December 17, 2017

Slice of PIE: Why the Incentivization of Charity May Separate Us From An Interstellar Federation

NOT using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Helsinki, Finland in August 2017 (to which I be unable to go (until I retire from education)), I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. But not today. This explanation is reserved for when I dash “off topic”, sometimes reviewing movies, sometimes reviewing books, and other times taking up the spirit of a blog an old friend of mine used to keep called THE RANTING ROOM…

The waves of horror as non-profit organizations predict the death of charity because people can no longer write their donations off on their taxes has reached tsunami proportions:






It also seems that granting tax break for “philanthropy”, while the law will celebrate its Centennial this year, has hardly had a unanimously benevolent history and been without criticism: http://www.taxhistory.org/thp/readings.nsf/ArtWeb/972168BEA0B68D8585257B160048DD4A?OpenDocument

In fact, I never really thought about how “benevolence” might have a powerful political impact. Stupid me…

I am reminded of the reason my daughter withdrew from working toward a full International Baccalaureate Diploma. There were a few reasons, but one was that while she had done hours of volunteer work of her own accord, there were too many hours that she’d done that were for our church. The Program wasn’t interested in people volunteering for causes they supported. The Program wanted volunteers for the causes THEY supported.

Another name for forcing individuals to work for a cause not their own in order to meet the requirements of an educational reward is conscription. Indentured servitude might be another phrase. Her question was, “Are you volunteering for something if it’s something that is required?” In other words, isn’t “mandatory volunteerism” an oxymoron?

She didn’t get the Diploma.

National Honor Society also has such requirements as well – along with doing volunteer work for causes a student personally believes in, they are required to “volunteer” for causes that the organization has deemed worthy.

Another thought, is philanthropy limited to wealthy civilizations? According to Wikipedia, there doesn’t seem to be any record of philanthropy prior to Europe in the 17th Century. Also, there appears to be a distinctive difference between philanthropy and charity, with philanthropy being much better than charity: “Philanthropy has distinguishing characteristics separate from charity; not all charity is philanthropy, or vice versa, though there is a recognized degree of overlap in practice. A difference commonly cited is that charity aims to relieve the pain of a particular social problem, whereas philanthropy attempts to address the root cause of the problem—the difference between the proverbial gift of a fish to a hungry person, versus teaching them how to fish.”

Charity has a far more ancient history dating back to (quite possibly) the dawn of recorded history; certainly since the Pharaohs instituted the construction of the pyramids (NOT a charitable act, BTW). The infographic below notes that charitable giving has been growing since then and has become foundational to western society.

So, why do I bring this up here? Aside from the fact that charitable giving is likely to survive the elimination of the tax credit and that there is something to be said for reducing the influence of donors over organizational policy…

I bring it up because I’ve never seen mentioned anywhere in a science fiction story or novel the possibility that aliens or alien civilizations might consider charitable and philanthropic giving – perhaps even SACRIFICIAL giving – to be the mark of mature civilization, one that indicates that the society in question has overcome its biology with mind.

Maybe aliens haven’t contacted up because we are, as a planet, as a species,  entirely too selfish? I mean, English speakers can read a book called, THE SELFISH GENE (by Richard Dawkins, world-famous atheist, author, and speaker) in which he expands and popularizes the ideas of WD Hamilton, to wit: “Despite the principle of 'survival of the fittest' the ultimate criterion which determines whether [a gene] G will spread is not whether the behavior is to the benefit of the behaver, but whether it is to the benefit of the gene G ...With altruism this will happen only if the affected individual is a relative of the altruist, therefore having an increased chance of carrying the gene.”

I’m adding this new answer to the list of answers to the Fermi Paradox (simply stated: “…a simple question that anyone looking out at the night sky has probably asked themselves: Where is everybody?...it’s a big universe, so why can’t we see life anywhere but here on Earth?”) https://cosmosmagazine.com/space/what-is-the-fermi-paradox I’ve written on Fermi’s Paradox before (http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2017/06/slice-of-pie-post-ideas-is-this-like.html)

So maybe aliens are waiting for us to start giving selflessly and when it seems that an unselfish gene has entered the pool, we’ll be contacted by an advanced civilization…

Just so you know, I have a story in mind that might explore this.


December 14, 2017

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 116: 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 (90,000+ words as of now), drop me a line and I’ll send you the unedited version.

From the darkness of the underground station, 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, then vo’Maddux said, “A free bit of advice, sister,” she paused, “Don’t make the mistake I just made.”

Aster hummed and waited for the sound of receding footsteps, then followed after her, turning down the path suddenly lit by a faintly glowing, stylized letter, “I”. She smiled. Clearly the network of underground Artificial Humans was better organized than “natural born” Humans suspected. FardusAH had probably been monitoring her; and she likely had connections not only within the Mayor’s office, but…

The letter vanished then appeared in a side tunnel, flashing red once then vanishing. Clearly whoever was watching her was trying to tell her something. Or keeping her out of an ambush. Who would try and ambush her down here – aside from the obvious? Aster turned and started to move faster. She had no idea really where she was going. Were there underground Christians as well as Underground Inti? Who else maintained underground operations. For that matter, Mars was vast and most of it was uninhabited – at least that was the opinion of those living in the Domes. But while there were only Five Domes, there were another two dozen Stations and uncounted Outposts. Many were scientific in nature, doing the job of exploring Mars.

There were rumors of underground – literally – conclaves as well, those who lived off the grid, out from under the control of the Domes and the Mayors, and even out of view of the satellites that ringed the planet. She’d heard stories of Nomads, clans of Humans who had banded together with Artificial Humans and wandered the surface, pitching tents as the mood struck them.

There were lots of others on Mars, many who had no love for the Mayors or the Domes they ruled. She stopped. Who knew what she might be getting herself into by coming down here, openly declaring herself against vo’Maddux and with Artificials? Would her father be in danger because of her alliance – or was he already in danger because of his beliefs?

Aster continued to walk, flashing “I”s guiding her until she reached the sub-Dome elevator. She got in, rode ten levels up and stepped out – into the bright concentrated sunshine of midday. For a moment she stood blinking, then several blue Artificial Humans stepped up to her. One, an elderly male she’d never seen before, said, “Excuse me, Madame Consort, but the Mayor, his Excellency Etaraxis Ginunga-Gap has sent me, BondAH to collect you.”

Aster snorted. “And how did his Excellency know I would be exiting here?”

He lifted his chin and said, “His Excellency has his ways. Perhaps the best known is that he is always listening.” BondAH managed to keep his smile to a twitch of one corner of his lips.

Aster couldn’t control hers as she replied, “Message received.” She nodded, “I would be delighted to travel with you, Master BondAH.”

“Simply ‘BondAH’, if it please your Grace.”

She lifted and eyebrow and said, “It no longer pleases me, Master BondAH. It no longer pleases me.”


December 12, 2017

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 334

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: “Alucard” – Dracula Written Backward as a way of disguise…

“The word ‘monster’ comes from the Latin word monstrum which is an aberrant occurrence, usually biological, that was taken as a sign that something was wrong within the natural order,” read Wyndham D’Aquino.

“So, what are you trying to say?” said Charlotte Mogwai.

“Nothing,” said Wyndham, looking out the window at the house across the street. Small, run-down, it was just like the rest of the neighborhood. Pathetic. It was easier than looking at Charlotte. But he added, “You know, the fact is that it’s an aberrant occurrence.”

“Are you saying Dejario is a monster?” She snorted – a most unladylike sound, Wyndham thought – and said, “You’re just jealous!”

He shrugged and put down his tablet computer. “Yeah, but that doesn’t make Dejario any less a monster.”

“There is nothing wrong with the natural order! It’s just that...”

“It’s just that he’s not natural?”

“It’s not like he’s a vampire or a werewolf...”
“Those things aren’t even ‘monsters’ according to this definition! They were just made up in Hollywood to make money for the studios…” Wyndham said.

“So you’re saying that Godzilla was part of nature?” asked Charlotte.

He opened his mouth, paused to reconsider, then said, “Inasmuch as mutations are natural, Godzilla was.”

“Dracula’s natural?”

He shrugged, “Based on a real villain with as taste for bloody impalement of his enemies, then ‘yes’. Perverse but natural.”

Charlotte scowled, whipped out her tablet computer and said, “Cyclops, Mr. Hyde, Dracula, Frankenstein, Werewolf, Invisible Man, Mummy, Bigfoot, Dinosaurs, Zombies, King Kong, the Blob, CHUD, Cthulu, Kraken, Medusa, Triffid, Trolls, Freddy Krueger, Ghost, Hulk, Evil Clown, Leprechaun, Megalodon, Predator, Wolfman, Wyvern...”

“Stop! No, they’re not all natural!”

“So, he’s not a monster.”

“He is a monster!” Wyndham said. “Besides, his name is Namel B. Isivnieht, from Russia.”

“So? Lots of people have strange names! Especially when they come from Russia.”

“His name is The Invisible Name, backwards – what? You failed spelling and grammar in school as well as math?”

“I didn’t fail math!”

“I was there – you did! Big time!”

Charlotte was ready to slap his silly face off his silly head and raised her arm to do it when something gripped her wrist – and another part of her body – and said with a Nigerian accent, “You don’t have to worry about him anymore, girl!”

As she struggled against the unseen hands, Wyndham suddenly crumpled across the room, blood spattering out from the back of his head as he pitched forward. A woman’s voice said, “Get your hands off her, Name – or the next bullet will be for your head!”

Names: ♀ France/Germany, China; ♂ England, Portuguese

December 10, 2017

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: “Why Haven’t Schools Kept Up With Changes In Technology?” REALLY???????? Who Would Ask A Dumb Question Like This!

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…


Sandra Manning: High school math and science in the bush of Alaska…she "loves science fiction".
Nick Falkner: Director of the Australian Smart Cities Consortium at the University of Adelaide and a member of the Computer Science Education Research Group…award-winning teacher…with a focus on increasing student participation, retention, and enthusiasm…education beyond the traditional borders of the University…support teachers across Australia
Carl: Instructional Designer (No idea what this is or what his qualifications are, if any…Without a stated last name, I couldn't check his credentials. I could call myself an “instructional designer” as well…)
Juliet Kemp: writer whose stories have been published in various anthologies and online magazines

I’ve written about this before and like Sandra Manning, I’m a public school teacher in a different kind of “bush” – I’m at a suburban district that shares a border with the toughest part of Minneapolis Public Schools. One in ten of our students come from a neighborhood where shootings are a matter of course and gunfire happens without comment:

“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...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…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?” (http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2017/10/writing-advice-what-went-right-41.html)

The push now in the state of Minnesota where I live and work, is to create “The World’s Best Work Force” (http://education.state.mn.us/MDE/dse/wbwf/) and as far as I can tell, we are the only state in the Union that has such an educational goal.

So – the answer to the question above is that it’s a stupid question.

Truthfully? Schools are daycares for the “real” adults in the world (those who make “real” money making “real” decisions in “real” jobs; ie: the ones who make over $200000 a year in insurance, real estate, or investment. All other work is incidental.) Schools are places to warehouse children and feed, clothe, and teach them manners and appropriate respect for “real people”.

At the same time as they demand that schools do everything from clothe to medicate their children, they complain bitterly that schools are a waste of money and don’t create anything useful – these are the same people who love to share, support, and promulgate the aphorism, “Those who can, DO; those who CAN’T, teach.”

Because the children in the schools are not “real”, and the teachers in the schools aren’t “real”; the money in the schools isn’t “real” either. Education budgets are cut seemingly at random. When the buildings cannot cut any more teachers because crowd control would suffer, they are left with the least-expensive technology.

“Technology changes rapidly, school systems not so swiftly!” Duh! (or from the Simpson’s (I guess) “Doh!”) You can’t change technology without money. If the legislatures don’t appropriate enough money, then the technology will follow the dollar – balance what you WANT with what you can get. 

“Real” people will scream, “We’re giving you enough money! You’re just wasting it!” On…what, please give me a line-item veto for what we need to get rid of. (Besides superintendents and other “district office personnel, who are often paid some whole number of times more than the people in the schools who have a direct influence on the lives of the children who are supposed to be in this “World’s Best Workforce”…) I haven’t seen a whole lot of “waste” in the classrooms I’ve taught in over 30 years – oh, our counselors get cut back (in 2013-2014, Minnesota had the third worst student to counselor ratio: 1 counselor to every 743 students. That’s partly because unlike our sister-state, Wisconsin, most Minnesota schools don’t have primary school counselors.) because, you know, they’re totally useless dead weight. Music and Arts teachers as well. English (except what someone needs to DO THEIR JOB!) should stick to the basics. Math – who needs anything beyond add, subtract, multiply, divide? Basic checkbook math, get rid of anything beyond that! Same for science. What do kids need to know about science – certainly not biology much past how to keep the environment clean; chemistry? WTH is that good for? So really, public schools are a waste of money – at least as far as people with “real jobs” are concerned…

The end result is that very little, I might even say “no”, up-to-date technology reaches the schools, at least not the school I work at. That’s reserved for, you know, the schools supported by people with “real jobs”. You know, the dirty-word “p” ones.

So this “discussion”, I would guess (as I wasn’t there) focused on colleges and on pie-in-the-sky “wishing” about what we could do “if only” schools would correctly answer “What technology should schools be using now and how could the teachers be prepared to face the changes?”

By “face the changes”, I am going to make an inference based on the tone of the question as it was expressed in English. I infer the question to mean that technology will replace teachers and that we should “be prepared” to be replaced.

If that wasn’t the inference, then I’d love to know what the intent of the question was. If it meant “Will teachers be able to adapt to new, innovative technologies?” I can only speak of the time I went from using transparencies on an overhead projector to using a Smartboard® over a period of three months and after two weeks of intensive training and tech support – and answer that I made the change after using first a chalkboard, then a white board, then overheads, I skipped PowerPoint presentations and went directly to the Smartboard®. I was 54 years old and had been in the classroom for twenty-plus years. I think I can confidently answer, “Yes, they can.”

If they meant “Get out of the way, Meatbags, ‘REAL’ technology is here!” then I’d have to respond, “Hmmm. Who’s going to show student what to do, deal with broken hearts and frustrations, feed them, clothe them, take care of them from 6 am to 6 pm and provide direct policing during all hours of school operation? Oh, and train them to be athletes, good citizens, and fine people?

I wait with “real” bated breath to hear THAT answer.


December 7, 2017

LOVE IN A TIME OF ALIEN INVASION -- Chapter 75

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)

As of Chapter 76, the Triad split into four groups with a rendezvous point north to the former Sand Dune State Forest, near a city called Zimmerman. Group One was led by Kiiote Qap with Quilf, Towt and Commander Baksh attached to them. Group Two was the Kiiote Xurf leading Fax, Doj along with the Yown’Hoo Zei-go charged with Hil-hi-el, Jus-hi-el, and Eel-go-el. Group Three was led by the Human Xio who will coordinate the group along with Yown’Hoo leaders Seg-go and Ali-go, with Nah-hi-el. Herd Mother Dao-hi would lead the last Group Four with Oscar, Lan-mai-ti and Por-go-el. 

“Commander Baksh will run alone. Xio and me will stay together,” I said, pointing.

“’Car?” Retired said.

I couldn’t exactly ignore him without starting a stampede – with me as the target to be crushed, so I said, “Commander Baksh?”

He cleared his throat like he was embarrassed, but I knew it was probably an act to make me feel better about myself. I knew I was going to kick him somewhere important. “I’d just like to add a couple of points,” I damped my irritation. At least he wasn’t taking over outright. “I dug up eight more trackers. Some have a hook-system designed to be picked up by fur or clothing. I can safely destroy two of them to make for believability – whoever has it set up to spy on us will relax and assume we only found two of their devices.”

He opened his mouth to keep going, but stopped and looked at me. “Distribute them, Commander.” I kept talking as he passed out the trackers. “Change of plan. There are two exits to the surface near here. Group One will be Qap, Quilf, and Towt. We will travel as a group until we reach the next tunnel. Group One will exit at the next tunnel after going deeper an planting one of the trackers. Find a deep hole, an abandoned well, a pit, or something else that you can throw your trackers into and do it.” I scanned the group. “Theirs is the smallest group because they will have the farthest to travel exposed on the surface. The rest of us will continue on for five more kilometers in the tunnel. Group Two is Xurf, Fax, Doj and leader Zei-go with Hil-hi-el, Jus-hi-el, and Eel-go-el. They’ll plant their trackers underground, exit, then go to the surface through an old fueling station, coming out through a false floor in an historic repair bay. Group Three will be led by Xio who will coordinate the group working with leader Seg-go and Ali-go, Nah-hi-el, and Por-go-el. I’ll be there, but won’t have command of it. We’ll go as far down the tunnel as we can to the next exit after that. We’ll keep our trackers on us.” I paused. No one objected. “Once we leave through an ancient underground parking ramp of an old shopping mall, the Herd Mother Dao-hi will pick up Lan-mai-ti, then you can take Por-go-el and the potential and will split off on their own as Group Four and make your way as far as you can underground until you are forced to the surface. There is intelligence that you may be able to make it all the way to the old State Forest ranger garage. Wait for Group One, Two, and Three there.”

I stopped talking, waiting for objections. No one spoke. They all knew that the plan was Retired’s and that I was just playing leader. Even I knew that. But what I was starting to understand was that Retired would leave us – whether by simply disappearing to go on his next mission or he’d die. Then who would we be left with? I added my final idea – all my own. “Group Four will give me all of the trackers and I’ll continue on until I can either exit the tunnel or go deeper. I’ll continue to carry them until I get to the surface to follow the most round-about trail I can figure out that will still get me to Sand Dune.”

There were objections, but none loud. Everyone looked to Commander Baksh expectantly. They figured he’d laugh and take over. What he did was even more chilling. He said, “Risking your life for the rest of us is the most mature thing I’ve ever seen you do, Oscar.” He nodded, “Well done.”

There was silence. All of us would have to be fit leaders eventually. We were learning what it took to direct our own destiny. We would have to act for the Triad – not for our individual peoples. Not even for ourselves personally. Our individual civilizations had failed us. We were all we had. We were the future. I just might not see that future. So said, “Let’s go.”


December 5, 2017

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 333

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: Magic is Evil, at best relatively neutral. Often The Corruption. There is a good chance it's directly obtained through a Deal with the Devil, powered by Blood Magic or involves Human Sacrifice and Forsaken Children. (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DarkFantasy)

Martina Felipe el Bueno scowled at the ancient video tape cassette where it rested under glass that perfectly screened out UV and cosmic rays and lowered the intensity of visible in near vacuum. She said something in Spanish.

“Why don’t we just use English. I can’t even understand your Peruvian accent,” said Álvaro Villa softly.

“Fine,” she said. “The problem remains, whether we say it in Spanish or English – or even Spanglish – the occult rites of a former national leader are there for the viewing. But we can’t see them.”

“Why does it bother you so much?”

“The tape is a century old and preceded the collapse of his government before it accomplished anything.”

“You’re saying if he didn’t do the animal sacrifices, he’d still be in power?”
She laughed, “No, he’d still be dead. I don’t think even Brazil is ready for a zombie president.”

“That’s for sure.” They stood side-by-side, staring at the artifact.

“I got in touch with you because I think we can get the images off this, but I think we need to merge science and magic.”

His breath caught in his chest. He’d heard of it from abuelo. “Oil magic?”

Martina nodded, paused, then said, “The college has a supply.”

“It’s illegal for any of us to even touch it,” Álvaro said. “Even if we touch it, we would be instantly expelled right after we were arrested, tried and sentenced.”

“If we do it physically, I suppose you’d be right.”

“What other way is there to steal oil?”

“Magic,” Martina whispered. “Black magic.” Álvaro barked a laugh and Martina spun to face him, snarling, “What do you know about black magic?”

He held his hands up in surrender and said, “Nothing – as in ‘magic is fine in dumb stories like THE GOLDEN COMPASS, but this is real life’. Abuelo was my favorite person on Earth, and when it came to story-telling, he was the best. But he was old – his generation used ‘it’s magic’ to explain something it didn’t understand.” He shook his head, “First time he saw a cell phone 3D projection when I was talking to my girlfriend one night, he said, ‘esto es la magia negra’.”

“What if I told you a way to use the sacrifice of black gold to create a magical field we would protect the cassette…”

Names: ♀ Catalonia, Peru ; Spain, Argentina

December 3, 2017

WRITING ADVICE: Writing My Way Back Into Publication…I Hope…

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”.

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!

It feels like my writing – well, to be honest, my PUBLICATIONS – have hit a brick wall.

HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERE and VICTORY OF FISTS were available as ebooks briefly, but the publisher was ignoring my agent’s request for royalties (which actually never came), so I suggest that you avoid MuseItUp Publishing (unless they’ve gotten their act together since the middle of last year)…

At any rate, I had a few stories published at the beginning of this year, and it looked to be good.

Then I hit a brick wall.

In trying to “leave a mark” or “say something”, I clearly stumbled. Since my last sale, I’ve submitted sixty times with no acceptance. My recent stories have fallen on ponderously deaf ears.

“What the Cockroach Said” (N-S Korea), “Storm Change” (Native American sovereignty), “The Princess’s Brain” (What fraction makes us Humans?), “And After Soft Rains, Daisies” (Alzheimer’s future care), “Talking my Way Back Into Life” (what happens when you’re suddenly older than you were?), “Rock of Ages” (When you’ve hated someone for two hundred years, can you make peace?), “Titan Mission Drops Bomb” (scat humor in space…OK, maybe I get it for this one…), “Lovely to Behold” (incredibly weird biology leads to murder; accused of being magic…), “Possums Don’t Have Belly Buttons” (cute but ultimately futile), “Candace Mooney and the Princess of Mars” (homage to ER Burroughs, falls flat on it its face and everyone hates me), “The Daily Use of Gravity Modification in Rebuilding Liberian Schools” (this one is my biggest disappointment…I wanted to show the impact of a technological breakthrough on an everyday job in a civil war ravaged country (I’ve been there, seen the results of war) and how it might be used to help raise a place up; as well, my agent and I parted ways (amiably)…and now I have a slew of stories that don’t seem to be going anywhere.

I am so tempted to be bitter and blame The Media, but the fact is that I’ve turned into my now-least-favorite-author in that I’ve allowed my “message” to sublimate my story. Have I lost focus because I’m intent on “leaving a mark” on society. It’s what I challenge my seniors to do as they contemplate graduation in the spring of 2018. I am trying to meet that goal myself, but…it’s FRUSTRATING. I also wonder about how this blog impacts my work. My politics and religion don’t line up at all with…well, the circles I choose to be in – speculative fiction and education. Seems that how I see the world is diametrically opposed to the majority in both places…

So, I’ve been reading and I’ve started to pick up some wisdom. The three most important things:

1) Pray before you write. THAT’S a hard one to do for me. I tend to just pop off a story without much thought as to the emotional and intellectual impact I’m looking for. That segues into…

2) Advice Nancy Kress gave that I’m working hard at absorbing: “How can I lay out a story so that a reader will be ‘always absorbed’?” and “How can I lay out a story so that a reader will END the story with a different perspective, a confirmation of their belief system, or discover a new, interesting place?”

3) VERY recently, I discovered this from Chuck Wendig: “All stories need unanswered questions. All stories demand mysteries to engage our desperate need to know. Storytelling is in many ways the act of positing questions and then exploring the permutations of that question before finally giving in and providing [some] answers.”

Now, how do I combine those three things in order to take me into CONSISTENCY?

I’ll keep you posted…


November 30, 2017

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 115: Stepan of Burroughs; DaneelAH & Company in 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 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 – ‘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.

***

Fifteen minutes earlier, Quinn had stopped at a hollow lift tube, slapping the activation pad. The floor glowed a dim red as he stepped onto it.

“I’m not riding on that!” HanAH said. “It’s so old it’ll quit halfway up!”

The boy shrugged, “Suit yourself. The stairs are down the corridor and to your left.” AzAH, DaneelAH, and MishAH stepped in with the boy.

DaneelAH waved. “See you upstairs.”

HanAH strode forward, muttering, “Someone in this pod has to use their head for something more than a battering ram!” He squeezed between the boy and his vat mates as the gMod lift tube started up to the surface. They rose up slowly – if the lift had been a mechanical elevator, it would have creaked and groaned, rattling to the surface where it deposited them like a cat vomiting. “This is a pestilential hole!”

Quinn spun around and would have kicked him in the shin if DaneelAH hadn’t steered him ahead of them. To HanAH, he said, “Temper, temper, mate. This is where the boy and his hero live.”

Quinn looked up at DaneelAH, jerking free of his hand, saying, “He ain’t no hero, but he’s a good man! He tryin’ to make the Rim a better place.”

AzAH spoke before her vat mate could. “What’s he been doing?”

“He’s got plans that can help – like we’re looking at the roof of this big old warehouse thing he’s got.”

“What’s he want with something like that if he’s a preacher?” HanAH snapped.

“He’s growing plants – fruit, veggies, stuff like that. I think personally he should grab some chickens and guineas. I know exactly where I can nab a few to start us off.”

DaneelAH sent AzAH and MishAH a lop-sided grin. MishAH lengthened her stride until she was alongside the boy. She said, “Why would he do that?”

Quinn shrugged, lengthening his own stride, challenging her. MishAH kept up with him easily – she spent many of her free hours strengthening her body. He glanced at her and said, “He wants to feed us on the Rim.”

“You need food?” He snorted. She tilted her head and half-smiled. “I see.” He turned suddenly, going down crumbling steps and into a huge, deeply shadowed warehouse. “This is it?”

“On the roof.”

“What’s on the roof?” HanAH said.

“My pastor.”

“Does he have a name?” asked MishAH.

“Pastor. The name he calls himself Stepan, but it ain’t his real one.”

“What’s that mean?” asked DaneelAH. They reached the back of the warehouse. “What are we going to do here?”

Quinn whistled sharply. There was a clank high overhead in the darkness and a moment later a battered gMod disk floated down and thunked on the ground. “We have to go up one at a time.”

“There’s no stairway?”

“Nope…well, yes.”

“We’ll take that up, then,” said HanAH.

“If you want. Meet you up there.” He stepped on the disk and with a whistle, it began to rise.

“Wait!” HanAH said.

“What?”

“What’s wrong with the stairs?”

“They haven’t been touched since somebody put up boards and sealed the thing.”

“How are we supposed to open the boards?”

“The cop guy thinks he knows how. Let him.” With a whistle so high they could barely hear it, he rose quickly and disappeared above.

“What was that all about?” HanAH said.

AzAH snorted with laughter then said, “He’s tweaking you, mate. He thinks you’re a puffer.”

“Me?”

All three of them laughed. A moment later, the gMod disk floated back down. They wasted no time in ascending to the roof one at a time. The Martian sun, even magnified and concentrated by lenses built into the Dome structures, still had to be supplemented to grow Earth plants and keep Humans in peak physical condition. HanAH said grumpily, “The place is still a dump.”

AzAH said, “Dumping ground more like.”

Quinn suddenly screamed, “Help! Help! Stepan is trapped!”

The boy was face down on the roof, head sticking out over a square hole in the roof. The others dropped down to their chests and peered over as well.

Far below, the pale face of a man looked up. DaneelAH said, “Mr. Izmaylova, I presume?”

“It is, but I have something very interesting I’ve discovered.”

HanAH snorted and said, “What exactly do you think you’ve discovered?”

“A wearable computer screen – ancient and possibly not of Human origin.”

“How can you tell that?”

“Well, as far as I can tell, the Human would have to have a brain case thirty centimeters across and have one eye…”


November 28, 2017

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 332

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: Dystopia Is Hard

Adéla Stoica hung her head. She’d practiced abject submission just like all the other teenagers in the Orientation Class did. Beside her, Enio Cassar did the same thing.

What the Master before them didn’t see was Adéla open her eyes and shoot a sideways glance.

This time she beat Enio to the punch and could barely hold in the giggle that bubbled up inside of her when he opened his eyes an instant later. They were supposed to be contemplating the worthlessness of their own lives in submission to the Great Cause. She sighed – an acceptable sound – because the Masters of the Great Cause thought they’d beaten everyone down.

Standing before the class, Master Farkas scowled at her. He said to the class in Esperanto, the Language of Submission, “Estas bone ke vi kontempli vian propran senvaloreco ĉiutage, kaj konsideru la grandecon de la Lando anstataŭe.”

This time Enio sighed. It was the motto of the regime, “It is good that you contemplate your own worthlessness every day, and consider the greatness of the Country instead.” The education of the youth after fourteen years of the Society of the Great Cause was predictable. Master Farkas continued, “It should make you feel the weight of that responsibility so deeply that your spirit groans with the burden of it. It is only through sacrifice to society that the individual might live best. It is only through society that all wisdom, all knowledge and all discovery might be directed by the National Science Foundation. Through that wisdom, humanity might live again in the luxury to which it had become accustomed.”

Enio muttered, “Ai mund të marrë zbetë e tij idiot horseshit gojën dhe të fus atë deri gomar e tij, ku ai erdhi nga." Like everyone else at the camp, their mother language was the one they cursed and made love in; Esperanto was the language they learned to mock in; English was the language everyone could communicate across ethnic walls in. Of course, there were to BE no ethnic walls because the Great Cause united all of North America into one Cause – the betterment of humanity.

It was too bad Master Farkas was also a linguist from the Old Order. His gaze arrested Enio and he said in the same language, “Merrni ass tuaj i dobët këtu lart tani, ju mut pak.” Enio’s eyes bulged as Master Farkas added, “Your girlfriend can come up here, too.”

“She’s not my girlfriend,” Enio blurted.

Adéla elbowed him and they stood their ground. The line behind theirs shoved them forward and the lines in front of them opened up. She looked at them and said, “Cowards.” But none of them looked the slightest bit afraid. They looked bored. Like they wanted something interesting to happen; kill the mold growing on their lives of dull sameness. Like jackals. When Master Farkas looked up at them though, their faces transformed to slack idiocy then morphed into hanging heads.

He gestured to them and led them out of the classroom, his white lab coat flapping behind him. Two other technicians wearing the shorter, lower-ranked blue lab coats went into the classroom to take his place. Leading them down a half dozen short flights of stairs, he stopped at a metal door and used his passkey to unlock it. Pushing it open, Adéla and Enio could see that a huge screen covered one wall and that a face filled the screen, looking at them. Master Farkas grabbed Enio’s arm and shoved him into the room. Enio sighed and walked in. “I can’t believe you’re doing this…” The door slammed ponderously.

He touched Adéla’s shoulder and said, “You’re next.”

She knew exactly what was coming and shook her head, remembering the really fascinating books she’d read as a precocious two year old. First she grabbed her older brother’s copy of THE HUNGER GAMES and read it, then the other six sequels. She fell in love with Scott Westerfeld’s UGLIES books. Devoured Haddix’s  THE HIDDEN. Every dystopian book she could find from HG Well’s TIME MACHINE to the seven LAST SURVIVORS books; she read and cherished in her heart.

Then the Great Cause overtook the countries of North America – and her life had been tedious boredom ever since...

Names: Czech, Romania ; ♂Albania, Malta
Image: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b1/3,2,1_blast-off!_(15871161250).jpg/511px-3,2,1_blast-off!_(15871161250).jpg

November 26, 2017

Slice of PIE: A Solution To Writing FRUSTRATION?

NOT using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Helsinki, Finland in August 2017 (to which I be unable to go (until I retire from education)), I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. But not today. This explanation is reserved for when I dash “off topic”, sometimes reviewing movies, sometimes reviewing books, and other times taking up the spirit of a blog an old friend of mine used to keep called THE RANTING ROOM…

Lately, I’ve been frustrated with my writing.

It’s not that I haven’t been able to produce anything – I have.

It’s not that what I’ve written doesn’t have a message couched in a good story -- I hope.

It’s that I’m not doing it WELL enough.

See, I know I can write for the professional market. My publications list to the right proves that to my doubting mind, I CAN. I’m a member of two professional organizations – the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. The groups have offered help several times, so they’re not just “self-congratulatory, back-patting clubs”. I’ve learned things from both.

But as I’ve said before, I’m on the wrong edge of being able to write well CONSISTENTLY.

I’ve tried several “how to” articles, but most of them fall back to beginning writer’s stuff. I’ve read (and have in my library) a dozen or so writing books aimed specifically at the SF market. I’ve read them, underlined them, studied them even. I’ve gotten better as a writer; but CONSISTENCY is my new bane.

Maybe my most recent stories are TOO serious?

“What the Cockroach Said” – North Korean political prisoner is contacted by Americans through a “cockroach robot” and given a way and a promise of support if she sparks revolution. (Modeled this on John Brunner’s 1970s ANALOG story, “Who Steals My Purse?”)

“Talking My Way Back Into Life” – Jet slips 20 years into the future and a 15-year-old-guy is suddenly 35 and alone and has to remake his life. (I lost the contest, so reworked my response to this Xprize challenge: https://www.xprize.org/press-release/visionary-sci-fi-writers-transport-you-20-years-future-new-xprize-anthology)

“The Princess’s Brain” – A blue-blood royal has her brain transplanted into a genetically “impure” body to spark change on a world. (Sci-fi twist on PRINCE AND THE PAUPER)

“Titan Mission Drops Bomb” – A humorous thought for ANALOG regarding space poop, Solar exploration, and alien traces. (OK – this one doesn’t suffer from seriousness…)

“Storm Change” – What if a Dakotah in ND got hold of a gene lab and planned on using it to redress the past and was opposed by his brother?

“The Daily Use of Gravity Modification in Rebuilding Liberian Schools” – This was ambitious for me. A genetically unique soldier uses his skills to rebuild Liberia after another civil war and is joined (reluctantly) by a gravity physicist returning to her homeland. (I stayed there for several months and want to see technology at work in much less developed countries. One editor asked me to drop all the “serious parts” and just do the “adventure” parts and it would be much better! I said, “No thanks”.)

“And After Soft Rain, Daisies” – A tribute to Ray Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains” and the application of monitoring and AI to the care of Alzheimer’s patients.

“The PsISMoDiDE Evaluation of the Borra-Trottier Stars” – in which the odd distribution of certain kinds of stars MIGHT be a sort of “vision test” laid out by vastly superior aliens for us to figure out. (Model: “Can These Bones Live?” (Ted Reynolds))

The rest of the Nancy Kress quote above goes on to specifics: “Emotional Promise: [signals] ‘Read this and you’ll be entertained, or thrilled, or scared, or titillated, or saddened, or nostalgic, or uplifted – but always absorbed’…Intellectual Promise: [signals] ‘Read this and you’ll see the world from a different perspective’; ‘Read this and you’ll have confirmed what you already want to believe about this world’; ‘Read this and you’ll learn of a different, more interesting world than this’. (The third promise can exist alone or in combination with the first or second one).”

After writing the above, I’ve realized a couple of things:

1) My Emotional Promise isn’t compelling enough. How can I lay out a story so that a reader will be “always absorbed”? Analyze prize-winning stories and see what the writer did to absorb me.

2) My Intellectual Promise isn’t compelling enough. How can I lay out a story so that a reader will END the story with a different perspective, a confirmation of their belief system, or discover a new, interesting place. The second is the biggest challenge for me because I’m a Christian. There aren’t as many Christian science fiction readers as there are readers with not-Christian belief systems, so fewer will find confirmation through my stories. That being said, there ARE SF writers who are Christians whose stories sell and who (maybe?) angle their stories to do either the first or the third Intellectual Promise. Maybe I’m emphasizing the second Intellectual Promise too…impolitely?

Hmmm…now I’ve got something to think about!