September 29, 2016

JOURNEY TO THE PORTRAIT’S SECRET #91: August 1, 1946

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.

Freddie Merrill slumped forward, elbows on his knees, chin on his fists, and filthy face staring at Tommy Hastings. “What are we gonna do now?”

Tommy sat the exact same way but, the black framed picture of his young mom with two old guys shaking hands in his lap. “I didn’t think this far ahead. I just wanted to get it outta the house.” Freddie nodded and sighed as Tommy finished, “What are we gonna do now?”

“I think I could smoke a cigarette…”

“I think I heard you say ‘cigarette’ down there,” said a voice from above. Suddenly two hands plunged through the leaves. The hands were huge, red, and powerful. Each one latched onto the ear of a boy and slowed lifted.

Tommy managed to grab the picture before he stood up all the way.

Freddie spun as much as he could, looking for the Socialists. He cried, “There they are!”

Tommy saw them as well, though they’d stopped at the edge of Loring Park, across the street. There were ten of them, another two limped up to the group as they watched. Lars squeezed and both boys yelped. Freddie said, “Stop! Stop! I’m not gonna smoke!  I was just saying…”

“I don’t ever want to catch you two boys thinking about smoking! Boys who are very much younger than twenty-one know very well that smoking is against the law. Not only that, you will soon start to cough. Then much later, when you are older, you will cough your lungs out…” His grip relaxed then released them both.

For a moment, all three stood up, Tommy and Freddie looking up at the towering Swede, his blond hair like a gold helmet under his police cap. He looked down at them. He shook his head and said, suddenly, “I don’t want to see a couple of my boys dying like my old man.” He coughed into a fist, adding, “Now get on your way.”

The boys looked at each other, then Tommy said, “Can you keep something a secret for us?”

Lars scowled down at them. “Nothing illegal?”

“Nothing like that!” Freddie said.

Tommy shook his head solemnly, looked over at the Socialists where they’d lined up on the curb, staring at the boys. Tommy handed the framed picture to Lars and said, “Would you put this in the police department?”

He looked at it, looked at Tommy, then looked at the men lining the street. He grunted and said, “No problem, son.” He patted the boys on the head and tucked the picture under his arm, walking across the park, toward the Socialists and his parked squad car. He nodded to the men, tipping his hat and touched the brim, then got in and drove away.

The watched the car go, turned as if their heads were attached to glare at Tommy and Freddie. A yellow and red city bus roared between them. Tommy grabbed Freddie and they sprinted across the park to the bridge. Tommy turned to look over his shoulder and stopped.

“They’re gone!” he said.

Freddie sighed and said, “Finally.”

“Let’s go see the dads,” said Tommy, setting off for their houses on 15th; on their way home.


September 27, 2016

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 273

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…”
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…”

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

September 25, 2016

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: Really, Really, REALLY BIG Projects!

Using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City in August 2016 (to which I was invited and had a friend pay my membership! [Thanks, Paul!] but was unable to go (until I retire from education)), I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. This is event #1279. The link is provided below…

Really BIG Projects: Saving planets, moving stars. The panel considers the appeal of Really Big Projects, and dreams up one or two. The sky’s the limit on this one! G. David Nordley, Mr. Alan Stewart, Henry Spencer (M), Dr. Jordin Kare

For me, G. David Nordley needs no introduction – he’s been writing for ANALOG for decades and I’ve read many of his stories. Some of them deal with engineering on this scale. For example: “What if you could warp spacetime in the laboratory, experiment with quantum gravity, and convert mass into energy with unprecedented efficiency? That’s what you could do if you made a micro-black hole. But it won’t come cheaply; you need mass and energy from four star systems, coordinated over light years and decades.”

Mr. Alan Stewart is well-experienced with science fiction fandom.

Henry Spencer has a freakin’ ASTEROID named after him, what else is there to add? (“The asteroid 117329 Spencer is named in his honour.”)

Dr. Jordin Kare – well there’s this about him: “physicist and aerospace engineer laser propulsion…Mockingbird a conceptual design…an extremely small, reusable launch vehicle… and was involved in the Clementine lunar mapping mission…the Sailbeam interstellar propulsion concept…”

Everyone is qualified, then so onward!

Micro black holes play a significant role in my debut SF novel for young people, HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES: Emerald of Earth, which is currently out of print (though it was never technically IN print as it was an ebook which sold 33 copies.) In it, a starship from an invading-defensive fleet of aliens who arrive in our Solar System to destroy the alien civilization on Venus is destroyed. It’s micro black hole power system falls through the Solar System – a vastly different affair than what we have today! – wreaking havoc. I love this idea and it’s powerful and plays another role in the story much later.

As well, I have a story that’s been sitting in my file for years that involves REALLY terraforming the Moon and Mars – as well as other airless bodies in the Solar System by increasing the mass of their core using ultradense matter (like this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quark_star) in order to create enough gravity for Humans to live on the surface and the object to maintain an atmosphere. In my story, a shaft is constructed from the surface of the Moon at one of the thin points (http://www.airspacemag.com/ist/?next=/daily-planet/thin-crust-moon-41022529/) then manufactured quark-gluon plasma or other forms of ultra-dense matter, are dropped down the shaft at carefully calculated speeds so that they will come to rest in the core.

However, I’m not interested in the science part of the story, but in the lives of the men and women making the SHAFT to the core. What would their lives be like? If they’re just making a living, then how do they respond to terrorists, nay-sayers, and others who will likely attack them…because the men and women who make the decisions are too well-protected. In this, I can only say that it’s what has always happened when people protest. They don’t target the perpetrators, but each other and the common folk who are just like themselves who are trying to do a job they’ve been assigned, and do it well.

OTOH, the same might be said for German soldiers who carried out orders that resulted in the deaths of millions of Jews; or the employees of British Petroleum who were just doing their jobs when billions of gallons of crude oil began to leak into the Gulf of Mexico. Were they responsible? Yes…but…

So that’s the story I want to write about engineering on a giant scale. A number of years ago, while teaching ninth grade physical science, I did a unit on engineering and physics. Looking for graphic illustrations, I discovered a video series called BUILDING BIG. ( https://www.amazon.com/Building-Big-Bridges-Skyscrapers-Tunnels/dp/B0002XVS92) While this is about terrestrial structures, it’s the initial step in learning to build even more massive structures – say like starships (http://www.buildtheenterprise.org/).

Dyson Spheres? Probably not within the foreseeable future, but while many others were daunted, science fiction writer Larry Niven figured a SLICE of a Dyson Sphere might be doable – and he called it Ring World. What else might we scale back a bit then build?

Again, from my novel HOTSS: Emerald of Earth, I postulate that instead of leaping into space either in starships or generation ships, we make a sweep through our own star system, stopping at each planet for a year of intense exploration, mapping, and planning.

I’d have loved to have been at this discussion to see where these people went with their minds! Of course, this is to say nothing of what we would call Geoengineering and what we might do to repair the air, water, and surface of our own planet. It would be a mere trifle compared to terraforming a world, BUT it would certainly be a launching point for the kind of environmental engineering depicted in Herbert’s DUNE!


September 20, 2016

LOVE IN A TIME OF ALIEN INVASION -- Chapter 48

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. 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)

Either way, the alien robot in front of me acting like it was my Great Uncle Tim hadn’t steered me wrong in the past; my own father had trusted him; and we were, in fact now hidden from people who obviously wanted us dead. He was the one who had gotten us underground and on our way north. I took a deep breath, held it, then said, “I’ll trust you.” The group began to move then stopped, as if frozen in place when I added, “I also want to know more about my Human great uncle. The truths.”

GU Tim snorted then said, “It’s not all pretty.”

I managed to keep a smirk from my face then said, “It never is with us Humans.”

He mirrored the quirk of my mouth, and I knew two things right then – exactly how irritating the look was, and where I’d gotten it from. He said, “Especially your great uncle.”

I nodded then said, “What do we do next?”

Retired – his real name was Lieutenant Commander Patrick Bakhsh (ret) – whom we’d named because it was easier on the Yown’Hoo and Kiiote tongues and fit the lazy Human way of speaking, said, “More precisely, Mr. Artificial, where are you leading us?”

GU Tim seemed to stop moving entirely. His chest stopped moving as well. He didn’t blink. Then his face twitched. Once. He said, “There was a movement shortly after the Constitutional US collapsed twenty-five years ago and The Original US tried to annex Canada then Mexico, to move surviving Constitutionalists out of the country to avoid The Executions.” Retired snorted. GU Tim stopped, but he waved him on. “They really had nowhere to run except Cuba, Free Yucatan, the blockaded and besieged Republic of Texas, and Russian Alaska. But sympathizers created a real Underground. Using programmable nanomachines made tunneling easy, especially after the OUS banned non-medical research.” He gestured, “This is one the tunnels.”

“What distance does it cover?” asked the Herd Mother.

He shrugged, “The last time I was in the tunnel, I walked over three hundred kilometers.”

Retired’s snort this time was totally surprise. I said, “What?”

“That’s a long way! It would take us half way to our destination.”

“Where are you headed?” said GU Tim.

Retired shook his head and opened his mouth, but I spoke up, pretty certain I knew what he was going to ask, “I think we need to keep our end destination a secret for the time being.” Dao-hi, Qap, Xurf, and ‘Shayla turned to look at me. I shrugged, “What? I’m not stupid.” I nodded to Tim. “For all practical purposes, he’s my great uncle. I trust him, but not totally yet.”

He laughed, “You wound me great-nephew.” He was abruptly serious. “I haven’t been in the underground for some time. In it’s heyday, it could take us on a rather jagged trail to the exit twenty kilometers outside of Detroit Lakes.”

Qap howled before cutting himself off.

“That is why I don’t know for sure how far this tunnel goes. I haven’t walked it since the city was accidentally vaporized.”

“Idiot Yown’Hoo! They broke the treaty!”

Dao-hi’s tentacles snapped angrily, “There has never been a treaty! The city was a den of Pack hatred and plotting! It was necessary!”

“It was no such thing!” Xurf snarled. “You slaughtered innocent Humans! Like always, the mindless follow their idiot leaders!”

Xurf and Qap unfolded from their canine forms, disturbing even at the best of times, when they did it fast, it made me want to throw up. Dao-hi’s tentacles slid wetly out of their sheathes, dripping a painful neurotoxin, delivered through tiny, bony needles that line the tentacles.

Pack and Herd stood across from each other. ‘Shay and me backed up. Even Retired stepped back – though he drew a large weapon.

Great Uncle Tim did nothing as the air in the tunnel seemed to grow thick…


September 18, 2016

WRITING ADVICE: Can This Story Be SAVED? #4 “Death of Faerie” (Submitted 6 Times Since 2009, Revised 1 time)

In September of 2007, I started this blog with a bit of writing advice. A little over a year later, I discovered how little I knew about writing after hearing children’s writer, In April of 2014, I figured I’d gotten enough publications that I could share some of the things I did “right”. I’ll keep that up, but I’m running out of pro-published stories. I don’t write full-time, nor do I make enough money with my writing to live off of it, but someone pays for and publishes ten percent of what I write. Hemingway’s quote above will remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales, but I’m adding this new series of posts because I want to carefully look at what I’ve done WRONG and see if I can fix it. As always, your comments are welcome!

ANALOG Tag Line: "Imagination ... is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world." Albert Einstein (October 26, 1929; The Saturday Evening Post)

Elevator Pitch (What Did I Think I Was Trying To Say?): Using the metaphor of starship FTL travel, I can comment on the plight of kids who STILL are forced to take Ritalin.

Opening Line: “‘Do you know you’re a lot more fun when you’re not drugged?’ Rejuan Daboh said to the man with grizzled and gray old man lying on the bunk bed, reading a flatbook.

“Dain Portland shot a glance at Rejuan then went back to reading. He added, ‘Do you know you’re a lot less obnoxious when you’re drugged?’”

Onward/What Was I Trying To Say? : It’s been years since I read this story. The world-building is clumsy and laden with the names of ships and WAY more characters than I could ever possibly use. The main thrust is completely unclear, and old-guy character I START with (signaling the reader that he’s supposed to be important) never appears again. I was about to say that the story then changes focus to Rejuan’s two friends Hue and Verdeen, but at this point there doesn’t appear to BE a focus! It’s very random.

I suppose I could say that I intended to write the story that way to emphasize the perceptions of a ADHD mind – but I’d be lying. The problem here is that I didn’t have a handle on the story. Even I would have rejected this because I didn’t hold to the intent. I was trying to show that it’s sad that Ritalin and other ADHD (more properly now, “ADHD-Predominantly Inattentive…and ADHD-Combined type”) killed the imagination. Hobbes went from being Calvin’s imaginary friend and as real as a “real tiger”, to a simple, lifeless stuffed animal. I was trying to show that in the world of FTL travel, drugging someone – giving them something I called “TruFocus” would make them worse starship pilots. I was trying to say that aging out of ADHD made a person more adapted to the real world, but less imaginative.

The Rest of the Story: While I set out to do the above, I eventually muddled my way to illustrating the opposite, because my main character, Rejuan proves the exact opposite to what I set out to do:

“Forty hours of intensely constricted focus on maneuvering around, through, under and over physical perceptions of probability occupying not-space, brought Rejuan to a spot congruent with HD23127, 291 light years from Earth. Enstad’s Planet was a world with one immense continent dominated by a pair of high, jagged mountain ranges east and west. Between them, prairies, salt marshes, deserts, and freshwater marshes teemed with life. Two other minor continents were ringed and extended by over one hundred volcanic island arcs.

“Rejuan fell into a dreamless sleep immediately. Once he woke, he took three more tablets of TruFocus, waited a half an hour and then taking SCAMP along the pre-calculated flight path, he arrived in Earth space thirty-three hours later feeling tense and stretched.

“‘You don’t feel any other side-effects?’ asked Xiao.

“‘Like what?’ he knew all of them were listening, ‘Do I feel like I’m going insane or losing my mind?’ He considered, ‘I don’t know if asking me is a good way of getting an answer. I’m tired, I think your question is stupid – but other than that, all I want to do is sleep.’

“There was a long silence. Baldy said, ‘Then sleep is what you’ll have – and we’ll send you to the suite your friends have been staying in.’ He paused then grinned crazily, ‘You’ll be happy to know that while you’ve been gone, we started another dozen pilots on TruFocus and their travel times to Gliese 86 and Upsilon Andromedae have dropped over fifteen percent! We’ve started hearings to ram mandatory usage of TruFocus for all pilots and we’re drafting guidelines to recommend that passengers use it as well.”

End Analysis: Without knowing it I illustrated the opposite of what I wanted. In fact, I so muddied the waters with this story, I’m shocked I didn’t see it before. Was I so “gone” on my mission that I didn’t even notice what I was doing? How is it that I thought I was doing one thing, but I was in fact doing something completely different? My experience has absolutely been that ADHD (PI and C) can be controlled using drugs and making better students out of kids who would otherwise be unable to focus on the everyday life of the modern classroom.

I wanted to point out that making kids better students shouldn’t be our goal – making better people, people who can use their imagination to solve problems – should be what education is all about.

Can This Story Be Saved? Good question. I’d have to answer, “Probably,” in this case. But I’d have to rework everything. It also doesn’t connect the whole virtual reality game to non-space navigation at all. If I did rework it, there’s a good chance it would hardly resemble the present story. I also do something I’ve realized I do far too often – I try and do too many things at the same time. I’ve got the “union” thing going, the relationship between Rejuan and his pilot friends, and Rejuan with his captain – and like I said, I abandoned the relationship between Rejuan and the older pilot. These are all separate issues, and while they’re related, they don’t help the story along much. To do that, I’d probably drop the friends, keep the old guy, I NEED the captains as a foil (I also switch from using the captain’s name to using a pejorative in the last two pages of the story – and I’m pretty sure I changed genders as well. According to the website Baby Name Guesser, “It's a girl! Based on popular usage, it is 1.527 times more common for Ying to be a girl's name.” That’s how I envisioned her. Yet I change her to him in the last few pages.

Argh.

September 15, 2016

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 87: 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 (60,000+ words as of now), drop me a line and I’ll send you the unedited version.

“But some of the really, really rich of your kind like to go deep down into the tunnels and hunt my kind,” QuinnAH, the young, blue Artificial Human standing on the roof of the warehouse that shared the Wall supporting Burroughs Dome.

“Animals!” Stepan Izmaylova, possible missionary to the Rim exclaimed.

“Sure we act like animals, but…”

Stepan looked down at Quinn, put his head on the ebony haired head and said, “You aren’t the animals, son. We’re the animals.”

“What?”

Stepan shook his head, “Humans hunting Humans is a deeply disturbing idea for me.”

“Why? Happens in the Underground alla time.”

“Just because it happens all the time doesn’t make it right.”

“Nah. Didn’t say it’s right – it just is.”

Stepan turned to Quinn, kneeling in front of him, holding both the boy’s shoulders. He looked up into the cereluean face with its unruly mop of blue hair so dark it appeared black. He said, “If there is anything that can be done to stop Natural Humans hunting Artificial Humans, I will do it. This is where I live now…” he stopped abruptly; opened his mouth then shut it again.

“What’s wrong, Preacherman?”

“I…I was about to say that ‘Your people are my people.’ Then I realized that that would be absurd.”

“We’re all Human, though,” said QuinnAH. He patted Stepan awkwardly on the shoulder. “You can’t help the fact you was born no more than I can help the fact I was vat.”

Stepan stood up and gripped Quinn’s shoulder. “I’m not one of you, son, but I can help you.”

Quinn looked up at him, squinting and finally said, “You really are that guy who got all the religions kicked off Mars, aren’t you?” Stepan thought to deny it at first. Quinn didn’t need to know that much about his past – only what kinds of plans he had for the future. Plans that were bigger than growing a few tomatoes and giving them away. He wanted to be able to do something to change how artificial Humans were not perceived…not governed – but how they were defined. He wanted to see them defined as Human. All Human, without qualification. They would simply be Human; the way that Quinn blithely defended the hunt as something that simply was. Everyone on Mars would be simply Humans. “You gonna make us all Human, ain’t ya?”

“You already are Human, kid. I’m not going to make you anything.” He paused, pursing his lips and looking at the Dome as if he could see through it. He added, “I’m going to make THEM see YOU.”

“They didn’t have no problem seeing me when we were in the HOD. They was gonna kill me if they could.”

Stepan actually smirked for the first time in decades then said, “That’s not the kind of seeing I had in mind, son. Not the kind of seeing I was thinking of at all.”


September 13, 2016

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 272

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.

F Trope: divination (especially water (how Stephen King got his start)

While not “current”, it’s interesting to note that horror writer, Stephen King became a writer because of water dowsing (also called, “divination”): “explains his childhood fixation with the imagery of terror and horror, making an interesting comparison of his uncle successfully dowsing for water using the bough of an apple branch with the sudden realization of what he wanted to do for a living. While browsing through an attic with his elder brother, King uncovered a paperback version of the H.P. Lovecraft collection The Lurker in the Shadows, which had belonged to his long-since-departed father. The cover art—an illustration of a monster hiding within the recesses of a hell-like cavern beneath a tombstone—was, he writes, the moment in his life which ‘that interior dowsing rod responded to.’”

Sui Fun Fong Eu and her boyfriend Chang-Lin Chiao are New York natives, two generations separated from their Chinese heritage – neither one speaks Chinese, likes Chinese food or has any desire to be anything except another invisible New York, high school seniors. They aren’t brilliant, both have older brothers and sisters who are lawyers, doctors, physicists and a pro-basketball player; so no one expects anything for either of them.

Both of them plan on “going to college”. Neither one knows what they want to major in except, “business”. They are comfortable with their lives and they are comfortable with their relationship – sexy, but not crazy (a pregnancy outside of marriage would STILL be a “bad” thing for them).  They are simply, COMFORTABLE and happy to be that way.

That is, until they’re walking through Central Park one afternoon and see someone with a white stick – a slender single end splitting half-way up and the elderly man holding the two ends in his hands, intently studying the ground.

“What’s he doing?” Fong asked.

Chiao shrugged and went back to scarfing his McDonald’s fries. He finally glanced at the old guy and stopped walking, squinted and said, “I think he’s looking for water.”

“In Central Park?”

Chiao shrugged again. “None of my business. Just another crazy New Yorker.” He kept walking, but Fong stopped to stare. He reached out and tugged her sleeve. “Don’t do that. He might be a mugger.”

“I don’t think some old geezer can hurt me from, like, the middle of the park,” she said, laughing.

Suddenly the old man looked up. The dowsing rod plunged to the ground like he’d caught a hundred-pound tuna. He shouted angrily then the ground fountained up into the air, throwing him back. Something large, dark and insubstantial – like oil smoke – spewed from the ground. A limb of the smoke speared the old man in the chest. He spasmed once, then lay still. The cloud slid across the grass and before it reached them; before they could move or even scream, Fong could see that the grass beneath it curled into brown deadness.

Chiao said, “I think we should get...”

The oily smoke...

Names: ; ♀ China

September 11, 2016

Slice of PIE: John W. Campbell, Jr. & Me

Using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City in August 2016 (to which I was invited and had a friend pay my membership! [Thanks, Paul!] but was unable to go (until I retire from education)), I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. This is event #1240. The link is provided below…

The Legacy of John W. Campbell, Jr.
As author, he wrote the story that inspired The Thing. As editor he wrote the rules for an entire genre. But Campbell also has connections to dianetics, the investigation of psychic phenomena and antigravity devices. An understanding of his life and career may help us make sense of the genre today. Joe Haldeman, Sheila Williams, James Bryant

I was fourteen when John W. Campbell, Jr. died. He wouldn’t have known me from a wall, and likely wouldn’t have given me the time of day had I asked him directly. But his influence on my life has lasted some 46 years…

I started reading ANALOG, as near as I can tell, with the September 1970 issue and, ironically, by reading Stanley Schmidt’s “Lost Newton”. I was thirteen and for the next couple of years, without knowing that I was reading the work of a man who would abruptly pass away in the near future, I read dozens of stories of the far future. I read the magazine for the next…well, nearly a half century and counting!

The hook was set, and I read ANALOG from then to the present. Because of Campbell’s unwitting introduction to the genre, I started sending stories to ANALOG when I was sixteen…and got rejections from the editors of ANALOG…until (note the “ironically” above? Here’s the irony:) in early 1996, I sold my first story to the editor of the magazine. His name was Stanley Schmidt. I was 39 and a middle school teacher. When my wife called and read me the brief note saying he accepted “Absolute Limits”, a Probability Zero-length story, I wept. I wrote three more PZs, a short story published in 2004, and in my immediate future, another short story that will not only be in the January/February 2017 issue, but will also have a two-page illustration! A first for me.

I am a part of the train of readers and eventually writers whom John W. Campbell, Jr. carried from the dawn of the space age.

I was born in May of 1957, a few months before Russian Sputnik started orbiting Earth; I read my first science fiction when I was in 6th grade (so 11 years old when I started, 12 when I was done in 1969); then Humanity landed on the Moon on July 21 that same year. A year later, I started to read ANALOG.

This would have been a great discussion. Campbell’s fascination with the non-science fiction aside – or perhaps because of – made him a huge figure in the science fiction world. He’s credited with “discovering” and nurturing men whose influence is still felt in the field: “Lester del Rey, A. E. van Vogt, Robert A. Heinlein, and Theodore Sturgeon…Campbell had a strong formative influence on Asimov and eventually became a friend.” While his increasingly exotic interests – psi, dianetics, and his views on the “place” of blacks in American society – alienated him from not only mainstream society but also much of the science fiction community in his last years, it is undeniable that he left a profound mark on the field.

From 1969 through 1971, I was oblivious to the politics in science fiction. Initially, ANALOG entered my life only through our public library. Because of his push, I still prefer hard science fiction to every other shade of the field; and while he had a powerful interest in fantasy, I read only novel-length in that genre, and ONLY at the direction of my daughter! I write almost exclusively SF, though I confess I dabble in fantasy now and then.

Ultimately, the mark John W. Campbell, Jr. left on me through the writers he worked with and the direction he sent ANALOG is both undeniable and upon startled reflection, most likely to be permanent.


September 10, 2016

JOURNEY TO THE PORTRAIT’S SECRET #90: August 1, 1946

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.

Tommy ran to the back door, up the stairs, then stopped, slowly opened the door, then slipped in. While he was gone, Freddie stared at the door, jumping every time a truck or car drove past the end of the sidewalk. He waited so long, he knew he had to go to the bathroom – just like he did when they used to play hide-and-seek as kids. He crossed his legs. He held his breath. He counted to five hundred…

Suddenly the back door opened and Tommy came out.

Followed by his sister, who was holding him by the ear. She looked down at Freddie, scowled, and said, “I should have figured you had something to do with this! Every time the kid gets into trouble, you’re somehow mixed up in it!”

Freddie’s face screwed up and for a moment Tommy, June, and even Freddie thought he was going to cry. But he took such a deep breath, that he practically had a chest! Then he started the story, from the hike to Lake Harriet, the ride to Medicine Lake, to the hitchhiking back from Canada. He’d left out the parts about the Anoka Witch, the Mobsters, the Farmer, the Socialists, and most of the stuff about Ed – including the fact that Ed was a she. Tommy relaxed…

Freddie took another deep breath and went back to beginning, this time talking about all the people, until he finally wound down into an August silence, cicadas burring in the trees in Loring Park.

June let go of Tommy’s ear and said, “I’m going to call the police.” She went inside.

Tommy said, “We don’t have time for the police to get here! The picture’s in the kitchen, come on!”

Freddie scrambled up the steps and into the apartment. “What about the Socialists?”

“The traffic jam’s gonna keep ‘em for a while. Let’s go!” He went to the fancy dining room’s china cabinet.

Mom kept her wedding picture; a brown-tinted photograph of grandpa Hastings when he was little boy standing with great-grandpa Hastings, a US Deputy Marshal for the Dakota Territory; and in back, in a plain, black framed picture. Two big men in dark suits shaking hands and smiling at each other. She was real young and real pretty, hanging on the arm of one of them, smiling at the photographer.

But now Tommy was pretty sure one man was a Duluth Socialists; the other a US Communist.

Dad talked about the War all the time, and now that Hitler and Hirohito were out of the way, the Russkies were grabbing up as much of Europe as they could. He said the Commies were the real enemy of America now.

The Socialists of Duluth wanted the picture that showed their main guy shaking hands with a Commie.

Tommy just wanted to get it out of the house. He reached in and grabbed it. He heard the front door open again and June talking. Then he heard the deep voice of Earl. For a second, he thought he could give the picture to him. Who better to take care of the dangerous picture and beat up the Socialists than a Navy Seebee?

Freddie’s eyes were practically bugging out of his head and his mouth was gaping like a goldfish. Tommy closed the cabinet door silently, jerked his head sideways, and scurried out the door.

The minute their feet hit the sidewalk, there was a shout from the street. “There they are!”

The boys turned and ran the way they’d just come, only this time pursued by a mob of Finnish men.

Who were from Duluth and had almost no idea of the alleys, streets, stores, houses, and parks of Minneapolis. It didn’t take Tommy and Freddie long to lose them. They stopped at the edge of Loring Park, panting.

Freddie managed, “What we gonna do now?”

“We gotta get rid of the picture,” Tommy gasped back. He crossed the street, Freddie following, then slipped under the bushes they usually smoked in. Both boys dropped to the dusty ground with a thud. “Where can we hide it?”

“Throw it in the pond!” Freddie said, turning to the “No Swimming!” hole and started to stand up.

Tommy grabbed him and pulled him back down. “They’d jump in and find it for sure!”

Freddie slumped forward, elbows on his knees, chin on his fists, and filthy face staring at Tommy. “What are we gonna do then?”

Tommy sat the exact same way but with the picture in his lap. “I didn’t think this far ahead. I just wanted to get it outta the house.” Freddie nodded and sighed as Tommy finished, “What are we gonna do now?”


September 7, 2016

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 271

Each Tuesday (SORRY, FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL YESTERDAY! A BIT SWAMPED!), 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: body transformations/cyber implants/the Borg…

[NOTE: STAR TREK’s Borg still creep me out and while they ended up defeated, compromised and hardly implacable by the end of all the series, I wonder if the writers did that to make themselves feel safer. When they first appeared in ST:TNG, they were anything BUT beatable…and they still creep me out…]

Hajnal Nagy stared at her lab partner. “What do you mean, they ‘creep you out’?”

Voytek Jankowski shook his head. “It doesn’t bother you that Ms. Hawkinson’s substitute is more machine than human?”

Hajnal shook her head. “Why should the ratio of Mr. Yakovlev’s flesh to metal and plastic bother you?”
“Didn’t you ever see the old movie, ‘Terminator’?”

“Duh. I like old movies as much as you do, so yeah, I saw it. But what does a time-traveling robot have to do with our substitute? He looks Human.” She glanced at the man where he was working with another student at the front of the chemistry room. While he certainly did look Human, the left side of his face was augmented by non-flesh implants. He’d told them he’d been in a car accident and they’d rebuilt his eye, ear and replaced the left side of his jaw with plastic bone and teeth. His hand was also partially prosthetic and, he’d added, even though they couldn’t see it, he carried a pacemaker to keep his partially damaged heart beating and had an implanted TENS unit to take care of his pain. He’d finally added that TENS was an acronym for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation unit.

He’d written that on the white board, smiling and saying, “Isn’t this one of those ‘teachable moments’?”

“You didn’t think him talking about ‘teachable moments’  was sort of creepy?”

“Why would that be creepy?” Hajnal asked.

“I want to know what he thought he was teaching us.”

Hajnal rolled her eyes and got back to the work on the page of problems. Voytek said, “But...” Hajnal waved him off half a dozen times before he left in a huff. Once he was gone, she found herself looking up at Mr. Yakovlev. He was leaning on one elbow, pointing to a worksheet and trying to explain something to a student.

She muttered, “Stupid Voytek!” and got back to work. But she couldn’t help it. Her eyes were drawn back to his face. The plastic skin was identical in color to his real skin. The eye had a white sclera, but the iris was silver and the pupil wasn’t exactly round but a vertical oval, almost lizard-like. The fake skin on his hand was also a perfect color match and – she noticed with interest from where she sat – there were hairs on both of his arms. “Stupid Voytek!” she muttered. She turned in her stool so her back was to the front of the room.

She was sitting like that, hunched over the worksheet, when a voice said, “Do you understand orbital notation…” the voice paused, rustled paper, then said, “Ms. Nagy?”

Knowing that she was blushing crimson, she didn’t turn or look up, but hunched farther as she said, “Uh, yes, sir. It seems pretty straight-forward.”

He hummed, “Perhaps you’d like to come up to the front of the room and demonstrate your methodology for the rest of the class. Few of them seem to understand why you do not fill in the 5s1 orbital until after you’ve filled in the 3d5 and 4p3 orbitals.”

Someone from the class called out, “Hajnal gets it!”

Someone else started pounding on the table, “Let Hajnal teach us! Let Hajnal teach us!”

She finally turned around. Now that she was thoroughly embarrassed, she looked up at Mr. Yakovlev as he said, “This is a teachable moment, Ms. Nagy.” He smiled and she noticed then that his teeth, instead of being white, were silver. And as she looked, a tiny red light lit up on each one, while at the same moment, the vertical oval glowed blood red…

Name Origins: Hungary, Poland
                                                                       
Image: http://f.tqn.com/y/inventors/1/0/x/w/Solid_Propellant.jpg