure of your narrative…A writer must be aware of, have a reason for, and be in control of, all shifts of viewpoint character…I feel like writing the last two paragraphs all over again, but that would be rude. Can I ask you to read them over again?” (p 70)

Then I am a danger-loving daredevil in my next book, VICTORY OF FISTS.

As I pointed out before (in Part2), I flipped from first person to limited omniscient every other chapter.

Quite likely, this is what kept me from finding a home for the book until I sent it to my agent, Karen Grencik who eventually sent it to daring Canadian publisher, Lea Schizas at MuseItUp…both of them loved it enough to both represent it and publish it.

That still doesn’t diminish the fact that I wrote against the advice of one of the most respected and significant writers of speculative fiction.

As for changing the voice of the narrative…wow. I go back and forth from an intimate narrative of a young guy trying to redirect his urge to punch people in the face by writing poetry (and reading about other warrior-poets in history like King David, Sri Aurobindo, and Muhammed Ali) as well as trying to keep his ex-best-friend at bay – and you read about what’s happening INSIDE him.

Then I go back to a movie point of view where you read about what’s happening TO him.

Then I go back.

But this was the best way to write the story! There wasn’t any other way to achieve what I wanted. While LeGuin doesn’t exactly give her nod of acceptance, she DOES note that if you are going to break the rule, then do it intentionally and “be aware of, have a reason for, and be in control of, all shifts”.

Ultimately, my success or failure in trying this will be determined by the young people who read my book – and by the adults who CHOOSE books for young people to read. I’ll keep y’all posted!

Another issue that I’ve worked on harder since reading the book, “By crowding I mean keeping the story full, always full of what’s happening in it; keeping it moving, not slacking or wandering into irrelevancies; keeping it interconnected with itself, rich with echoes forward and backward. But leaping is just as important. What you leap over is what you leave out, which is infinitely more than what you leave in…Some say God is in the details, some say the Devil is in the details. Both are right…go ahead and crowd in the first draft…Then in revising consider what merely pads or repeats or slows or impedes your story and cut it. Decide what counts, what tells, then cut and recombine until what is left is what counts. Leap boldly.” (p 118)

Powerful words. Very powerful.

Before reading the book, I noticed that when I write short stories, they tend to be very close to 6000 words long. Whatever I try, I can’t seem to make them shorter. The problem with this is that it’s so close to the 7500 word limit usually assigned to short stories. Longer than that gets you into the almost un-sellable novelette (up to 17,500 words) and the practically suicidal novella which is from 17,500 up to 40,000 (which can be a middle grade novel!

With this advice though, I started to look at what I can leave out and what I can include and while I haven’t submitted any stories using this rule, I have finished two and I’m working on a third. The question now when I write is, “What do I leave in to make the story vivid enough – yet continue to move the story forward?”

If I cut too much, then the story fades from being engaging to being something someone “watches” – rather like a typical sitcom on TV. It’s not that the form CAN’T be engaging, it’s just that it’s so much work to write an engaging story that keeps not only the current plot moving forward, but also contributes to moving the story arc forward (Joss Whedon did this incredibly well in the FIREFLY series; Anne McCaffrey did this in the original Pern stories in ANALOG in the late 1960s as well).

I am working on a series of short stories set in different futures – one in which Humanity has split into a “genetically purist” line and a “genetically experimentalist” line and there are no aliens; the other in which Humanity has pulled into huge arcologies on Earth in order to let the land recover and here are aliens. I hope I’m beginning to learn this skill.

So, what have I learned in the three parts of this series? I can’t apply every single suggestion from the book, so what IS the takeaway?

1) Keep the story going somewhere.

2) Use language well.

3) Point to a higher purpose.

4) Take responsibility!

5) If you’re going to break the rule, KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING!

6) Story is events that make it seem like time passing that leads to change.

7) Plot is action, usually conflict, that connects the events logically and ends in a climax.

8) Decide what matters so that every word counts, leaping over the other stuff BOLDLY.


I will keep you informed of how I apply these eight points as I continue to grow as a writer.



Writing_at_Campsite_in_Kenya_-_NARA_-_192655.jpg

January 30, 2016

January 28, 2016

Proof Copy due; New Semester at school; Mom is sick! Sorry!




Sorry!
Had to finish final PROOF COPY of VICTORY OF FISTS..
Also, had to take mom to hospital.
AND first week of new semester at school...
I'll get back to the regularly scheduled posts on Sunday!

January 24, 2016

Slice of PIE: Certainly Not For the Money – Why Do I Write Short Fiction?


https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/KbNUiOpysmee5gpTBHvUKYiDvt6I46CIXDKv64IjbWeR6ZK0jnFVVTh6enZoV9UBNw=h900Using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Spokane, August 2015, I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. This is event #3219 . The link is provided below…

Certainly Not For the Money: Why We Write Short Fiction – Why do we put ourselves through the angst of writing short fiction? It certainly isn’t the money. Why else would we do it? Mark J. Ferrari (m), Mur Lafferty, Sarah Pinsker, Stefan Rudnicki, Rick Wilber

I have a strange philosophy that springs out of being a teacher and guidance counselor for the past thirty-five years...

I need to lay some groundwork first. I live in a large suburb of Minneapolis, not so large that I can safely have nothing to do with how things are done in the city. If I choose, my voice can be heard at school board meetings, city council meetings, and in the “local” paper – which is a version of a larger corporate paper that prints a sort of template of news with stories for the different communities rearranged to bring “our” local news to the headlines.

Twenty years ago, I wrote these words for that paper: “At the very bottom of this criticizable heap are the schools. Because schools don’t produce tangible products, it’s easy to criticize and hard to defend them.”

While that’s certainly true today, the sense that as a teacher I have never produced a single, tangible student who is “educated” or “helped”. A person who works for Microsoft can point to a program or a piece of hardware and say, “I worked on…part of the project!”

My brother can point to our local Target store and say, “I supervised the remodel of that store!”

My sister can say, “We helped these people walk again at our clinic!”

All I can say is  “I’m a guidance counselor; or I taught ninth grade physical science for eleven years…” Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got some first rate friends who were once students of mine; some of them produce tangible products even! But because the nature of education is to “produce” a graduate, and the team that takes part in that education consists of first and foremost, the student, then in huge part, the parents; followed by relatives, and a bewildering host of teachers from pre-school through 12th grade; there is nothing for me to show off or say, “I did this for this student…”

To combat this in my life, I mow the lawn and snow blow the driveway. These two acts are important to me because when I’m done mowing the lawn, I can turn around and say, “The lawn is mowed. See!” When I’m doing snow blowing the driveway, I can turn around and say, “See! The driveway is now clear!”

When I write a short story, I can say, “See, the story is done. I can send it out.” It’s a product that has been completed in a relatively short time and I can point to it if it gets published and say, “There it is. Read it if you’d like.”

Novels are NOT like that! I have one out right now that took well over a decade to write and sell. I have a second one coming out at the end of next month that took EIGHT YEARS to sell and after a year invested writing it.

Because of my day job, I desperately need to be able to produce something that doesn’t require so much time to become a tangible object that I grow old waiting to see it! I need to produce something that IS tangible.

And so I write short stories; and I enjoy writing them as well. I like the freedom to focus on a single moment that defines the life of my character – and that’s because I am rarely present at the defining moment in the lives of the students I work with.

Image: https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/KbNUiOpysmee5gpTBHvUKYiDvt6I46CIXDKv64IjbWeR6Z
K0jnFVVTh6enZoV9UBNw=h900

January 21, 2016

LOVE IN A TIME OF ALIEN INVASION -- Chapter 38


http://mountpleasantgranary.net/blog/images/MP-Christmas-decorations-3.jpgOn 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. The Braiders accidentally created a resonance wave that will destroy the Milky Way and the only way to stop it is for the Yown’Hoo-Kiiote-Human Triads to build a physical wall. The merger of Human-Kiiote-Yown’Hoo into a van der Walls Society may produce the Membrane to stop the wave.

The young experimental Triads are made up of the smallest primate tribe of Humans – Oscar and Kashayla; 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)

Fax, my Kiiote best friend, growled low in his throat and said, “What, you think I’m ugly?”

The conversation stopped dead as the choppers swung over what looked like an abandoned farm, then passed on. “That’s gotta be my uncle’s farm,” I said, “But where is everyone?”

Fax sniffed the air. Kiiote hated being compared to Earth canines, but the fact of the matter was that scent was how Kiiote communicated; scent was how they established hierarchy in the Pack. He could also identify organic substances – like poisons and explosives – from a kilometer away. He said, “There’s only residual Human scent here.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means that as far as I can tell, no one’s been here for a long time.” He yipped when I smacked him, and he spun around, stretching into his humanoid shape. He opened his mouth in a snarl then froze. “There’s fresh Human scent coming from that way!” He started off through the snow.

“Retired,” referring to our leader, Lieutenant Commander Patrick Bakhsh (ret), “Told us that we were to go to the barn near the farmhouse.”

“But…”

“‘But’ what?”

Fax paused, gesturing with a paw. “There’s a light in the window. The Human Leader made is seem as if this place was abandoned. Why would there be a light?”

I had no idea, but it seemed strange. None of the others had any cause to go into the place, but it had belonged to my uncle. Who knows, maybe my parents were dead and he was my only surviving relative? Even if he was an android. “I don’t know, but we should check it out.”

“He told us to ignore the house and go into the barn!”

“It’s my house, I can do what I want to!”

“It’s not...”

I left him, cutting over the rough ground until I got to the driveway and went up to the house. It didn’t look as run down up close as it had from a distance. Fax suddenly pressed against my leg and jerked his head to one side. I could see the sill of the window faintly lit. I stepped up to the wall, turned my back to it then slid along it until I was standing right next to it. I made a face, then leaned a bit forward.

“Reflection!” Fax sneezed.

I widened my eyes then stepped back and strode out into the snow, staying out of the direct light, then looked at an angle. I could see a faint reflection in the glass. Not enough to see details – but enough to see that it was Human dressed in something dark. A moment later, a second shadow moved as well, dressed in white, not as tall as the first.

“Can you smell anything?”

“Like what?”

“Human.”

“No. Metal. Oil. Machine smells along with another smell, like iron blood, but not. Like false iron blood.”

Strange, but that’s what I would imagine an android to smell like. I said, “My uncle. It’s the android who took my uncle’s place!”

“Who’s the other?” Fax said.

“What’s it smell like?”

He rose up into his humanoid form, opening his mouth to taste the air as well as smell it. He panted, his breath a white cloud between us. After a moment, he said, “Not of your world or ours.” He drew a deep breath, “Not of the Herd World, either. Something different. Of another world I’ve never learned of.”

“Something besides us?”

Fax snarled, “You didn’t think the Universe held only Kiiote, Yown’Hoo, and Human, did you?”

January 19, 2016

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 240


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: “Grave Clouds for the variant where the weather is simply miserable at graveyards and other creepy areas, and which is possibly a sister trope to this. See also Evil Is Not Well Lit…”
Current Event: http://science.howstuffworks.com/science-vs-myth/afterlife/scary-graveyard1.htm

Niaria Xiong-Walker squinted, trying to see through the gathering mist that apparently hung over the cemetery every night. She said, “How can mist hang over this place EVERY night? Fog’s a function of temperature, humidity, and dew point.”

Seth Bakhsh stood near an obelisk, pitted from ages of lower-than-water pH acid rain that drizzled from the Rochester, NY sky on a regular basis, giving it the dubious distinction of the being the American city with the most rainy days and its unofficial slogan, “If it rains, it’s Rochester”. He said, “It’s the oldest municipal graveyard in the US and has 400,000 dead people in it. Don’t you think that all those ghosts might have an effect on the weather?”

Niaria snorted and said, “They don’t even act as creeped out as you are doing in my parents old village in Nigeria! You’re a wimp, Seth!”

He snorted just as loudly, “I prefer to think that I’m prepared for all eventualities – even ephemeral ones.”
Shaking her head, she tapped her tablet computer and plugged in a cord. “I’m going to see if there’s any truth to the old wives tale that cemeteries are always foggy and creepy at night.”

“How many have you tested?” he asked. He usually ignored her scientific researches in favor of tapping her fascination in anime movies by presenting her with the latest rerun of her favorite Miyazaki film.

“Sixteen,” she replied.

“What?” he stepped from the obelisk, saying, “This isn’t the first time you’ve done this?”

“Duh,” she grabbed the tip of the cord and pulled, a long sensor extended, glowing blue.

“What’s that?”

“A data staff. It collects information and feeds it into a program I wrote.”

“So you can detect monsters?”

“Nothing so solid. Ephemerals. Like you said.”

“Ghosts?” he breathed the word – and his breath fogged in front of his face. “How come it’s so cold here?”

She shook her head, “Because the temperature’s low, dummy.”

“No – I mean it wasn’t cold a second ago and now I can see my breath.” 

She looked at her tablet then back up at Seth, “The data confirm your sensations.”

“Duh.”

She looked around, scowling. “But there isn’t any reason…” As she said the words, something congealed out of the fog. It wasn’t humaniform, more like a lizard-like; possibly saurian, large as the obelisk.

Seth said, “It’s coming out of that gravestone...”

“It’s a monument…”

“Whatever it is, I think it has big claws.”

Names:   India, Hmong, English-Scottish; Hebrew, Pakistan


January 17, 2016

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: “Galaxy Quest”, Alan Rickman, Reality…but MOSTLY “Galaxy Quest”



I thought I’d written this before!

In the earlier part of this century, I wrote a series of essays for an online discussion group called THE FRIDAY CHALLENGE. The editor Bruce Bethke, challenged all sorts of my pre-conceptions, the first one being to explore why Michael Shaara, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of THE KILLER ANGELS had dropped out of the science fiction business...

At any rate, I also wrote comebacks for the critical panning of “Green Lantern” and its star, Ryan Reynolds; as well as against the lukewarm reception of “Men In Black 3”. I even wrote at paean to the archetype time travel movies, “Back To The Future”.

I could have sworn I’d written about “Galaxy Quest”…but I was mistaken and today I’ll take make a few of my own observations.

First of all is that GQ was entirely a parody of Star Trek: The Original Series. While this is obviously true, it was far more than that.  Certainly, it used ST:TOS as a jumping off point to show what the writers might have done with the show using today’s sensibilities and technology.

But it was more than just a parody. For example, toward the end of the movie, the alien Quellek is murdered by the aliens who serve Sarris, a vaguely lobster-oid alien with a screwed in eyepatch like the Klingon captain, Chang in “ST: The Undiscovered Country”. Unlike Spock, whom Rickman is intended to mock, his character Dr. Lazarus is not only intelligent, but caring and passionate as well. The moment Quellek dies is a turning point for the character Alexander Dane – all of a sudden, he realizes that there has been an underlying power in the part he’d played so blithely for the three years the show was in production (this is never mentioned so I assume that the length was the same as ST:TOS).

While virtually all the reviews I read dealt with the parody aspect of the film, how well it was executed, how closely it paralleled ST, and how everyone fell off their seats laughing, I believe there was something more. I believe GQ mocked all of us and our absurd glorification of unreality.

The Thermians in the movie are part of a highly advanced technological civilization, that much is undeniable given the movie’s premise, going so far as to use some sort of technology hinted at in another ST television show, VOYAGER. In that series, technology was used that I have never seen discussed anywhere: circuitry in the form of “neural gel packs”. GQ makes graphic note that the Thermians use such technology when the “phaser pistol” is crushed by the “chompers” leaving a gun’s shell in a mass of bluish goo. They have a tremendous ethical system as well, being not only unfamiliar with lies and deceit, but also incapable of subterfuge: it takes no prompting at all from Captain Nesmith to induce them to tell the entire truth about their captain and show the graphic video files of her torture and demise. They refer to the GQ series episodes as historical documents.

This seems to tickle the funny bones of the reviewers of the movie – and not once does anyone mention that we are as na├»ve as the Thermians. We’re not as virtuous, nor are we as technologically advanced, nor are we as brave, nor as committed to relationships – but we are as idiotic in how we watch television and use all of the other media at our disposal (and I mean that in the literal sense).

We avidly watch “reality” TV – shows like THE BIGGEST LOSER and AMERICAN IDOL and SURVIVOR suck us into their universes and we gobble them up without pausing to think that the weekly “show” we watch is editorial cuts, compilations, and intentional deceit made to lead us to absurd conclusions that we too can lose hundreds of pounds; become a superstar; survive horrendous conditions – all on our own. The TV shows are, after all, sold as “reality TV”.

When Mathesar, the leader of the last remnant of Thermian civilization finally realizes that GQ was a lie, he is horrified. He realizes to Sarris’ huge amusement, that everything his people believed is false.

That would be a great message, but GQ insists on giving our “reality TV” shows back to us by saying, “Nah! Just kidding! BIGGEST LOSER, AMERICAN IDOL, SURVIVOR… they’re all really real!!! You can win the Powerball!!!! You can really win the Publisher’s Clearing House zillion dollar grand prize!!!!! Hahahahaha!!!!!!! We were just kidding about ‘reality’!!!!!!! We are reality...”

And that is what I think is the saddest thing about the movie. It had a chance to say something important. It said it.

Then it chickened out and unsaid it.

*sigh*

January 14, 2016

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 77: Paolo At 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. ?zZ

Paolo Marcillon scowled for a long time, then accessed the satellite owned by an underground church and railroad – a shadow organization of the Cydonia Fellowship of Free Martians that the congregation just called “the fellowship” – and reprogrammed their ‘bug’s destination for Cydonia and what the 20th Century had dubbed The Face On Mars.

Nodding, he reprogrammed his own ‘bug for intercept, then settled back. He’d meet the   four vatmates in Cydonia. Until then, they had a long journey, probably fraught, probably dangerous, certainly not direct.

He might die.

One or all of them might die as well. He could program their ‘bug; he could program his own; but he could not program events. They would have to play out – or unravel – as they would. Most likely there would be no miraculous God interventions here on the surface of Mars.

With a sigh, he settled back and closed his eyes; not to sleep, but to pray for wisdom and guidance. As an afterthought, he programmed the ‘bug to follow the least third-least-probable path to a distance greater than four kilometers from Burroughs and stop at a place he could scope out the lay of the land and monitor internal. Sighing, he lay back and started with a confession…

 

When he woke finally, the marsbug had come to a stop. Partially concealed by the base of an upthrust fault and aligned with a crack in a boulder resting at the base of the cliff, he had a clear view of the second largest city on Mars. He tapped his database through the ‘bug’s console rather than through his link. He’d jiggered the console to route any external activity through three or four different nets and satellites. He was traceable, no doubt to people in Mars Authority – but only if they knew enough about him to deduce his trail.

There weren’t many people like that.

One of them lived in Burroughs, though Paolo wasn’t certain it would be safe to see him. Still, the vine had it that he’d not only converted, he was serving the community. He studied the Dome. Going in to speak to Natan Wallach, the ostensible Hero of the Faith Wars wasn’t his idea of a safe trip. The man had single-handedly led dozens of purges. He’d personally overseen the Martyrdom of the Six hundred and Sixty-Six. He’d deliberately chosen each and every one of the group. Certainly there’d been a convicted child molester, no rapists or murderers that he knew of, a gene thief, and a garden variety air thief, a pair of embezzlers caught, sentenced, escaped, and caught at least twice more. The Domes figured that was about enough repeating and sentenced them to death by exposure. The other six hundred and sixty-one had been a mixed bag of ninety-four Jews captured in a kibbutz in the shadow of Olympus, fifty-three Buddhists from a deep-desert underground seitch, another even hundred Muslims and Hindu men, women, and children detained and accused of religious terrorism, forty-nine Artificial Humans. The other three hundred and sixty-five were an Earth-significant number of Christians.

All of them were herded into an industrial airlock. After some debate, the Five Councils had decided that explosive decompression would be more humane than slow suffocation.

Wallach had not only led the assault on the kibbutz and the ashram where Hindu monks had been sheltering Muslim refugees at Lewis Outpost, but had held pitched battle with a secret colony of Artificial Humans at the South Pole. Paolo paused and pulled up the file. Natan’s image leaped into high definition three dimensions over the console. Paolo held his breath – if he was going to look for the man, he needed to know what he looked like. At least what he’d looked like a decade ago. He tapped the play key and listened: “Humanity has stood divided for millennia, probably since our first prehistoric ancestors. At first, those divisions were necessary, driving Homo sapiens to evolve, to dominate, and to eventually win a spot on this world using their brain as the most flexible and powerful weapon. Once that had happened, Humanity discovered ways to not only grow food, but to grow a society. There were thousands of experiments with structures – both physical and sociological.

“I will be the first to admit that among the constructs created by Humanity, religion had a place – it took the place of science, before our primitive, stupid forebears were able to comprehend the world around them, it was necessary to assign unstoppable powers to unseen forces – to create gods. Certainly organized religions allowed the movement of material and capital and people. Certainly, there was a time when religions served a purpose. But Humans outgrew the need for religions as science began to understand and quantify the unseen. Once it was quantified, Humans learned to manipulate the unknown. They became, in a sense gods – though no more divine than you or I.” The gathered crowd, standing silent until this time laughed and then cheered.

“However, the time came when not only did we not need gods or goddesses or religions, but the useful construct began to fight back. Rather than fade peacefully into the same closet as other antiquated social constructs like race, gender, and law, religions chose to stay, maintaining their sway over Humanity, turning their gentle leadings into iron-fisted dominance. They waged war against intelligence, against racial harmony, against sexual freedom, and the exercise of free will! They pretended to hold superior views to those who did not agree with them. When the rest of Humanity cowered under their brutal control, they began to war against each other. That war still rages on Earth.

“Mars is Humanity’s last, best hope to shake off the chains of religion’s inherent superiority ideology. These religious ideologies have not only led to the slaughter of millions of innocents, but to the unchecked reversion of scientific knowledge, the cessation of the free growth of the individual, and the stagnation of Human society on all of the planets and moons of this Solar System. The people of Mars have chosen to stand in the gap and deny these people the freedom to chain Humanity to its dismal and dark past.” The crowd roared its approval. Wallach thundered, in the best tradition of evangelical street preachers he raised his hands, “We will not go down again under the yoke of bondage!” He slammed them down on the emergency evacuation plunger, blowing the doors off the airlock and ending the lives of the six hundred and sixty-six martyrs.

Paolo sat watching the empty air over the console. His pulse pounded in his ears. He had spent months in prayer. He had spent days in prayer. He had spent every moment he was awake on his way to this place in prayer. But the answer – the compulsion – had not lessened. He had to talk to Natan Wallach.

He had to talk to the Hero of the Faith Wars; a man who was a close to him as a brother. Because they WERE brothers...