April 22, 2018

Slice of PIE: Prayer as a Plot Device & THE AGENT -- An APEXView Original Thriller Series!


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…

Us 21st Century folk have a weird idea of what, precisely, prayer is. For the most part, we think it has little to do with laptops, cellphones, GMO-made Human insulin, skin cancer, organ transplants, and bioremediation.

Yet a quick exploration of the word “prayer” leads to a fascinating observation: it shares the proto-Indo-European root “prek” with a number of other words. Some of them: “precarious”, “precaution”, and a dual-use word for logical argument word, postulate (to “suggest or assume the existence, fact, or truth of (something) as a basis for reasoning, discussion, or belief.) that has a math usage as well: “an assumption used as a basis for mathematical reasoning.”

This is interesting because in geometry, “A postulate is a statement that is assumed true without proof.” For example, you’d think that this postulate is absolutely true: “Postulate 1: A line contains at least two points.”, yet it is only ASSUMED true but doesn’t need proof.

Would that we did the same for prayer! It’s OK in math, and logic, but NOT OK in religion. Funny that.

A number of religions allow for prayer and it’s interpreted in many, many ways. A slow read through the Wikipedia entry (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prayer) is very educational.

So how does this all connect at ALL with plot?

I’m at a men’s retreat with a group from my church, most of us also attend a Bible study together. The subject (in case you can’t guess!) is prayer. So then, how DO prayer and plot intersect? There’s certainly no fancy word-way they do. But the spirit of the two DO intersect. Paul wrote 32 prayers in his letters to the various churches; in the Book of Acts alone, the disciples prayed 37 times and it was recorded, so the subject is important as well.

I sometimes think that the Bible is only good for spiritual advice of suggestions or teaching, but I forget that there IS entertaining story in it. Noah’s ark has been made into twenty-one movies (according to Wikipedia) alone; thirteen about the Exodus; seven just about Joseph, including of course, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (1999)…I’m not going to count them all. If you do, the article’s here, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_films_based_on_the_Bible

So, to see if there was a word intersection, I searched in my Etymology site and alas, I couldn’t see anything. I tried looking up “plot” in my Bible concordance, expecting very little – and I stumbled across an incredibly detailed story that, were it expanded into a screenplay or a novel and then set in the 21st Century, would probably reach BLOCKBUSTER series status!

It begins with the betrayal of a state government by a former agent. When the state finds out about it, they begin to plot the kidnapping and murder of the agent. There’s deceit, lying, and intrigue to start with – then the feds get involved! Oh, and it’s not because they were spying; this superpower doesn’t think the state’s worth their time to do anything more than routine monitoring. But the nephew of the agent overhears the state plans and at his mother’s urging, goes to the feds and spills the plot. The chief of the federal agency believes the kid, speaks for him, and is granted NOT just a SWAT team, but seventy Humvees, and two hundred foot soldiers and paratroopers!

It ends when the feds storm the prison, grab the ex-state agent and remove him to a secure location. Though it’s not explicit, I think there’s an implication of some sort of running battle between the state and the feds! Once the man is rescued, he’s locked up (for his own good, right???)…this one might be called, THE AGENT AT DAMASCUS.

The federal officer in charge of the prison attempts to get the former state agent to turn informer on the state – and keeps trying to break him for two years! He doesn’t want to get the armed forces on him because he has secrets to keep, so he’s subtle, maybe even playing psychological games with the man – who, having been a state agent for some time and had an extremely impressive kill record, never give the officer what he wants, and after two years he was replaced, probably THE AGENT IN HIDING.

The new man, once he reviews the files, he decides to send the prisoner higher up; where he is bumped higher still, until the man is sent to the capital because he’s requested an audience with the supreme leader of the nation. By now, I have to imagine that the case has hit both the national news as well as the tabloids; most likely the LAST thing the state government wanted to happen! On arrival in the capital, he not only was given a place, but the state representatives asked to see him – and he turned THEM on each other. While he never saw the president, he stayed in the capital for two more years…this one say, call it THE AGENT ON TRIAL.

This plot is clearly outlined starting in Acts 23, chapter 12 and running until the end of the book; Saul, who’d become Paul after an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ, then goes on to write most of the letters of the New Testament – writing prayers we still use two thousand years later. Interleaved through the story are the prayers of one man, Paul of Tarsus, former agent of the state, traitor, and now a man with influence in that nation’s capital.

If you left the the Christianity out, you could market it as a standard thriller…well enough. You get the idea. Prayer and plot; who knew they could be the foundation of “THE AGENT: an APEXView Original Mini-Series”…


April 20, 2018

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 124: Paolo Exiting 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 (80,000+ words as of now), drop me a line and I’ll send you the unedited version.

The young Lotharian – a flame-haired Martian of some sort of mutated stock – had passed Paolo his message. After knocking him over while he was supposedly jogging.

Judas pulled Paolo to his feet and said, “You have to get moving. The regular police are satisfied, but I’m pretty sure that there are mind police still skulking nearby.”

“Did you say ‘skulk’?”

Judas clearly couldn’t keep himself from a faint smile. “Yes. Yes, I did.” He bumped Paolo with a shoulder. “I like to practice ancient vocabulary.” They started walking. “You said you needed a new marsbug?”

“It would help. I’m not sure how much more surface time this one can take.”

Judas nodded, then with a jerk of his chin, directed Paolo to a spiraling stairs. “Let’s walk.”

“How far?”

“Four down and then a kilometer to the ‘bug garages. You can exit then connect with Via Cydonia just north of Burroughs.”

“Do I need to be anyone else while I’m driving the ‘bug?”

Judas looked up at him, surprised, then shrugged. “Yeah. You’ll be me.”

Paolo lifted his chin. “Purely accidental that we have some similar facial characteristics?”

Judas shrugged, then said as they passed a level exit. The steps were wide enough for three to walk comfortably. A ‘steppie’, someone who used the vertical spiral stairways as an exercise tool, huffed past them going up. They gave her clear berth by stepping aside. They were both acutely aware of the three-meter surveillance camera dots pressed to the wall. Once she was gone, Judas said, “Entirely coincidental.” He started moving down again. Though, your spiel did catch the ear of several of my associates.”

“My spiel?”

“You were pretty eloquent, but I think the gist of your philosophy was that if we come forward with evidence that Humans aren’t alone in the universe – and our faith doesn’t go to pieces – was a pretty powerful persuader. It dovetails with our Martian mythologies neatly, and UniFiH hasn’t ever squashed it. If God is, in fact, leading you to gather the evidence and other Christians have other pieces of evidence pointing to the same thing, even if we don’t end up leading Mars, it may be that we’ll at least gain some legal footing again.” He held up a hand as they passed another level, then said, “Not that I believe your wild-assed theory.” Paolo’s eyes widened. Judas sniffed, “Yeah, I used a vulgar word.” They pounded down the stairs a while in silence until Judas said, “You know the root word of ‘vulgar’?” Paolo shrugged. “It was just a word that meant ‘ordinary’ or ‘common’ in Latin. I’m pretty sure that Jesus and his disciples, who were mostly common men, used vulgar language on occasion. As it fit the situation.”

Paolo grunted then said, “Here?”

“Yes.” They exited the stairwell and joined the heavier flow of traffic picking up the slidewalks heading slowly to the edge of Burroughs Dome. Judas leaned closer, “Just because I don’t believe in your marooned aliens theory doesn’t mean I don’t think your mission won’t work. It’s time for our Church to come out of hiding. There are people who aren’t Christians who would just as soon see Martian society return to civilized discourse.”

Paolo snorted, saying, “More like the middle of the 21st Century?”

Judas lifted his chin, “Most people don’t know their Earth history that well.”

“The early half of the last century was a blot on the face of all Humanity. We’re lucky we learned to shut up and listen and then talk after we thought.” The slidewalk let out into a huge cavern. “I didn’t come in here.”

“Nope. This is Breachport. Common Law – about the closest thing we have to a free port on Mars – is enforced here by squads of police from all of the major Domes and a few of the minor ones. Makes certain everyone gets a fair shake if things go sideways. All the Domes are supposed to have one.” Paolo followed Judas until they reached a parked marsbug. “This is mine. Touch your com to mine.” Paolo pulled his out and did. “All right. You have all my passcodes and IDs. They’ll get you out of Burroughs lands. After that you’re on your own.”

“Thanks,” Paolo said. The two men faced each other awkwardly. “I think in better circumstances we might have been good friends.”

“Agreed.” He stepped forward abruptly, hugged Paolo and whispered, “We’re being followed. Get moving.”

Paolo hugged him back, nodded and got into the ‘bug. He was rolling a few moments later after using the IDs on his com to check out. He lifted his hand as he passed Judas and said a brief prayer. Then he was on his way.


April 18, 2018

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 351


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: government bans art; group uses it to restore…

Hector Blaine has lived his entire life on a ranch in central Kansas. When his family is killed in a tornado while he’s on a mission trip, he’s shipped off to a wealthy, elderly aunt and uncle who live in Minneapolis, not far from the Walker Art Museum in a huge house. He has a room of his own, but he never sees them – only the housekeeper and a cook.

He’s been in Minnesota for three months and he hates it, but the school year is starting and instead of taking his aunt and uncle’s suggestion to attend an exclusive private school, he opts for a public one, figuring he’ll have a better chance surviving among the poor and rough rather than among the rich and snotty.

They comply and he’s set to start Southwest Minneapolis High School. But he just doesn’t want to be there at ALL. He’s trapped. He can’t escape. It’s like he’s been captured, enslaved and totally out of control of his life.

NOT that he ever felt like he had any control when he lived in Kansas – his two older brothers and older sister pretty much used him as a dumping ground for the chores and work they didn’t want to do. The kids in Brownell think of him as a country hick. The kids in Salina, Kansas (the nearest “big city”) – the one time he’d been there – had looked at him like he was from another planet. But at least they’d been from Kansas. He’s certain he’s going to DIE at Southwest.

So he runs away. Sort of. To the Museum, which is the only place he’s felt at home since he came to this Northern Nightmare. He wanders most of Sunday, ending up at a new exhibit of Roman artifacts. He has no desire to leave and hides, studying one of the things – a bucket of some sort – when a group of five people come in. They’re talking, and he hears them say clearly, “It’s not a bucket. It’s a helmet. A Roman helmet in a Briton dig.”

“What would a Briton be doing with a Roman helmet? Was he insane? A collector of war memorabilia? What?”

A softer, woman’s voice, with a clear British accent, speaks up then, “I think that instead of inventing fantastic excuses why a Briton couldn’t have a helmet, we accept instead the simplest answer – that during the First Century AD, the Britons and the Romans weren’t all about hating each other. Some Brits were accepted into the Legion as soldiers.”

“He’d have been a pariah among his own people!” one man exclaimed.

“Hated above all others!” a woman cried.

The soft-spoken woman remained silent until the others had finished then said, “A man set apart whether by choice or circumstance is still a man set apart – and he might have been set apart for greatness.”

Hector didn’t hear the rest of the argument, he reached up and touched the Plexiglas cube covering the “bucket”. For a moment, the people break into chaotic shouting, but the sound fades as does the room around him…

Names: Greece, Scotland (Gaelic)

April 15, 2018

WRITING ADVICE – Lisa Cron #1: Start With A Specific POINT


In 2008, 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. To learn more – and to satisfy my natural tendency to “teach stuff”, I started a series of essays taking the wisdom of published writers and then applying each “nugget of wisdom” to my own writing. During the six years that followed, I used the advice of a number of published writers (with their permission) and then applied the writing wisdom of Lin Oliver, Jack McDevitt, Nathan Bransford, Mike Duran, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SL Veihl, Bruce Bethke, and Julie Czerneda to an analysis of my own writing. Together these people write in genres broad and deep, and have acted as agents, editors, publishers, columnists, and teachers. Today I add to that list, Lisa Cron who has worked as a literary agent, TV producer, and story consultant for Warner Brothers, the William Morris Agency, and others. She is a frequent speaker at writers’ conferences, and a story coach for writers, educators, and journalists. I am using her article, “A Reader’s Manifesto: 15 Hardwired Expectations Every Reader Has for Every Story” (2/16/18 http://blog.creativelive.com/essential-storytelling-techniques/) with permission.

So we’ll begin with the first expectation a reader would have when they crack open a copy of ANALOG, or SHORELINE OF INFINITY (where a reprint of my story, “Pigeon” is currently found – https://www.amazon.com/Shoreline-Infinity-Edinburgh-International-Festival/dp/1999700260/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8) or what I’m currently reading for the first time, TO GUARD AGAINST THE DARK, by Julie Czerneda (https://www.amazon.com/Guard-Against-Dark-Reunification/dp/0756412439/ref=tmm_mmp_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1523728822&sr=1-2&dpID=51qOTJTB2ML&preST=_SY344_BO1,204,203,200_QL70_&dpSrc=detail):

As a reader, I’ll expect that the story will start making a very specific point – in the first sentence. Without actually thinking about it, I should wonder what I’m going to learn from it that will help me make it through the night. As the writer, I need to know what my point is before I begin writing. What am I saying about human nature? What inside intel am I giving my reader about how to best navigate this mortal coil?

So I’m going to look at a story I’ve been struggling with for some months now, the title is currently, “Lovely To Behold”.

It began as a response to an invitation given by Julie Czerneda for a collection of original stories that took place in one of the universes she’s created. It was supposed to be fun, exciting, and fill in small holes in the history she’d created.

I wrote a story, sent it off, and it was returned with regrets. Disappointed, I figured I could rewrite it for a universe that I’d created.

I’ve written eleven stories that take place in the skies of a puffy Jupiter-like planet called River. I have maps, societies, alien life forms – though in this universe, there are NO intelligent aliens. Humans have fractured into two societies. The Confluence of Humanity has given totally free reign for genetic manipulation of Humans in order to create them to fit environments and worlds.

The Empire of Man allows limited genetic engineering and bases legal Humanity and inclusion in Human society, on the percentage of deviation from Pure Human DNA – if you are 65% unaltered Human DNA, then you are Human…if you are less, then you are not. Both the Confluence and the Empire have colonized the skies of this giant world, and while there are always conflicts, they co-exist in relative peace.

I’ve written eleven stories in this universe, several through the eyes of a man who is a genetic descendant of Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman whose cancer cells are the source of the HeLa cell line, the first immortalized cell line and one of the most important cell lines in medical research. They were harvested both illegally and without her or her family’s knowledge. He is an eminently cloned body and an important source of DNA for a line of special investigators, soldiers, spies, and covert operatives. Three have been published.

The most recent story begins like this: Even though the Ferris, YAN TIANJIN was supposed to have an all-night arrival and departure depot, at four-thirty am, its lights were still dim.”

If you notice, not only do I NOT make a very specific point, in the first sentence, there is no evidence in this story of a point so far, I haven’t offered anything that will help someone make it through the night. In fact, there’s no story here at all…I have failed this first test.

I have struggled to find out what my point is, though I thought I knew before I started writing. What am I saying about human nature? What inside intel am I giving my reader about how to best navigate this mortal coil?

Thus far, none.

So let me try again.

My point, succinctly: “How much can you lie about yourself and still remain your…self?”

Iggie wants to be a re-educator (those who need or want to change from one occupation to another – including from childhood to adulthood) has ID that will get him out of the two-bit parts store he owns in an out-of-the way, Confluence-controlled cloud Band in the skies of River. With it, he’ll be able to just squeak into a high-stakes university. But in this story, he’s doubting that he has the brain-power to pass the entrance assessment, so he’s trying to buy an illegal nootropic (“smart drugs and cognitive enhancers; drugs, supplements, and other substances that improve cognitive function, particularly executive functions, memory, creativity, or motivation, in healthy individuals.”)

His best friend, whose DNA has been profoundly manipulated, is also a young man who looks like a giant bratwurst with six limbs and has a wicked sense of humor, is opposed to everything false. He thinks Iggie should start low and climb high – going to a Confluan college, then becoming the best student he can be and forcing his way into an Imperial University.

But that first thing doesn’t even get mentioned until later; and even then, not clearly.

Have a succeeded by anyone else’s definition?

How about Charlie Jane Anders at io9?  In her article, “How to writer a killer first sentence for your science fiction story”, she says to start your story one of six ways: scene, conflict, mystery, narration (first or third person), a quote, or a puzzle.

I started with a scene – OK. Why is the story flat and uninteresting?

Conflict? I could move this scene to the beginning:

First Thought)

“You gonna buy something or just stand there drooling on the floor, AJ?” a voice said in Iggie’s ear.

Twisting away from the source and covering the side of his face, Iggie pinched his nostrils and said, “Shut up, Skunk.”

I’d have to do a lot of backtracking, but I COULD do it. Or I could just take off from that point and charge ahead, filling in backstory as I went.

William Gibson wrote: “The first line must convince me that it somehow embodies the entire unwritten text…Once that first line succeeds in selling me on the worthiness of some totality that in no way, at that point, actually exists, I can continue.” (https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/10/william-gibson-by-heart/382027/)

Angie Smibert at League of Extraordinary Writers writes, “That line shows the reader a peek at what your story is going to be about.  It’s your chance to set the tone, voice, theme, setting, etc. Is it going to be high fantasy or poetic cyberpunk? Is it set in a world unlike ours? Is it ironic or whimsical? Think of that first line as your opening ‘we’re not in Kansas anymore’ salvo.” (http://leaguewriters.blogspot.com/2011/11/top-10-opening-lines-in-science-fiction.html)

So how about these as new opening lines? (Vote if you’d like!)

One) Simple solution: start with the SECOND sentence:

“He’d started out spying on the airlock, but perched on a cross-brace, Igaluk Abumayaleh-Jawai nodded off. He smiled, dreaming about university in the warm Band of the Nile.”

Two) Technically, this is four sentences, but seems short enough:

“Head down, he realized he’d walked halfway around the Docking Ring before noticing he was at the down-ramp to the Supermarket Level. His target, an information merchant’s shop wasn’t much farther and he started walking faster. His earphone chirped. Tapping it, he said, ‘What?’”

Three) Deeper into the current story (which, after reading portions of it again, I can clearly see is a MESS…):

“OK. Don’t. You don’t need any fancy nootropic to increase your retention of facts and speed up your neural processing to knit an information web,” said the Human-sized sausage with six limbs and six eyestalks.

Four) Even deeper into the story as it stands:

“You’re jealous because I’m Human and you’re not!”
“What?” Even though Agnew’s nose was tiny, he snorted and said, “Last I looked you’re only sixty point three-eight-four percent Pure Human DNA. In Imperial Belts and Bands, you’re no more Human than me.”

Five) I could keep doing this all day, but oddly, doing this exercise has help clarify a few things. Last entry:

“I have a report here,” she tapped the external memory plaque on the side of her head, “That says you were seen in front of PHLECKSIZ PHACTS earlier today.” She stopped, looking at him.

It doesn’t mean anything just sitting there, but it’s an important point in the entire story…

Let me know what you think about the first sentences above. I would appreciate it if you’d judge each one according to the following criteria:

1) Which one makes a specific point? (Cron)
2) Which one makes you wonder what you’re going to learn from it that will help you make it through the night? (Cron)
3) Which one makes you wonder what inside intel about how to best navigate this mortal coil? (Cron)
4) I started my story with a scene, but should I have started it with a conflict, mystery, narration (first or third person), a quote, or a puzzle? (Anders)
5) Did any of those sentences convince you that it somehow embodies the entire story to follow? (Gibson)


April 13, 2018

LOVE IN A TIME OF ALIEN INVASION: Chapter 84 The Trials of Group Three: 2


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)

The smallest Yown’Hoo in Xio’s part of the Triad, Nah-hi-el, dug its claws into the earth and ran. They could hear it scrambling for some time. Shortly it returned and said, “It is a much disused ramp and my stronger brothers Ali-go and Seg-go will of need go on first joint to move freely, but it exits in a large, Human built room.”

Xio said, “We all go. Now. We have no time to waste. I will lead.” She ducked into the tunnel, glad she wasn’t any taller than she was. All she needed to do was crouch. ‘Car would have had to crawl. Retired…she cut off that line of thought. He was an old man. Probably would have had to slither, getting all muddy. And wet. His clothing would have clung tight to his hard muscled body.

She swallowed hard to stop that line of imagination and led her team upward and into an abandoned storage room, and crossing a floor littered with debris, they found a door with no handle.

Ali-go said, “Where do we go, Herd Minor?”

Xio gestured to the two larger Yown’Hoo and said, “You need to knock the door down.”

“Herd Minor?” they spoke in unison, though the notes they took were different. Atonal harmony – jarring and cacophonous, but also melodic, lyrical and sweet at the same time.

“What?”

“If you do not wish to be damaged, it would be wise for you to move out from in front of the door,” said Ali-go.

As this was the most she’d ever heard them speak, Xio moved.

“Thank you, Team Leader Xio,” said Seg-go. The two Yown’Hoo spun and kicked out. The door dented. They repeated the kick three times before the metal was bent so badly, it popped open, the door itself bent nearly into a “V” shape.

“I’ll lead,” she stepping forward.

All three said in atonal harmony, “As the Herd Minor should.”

She nodded and stepped through the wreckage of the door into the corridor beyond, saying, “Stay here unless you hear me call.”

All three took a step back in respect. Xio kept going. The corridor had been sealed for some time. A thick layer of dust lay on the floor, but there were no marks of wear at all. She reached out to the wall, expecting wood, but finding something slick, plastic-like instead, though not dry…not wet either. “What is this?” She discovered then that her little Herd had not heeded her command. They were practically on her heels.

She started when Ali-go said, “It smells of Kiiote. Taste it, Least.”

Nah-hi-el paused, licked the wall, then spat violently. “It is Kiiote urine.”

Xio jerked her hand away from the wall. “It doesn’t smell like piss!”

Seg-go yipped, a Yown’Hoo expression equivalent to a Human snort of derision, and said, “Not literal, Xio! It’s a substance Kiiote use to coat surfaces that must be preserved from bacterial and fungal growths.” It sniffed, “Given the state of growth of both, it’s a good thing that they did.”

Xio stared down at the small Yown’Hoo. In the past, it had barely spoken a dozen words a day, and then only in response to the Herd Mother or Zei-go. This other herd mother – maybe a herd mother in training – at least she assumed it was a female, was more the disciplinarian and a sort of teacher – though in a way Xio only recognized because she’d been in the Triad since she was three years old. She stopped suddenly and touched the wall again, then said, “How long would the coating be effective against fungal and bacterial growth?”

Seg-go walked backwards to stand beside her and fell to her knees, saying, “I cannot believe I did not think of that!”

Ali-go and Nah-hi-el said together, “What do you not believe?”

Seg-go looked up at Xio and said, “You speak, Herd Minor!”

Xio made a face. “How long, Seg-go?”

“To the best of my knowledge, the treatment would last some seventy or eighty revolutions around the Earth’s Sun. The rate at which the growth have infiltrated the wall surface, indicates that they were treated nearly a hundred Earth years ago.”

There was a long silence. In the distance, they heard water dripping. Like a cave, the air, while cold, seemed to be a constant, warm-ish temperature. Certainly above freezing. “So the Yown’Hoo were here before the war broke out,” Xio said.

“This is inarguable evidence, Herd Minor. Before Kiiote arrived, before Humans knew of our existence, this tunnel was here; therefore, it was NOT before the Kiiote arrived.”

Xio wished she could talk to Retired. She wished he would hold her…she gulped, shuddered, and whispered, “Not that.”

“Long before the Conflict broke out on Earth, the Kiiote were here…”

“We have to get moving,” Xio said and started along the tunnel again. Shortly, it rose to the surface. Another pile of soil partially blocked their way, but the Yown’Hoo were good diggers and with Xio, they moved aside enough dirt to reveal another door.

There was a handle this time. Xio looked at her small Herd, nodded and pulled it open.


April 10, 2018

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 350


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: Aliens are perfectly unified in all ways – think, say, believe and do

So, most forward thinkers believe that Humans are bad and that aliens are good. Except for a few – like David Brin (http://www.davidbrin.com/shouldsetitransmit.html) and Stephen Hawking (http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1004/30/lkl.01.html), believe that we may be stupid and aliens are dangerous.

Both viewpoints assume that aliens are perfectly unified in how they think and act.

So this week’s idea turns on that assumption:

David Lange has traveled with his parents for almost 18 years to every Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence conference, seminar and meeting in the US as well as hundreds of UFO conferences on the North American continent as well as several in Europe, Australia, China, Russia, Brazil and India. They’re psychologists trying to understand WHY people believe in aliens – and they have 26 books, 148 podcasts and have been on every television talk show from Springer to Meet The Press. They have DVD series and both of them regularly act as guest professors at universities all over the world, teaching on the psychology of belief.

Clara Finch’s father disappeared on her fourth birthday, when they were on a camping trip in the Rockies. Her mother has been convinced since then that lights she saw in the heights were UFOs and her husband was abducted a la Close Encounters of the Third Kind. She, too has followed the conference circuit as well as telling her story to a writer who collected alien abduction stories. The man wrote the book, Unsolved Abductions: Alien Overlords! Where Are Our Loved Ones?

They are in Roswell, New Mexico for the 75th Anniversary of the Alien Incident. So, it seems, are all the other kooks. And researchers. And scientists. As well as psychics, parapsychologists, FBI agents, CIA agents, KGB agents and InterPol. There’s a contingent of nuns and one of Buddhist monks from Tibet as well. The city has swollen from its usual population of 50,000 to over 150,000. The National Guard is there as well as several Army platoons on “exercises”.

Clara and David run into each other, take a shine and spend most of a night at a local carnival. All is pretty normal until a man walks up to them and says, “Listen, I know this is insane, but Clara, I’m your dad.” He turns to David and says, “Your parents are wrong, and now the Earth might not be ready to face the Zheel…”
                                                                       

April 8, 2018

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: The "Rules" of Writing


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 days like today, where I’ll use the Minnesota MiniCon in Minneapolis, MN going on RIGHT NOW, this weekend.

Reading through the program, I thought that this subject might be interesting to comment on…

Breaking the Rules in Writing—When and how to break the rules of fiction, like “don’t write in second person” or “don’t use information dumps.”

Rachel Swirsky: Rachel Swirsky is a writer, poet, founder and editor of PodCastle. Pubs in Tor.com, Subterranean Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Fantasy Magazine, Interzone, Realms of Fantasy, and Weird Tales (also a member of CODEX Online, a group I’ve been with for a few years)
CJ Mills: wrote the Winter World sequence 
Danith McPherson: novel and a few short stories
Adam Stemple: writer of novels, short stories, poetry, but best known for his music – and the fact that he’s Jane Yolen’s son…
Joy Dawn Johnson: writer of a novel
Kathryn Sullivan: writer, novels and a huge number of short stories

First of all, besides the rules above, what are OTHER rules of writing fiction – and where did they come from?

While the first written word that was created intentionally as fiction was written by Frenchman, Chr├ętien de Troyes (1170), and though he didn’t really offer the first advice, fables and parables have existed since Aesop and Jesus.

From above:
1) Don’t write in second person.
2) Don’t use information dumps.

From various sources:
3) Don’t compare yourself to others. (Aesop: The City Mouse and the Country Mouse)
4) Don’t use passive voice. (The Old Testament and the New Testament never use it, and Jesus always spoke in first Person)
5) Don’t do social media during your dedicated writing time.
6) Don’t follow the trends. (“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.” (Matt 7:13)
7) Don’t try and get it right the first time.
8) Don’t brag.
9) Don’t write for others.
10) Don’t worry about rejection.
11) Don’t complain – about anything.
12) Don’t write the first scene until you know the last.
13) Don’t write a prologue.
14) Don’t keep a thesaurus within reaching distance.
15) Don’t give up. (Aesop: Tortoise and the Hare, Crow and the Pitcher)
16) Don’t worry if you hear a “rule” about writing that sounds wrong to you.

I find it amusing that PUBLISHED writers are the ones who tell you to break the rules…’cause if your reading their article or listening to them speak, then that means that they’ve gotten enough things published that when you see their name, you’re supposed to say, “OH! I need to go to that session/read that article because that person MUST know what they’re doing!”

I’m sure the presentation was lively and the discussion scintillating. I doubt how much “new stuff” they presented. By that I mean how many of them considered the new writer?

The person just seeking their first publication, breaking into one of the paper (ANALOG, ASIMOV’S, F&SF, ELLERY QUEEN, HITCHCOCK’S…several others as well, I’m sure); or the online ones (I edit/contribute to STUPEFYING STORIES (https://stupefyingstories.blogspot.com/)) should probably follow the rules.

At least until they get a string of some publications and can try something daring.

So, what about a relative unknown like me?

I could go through the list one at a time, but I think I’ll spare you that and just say that there’s so much advice out there – there are links below for advice on writing. Follow them or don’t follow them. Just remember that famous authors got famous for multiple reasons. I’m certainly not famous – but my work has appeared in American science fiction magazines online and on paper; it was podcast by actors in Britain; and reprinted in a science fiction magazine in Scotland. I was also published by a Canadian company for about a year. If you had told a rather chubby fourteen-year-old that he would have four stories in ANALOG, he would…I would have sat down and read them over and over and over and been completely paralyzed to ever write again because I would know that I could NEVER be that good…even though I was reading words written by a much older me.

I did, however, learn how to write well. You can, too.

OK – one rule: don’t stop writing and sending your stories out. (Once you do, you can’t get better and you can’t get published – no matter how you wish. As James Michener wrote: “Many people…want to have been writers.”


April 5, 2018

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 123: Aster of Opportunity


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

In her personal life on Mars, Aster Theilen, former office pool, current Consort of Mayor-for-Life, his Excellency Etaraxis Ginunga-Gap, had not seen lots of evidence of the greatness of Humanity without the immaterial. After meeting her father’s – literally – underground Church – she’d come to the surface to find that an entourage was waiting for her. Consisting of a group of blue Artificial Humans dressed in dark blue business tunics and pants, led by an elderly male, who had introduced himself as BondAH. She said, “Where is my Consort?”

“Waiting for you in his office,” said BondAH.

“His office?”

“Yes, your Grace.”

Aster scowled. The office was for business – his home office, obviously – and despite the fact that he had a perfectly good office there, complete with staff, he often worked from the Pylon. He’d just never invited HER to his office in the Pylon. “Why does he want me here?”

“I do not know, your Grace.”

“Cut the ‘your Grace’, stuff, Master BondAH.”

“I will ‘cut the your Grace, stuff’, when you cut the Master stuff, ma’am.”

She couldn’t help but grin. “Fine. I’ll call you Master, and you can call me ‘your Grace.”

BondAH stopped, touched the door chime and stepped back as it slid open. “The Mayor awaits you, your Grace.”

She stepped through the door and took the lift to the top, feeling the shift underneath her several times as it slid sideways. Holding her breath, she tried to figure the best way to approach him. She’d never really done anything that he might disagree with, though he might have forbidden her to sponsor the Orphan’s Ball. He’d thought “shaking things up” a good idea. She was, however, fairly sure that what she was planning would go beyond what he expected.

On the other hand…the lift door slid open.

He was standing with his back to her – a bad sign – looking out over the Opportunity Dome. It was a clear view of the raw landscape of Mars. Though softer today than it had been a hundred years ago when the First Colonists had landed, it was still not an environment to be trifled with. Humans still lost their lives on the surface, and disaster was only a large puncture away. The cool, moist air Humanity had grown to some form a maturity in, was several thousand kilometers away; the dry, thin air of Mars – at an air pressure that, even today at ten kilopascals, it was still less than ten percent of Earth’s air pressure. It was also remained primarily carbon dioxide, though now the argon, neon, nitrogen, and molecular oxygen content had increased appreciably. Even so, Humans were a long, long time from being able to cavort freely on the surface. As if he’d been reading her thoughts, Etaraxis said, “It’s different than it was, but not different enough.” He turned to her, smiled faintly, and added, “Good to see you, again, Aster.”

She nodded, smiling a bit as well. He wasn’t a horrible man, certainly not the Anti-Christ her father sometimes muttered about. Aster would have given that appellation to vo’Maddux. “You as, well, Etar.” They both sniffed at the play on their names. She offered him her hand, he kissed her chastely on the cheek, then he slipped his arm around her waist.

He said, “My…dog…tells me you are plotting my downfall.”

Not surprised by his gambit, she said, “How many accusations does this make since you asked me to the Pylon?”

He snorted outright this time. “Your steadfastness continues to catch me off guard, Madame Consort!” He shook his head, “You have no idea how badly that woman frightened the others.”

“I have a very good idea, thank you. She terrifies me,” Aster said without looking at the Mayor. The austerity of Mars, which she usually took for granted – if she noticed it at all – sometimes took her breath away. “This world is an excellent metaphor.”

“For what?”

“vo’Maddux’ soul. Dry. Cracked. Singular. Unbroken.”
Etaraxis grunted then said, “Could you be a little more specific, Dear?”

She shot him a look, noted that he was teasing her, then said, “Of course I’ve been to the underground. If I’m going to be your consort and have a say in what happens in this Dome – as well as keep an ear to the ground – then I need to wander our home freely.”

“It’s dangerous…”

“Mars is dangerous, dear Consort. Every inch of it not covered with Dome is dangerous. The parts that are covered are ten times more dangerous because they can lull you into thinking everything is safe and sound.”

He turned to her this time, then gently turned her to face him. “You’ve heard something. I know that… ‘know-it-all’ tone in your voice.”

“I don’t have…” then she stopped. Her father had said the same thing to her once, when she was young and wanted to move out of his Church. She sighed. “I do. And I do.”

“You’ve heard that particular accusation before.”

“My father.”

“Wise man to turn you lose before you destroyed yourself!” He paused then said, “What have you heard?”

“There’s a snake loose in your paradise, Dear Consort.”

“vo’Maddux can’t…”

“Not her. She’s more like the bull in the china shop.”

“The what?”

“Doesn’t matter – an old Earth saying Dad would toss at me when I got overly enthusiastic about something and didn’t understand exactly what I was doing.”

Etaraxis nodded slowly. “So, this snake?”

“Nothing certain yet, but my source seems to think that it will strike soon – and it will strike here.”