September 2, 2014

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 172


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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.

Fantasy Trope: magic


Jakob Josef-Büchel fingered the crest of his grandfather’s homeland then looked up at the piece of it that rested in the box in his lap. With his cell phone tucked between his shoulder and cheek he said, “I just got a box with a golden horn with a gold strap on it.”

Kiena Onorio said, “Sounds cheesy. Just throw it away…”

“I don’t think it’s something I can throw away.”

“Why not?” You have boat loads of junk at your house from your fancy-pants family. You must the only one who celebrates being from the smallest country on Earth.”

“I wouldn’t talk! Kiribati’s awfully small.” Kiena snorted. He knew there was no way she could argue. Instead he said, “How about we settle the argument once and for all?”

“I’ll be over in a minute,” she said. He lived across the street, on Embassy Row on the island nation of New Zealand. She scaled the wall between their compounds, waving at the security guard who watched her. She hated the fact that he thought the two of them were having sex. He wouldn’t have cooperated even if they were the last couple on Earth. He was deeply in love with…

She reached his window and said, “What do you have in mindtwo stones of red coral, one fruit of the non-tree, one old coconut, the first leaf of a seed nut, and the strong green leaf of an old tree”

“A contest,” he said, holding up the horn. She blinked in surprise. The way he’d described it made it sound like it was a cheap movie prop. But the solidity of it, even from across the room, made her feel vaguely uneasy.

She stepped back. “What are you talking about?”

He made a face then said, “What something from Kiribati that you know of that’s supposed to be magic?”

“Magic?”

He held up the horn easily, tossed it in the air, caught it and said, “Yeah. This thing’s supposed to have magical powers. We can figure out who’s got the best country by having a magic contest.”

“I don’t believe in magic,” she replied.

“Right. Is that why you keep make all those little pictures of us together then burning them with an incense stick – because you don’t believe in magic?”

“How do you…” He lifted his chin to the telescope on the veranda of his room. She’d always assumed it was there because his mother was a world renowned amateur astronomer as well as an ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Cameroun. “You didn’t think I liked space, did you?”

She could see where the conversation was going, so she said abruptly, “There’s this old legend that involves two stones of red coral, one fruit of the non-tree, one old coconut, the first leaf of a seed nut, and the strong green leaf of an old tree.”

“Sounds like a lot of crap to me,” Jakob said, laughing.

“The Kiribati stuff is supposed to help me establish a kingdom. What’s that stupid horn supposed to do?”

“When it is blown, the way I hear the story when I was little, it will revive the Kingdom of Bohemia with me as King.”

She shrugged. “So?”

He grinned, “Maybe you’ve heard of the Third Reich, then?”

Names: ♀Kiribati; Liechtenstein

August 31, 2014

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: The Dark Ages Were Not Dark…



The typical thought of the average person is that these Ages were Dark because Christianity was beating up on everyone and everything.

Defined various as the 10th to the 11th Centuries, the 5th through the 10th Centuries, the 6th through the 13th Centuries, 11 through the 13th Centuries, many modern scholars have done away with the label altogether. As well, in some undefined future, there will come a time when “it might not be possible to read historical digital documents” during a Digital Dark Age.

While it’s certain that the Church did some horrendous deeds between 600 AD and 1400 AD – things like the Crusades (1065 to 1291); the Inquisition (1300 to 1500); and perhaps even the Salem Witch Trials (part of a larger Great Witch Craze of Europe that lasted from the 15th through the 18th Centuries – the Dark Ages had little to do with the Church. What it DID have to do with was transmission of information.

According to the infinite fount of knowledge, Wikipedia says that the Dark Ages are characterized by “...the decline of the Roman Empire...light-versus-darkness imagery to contrast the ‘darkness’ of the period with earlier and later periods of ‘light’...a relative scarcity of historical and other written records at least for some areas of Europe...the lack of Latin literature...of contemporary written history, general demographic decline, limited building activity and material cultural achievements...[and] a time of backwardness...”

As well, “there was no Rome of the kind that ruled the Mediterranean for centuries and spawned the culture that produced twenty-eight public libraries...As the West crumbled, books and libraries flourished and flowed east toward the Byzantine Empire...medieval monasteries began to accumulate large libraries. These libraries were devoted solely to the education of the monks and were seen as essential to their spiritual development...the Imperial Library of Constantinople had 120,000 volumes and was the largest library in Europe. A fire in 477, 726, and 1204 consumed the entire library…and in 1453...Constantinople fell...[by] the 7th century...many of [the library at Thomaites Triclinus]’s contents were subject to destruction as religious in-fighting ultimately resulted in book burnings...During this period, small private libraries existed. Many of these were owned by church members and the aristocracy. Teachers also were known to have small personal libraries as well as wealthy bibliophiles who could afford the highly ornate books of the period...the library at Vivarium was dispersed and lost within a century…By the 9th century public libraries started to appear in many Islamic cities...many of these libraries were destroyed by Mongol invasions. Others were victim of wars and religious strife in the Islamic world. However...the libraries of Chinguetti in West Africa, remain intact and relatively unchanged. Another ancient library from this period which is still operational and expanding is the Central Library of Astan Quds Razavi in the Iranian city of Mashhad, which has been operating for more than six centuries…The contents of these Islamic libraries were copied by Christian monks in Muslim/Christian border areas, particularly Spain and Sicily. From there they eventually made their way into other parts of Christian Europe. These copies joined works that had been preserved directly by Christian monks from Greek and Roman originals, as well as copies Western Christian monks made of Byzantine works. The resulting conglomerate libraries are the basis of every modern library today…Buddhist scriptures, educational materials, and histories were stored in libraries in pre-modern Southeast Asia. In Burma, a royal library called the Pitaka Taik was legendarily founded by King Anawrahta; in the 18th century...‘his Birman majesty may possess a more numerous library than any potentate, from the banks of the Danube to the borders of China’. In Thailand libraries called ho trai were built throughout the country, usually on stilts above a pond to prevent bugs from eating at the books.’”

So…the Dark Ages were anything BUT dark! There were setbacks as well as advances, but overall, the current opinion that “many modern scholars who study the era tend to avoid the term altogether for its negative connotations, finding it misleading and inaccurate for any part of the Middle Ages”.

As to a fear of a Digital Dark Age? There’s very good evidence that no matter WHAT the technophillic Developed Country technophiles think…if the internet suddenly blew up, all smartphones melted down, and a massive, alien-induce Electromagnetic Pulse wiped out all “soft” data systems, we would not INSTANTLY plunge into a knowledgeless, helpless, hopeless, disconnected, vapid Dark Age.

If the Mongol Hordes couldn’t destroy all information, then I doubt very much that the loss of the Internet will precipitate such an event, either. Your insights?

August 27, 2014

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 58: DaneelAH Leaving Emie Shan


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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.

“The four of you have become a crux.” The Dalai Lama smiled, adding, “a cross if you will.”

DaneelAH shook his head. “You can’t be serious.”

“Why not? You are young. You are excited. You are also skilled in areas I cannot even describe.” The Dalai Lama lifted up a hand in benediction and said, “It’s time for you to go.” He turned away from them and headed back into his quarters, deep inside the underground tent – the only Buddhist monastery on Mars.

DaneelAH said, “Now what?”

HanAH said, “You’re the one with the box of religion porn. Should I arrest you now or do you want to get going?”

“I vote for ‘get going’,” said AzAH. “We shouldn’t stay here any longer.”

“Why?” asked MishAH. “I like it here. It’s got a peace I’ve experienced nowhere else on Mars.”

HanAH snorted, “Since when did your mystical gene activate?”

MishAH scowled, “Longer than you’ll ever know. But in general for some time now I’ve been having thoughts I can only describe as ‘spiritual’.”

HanAH turned away and picked up his helmet and put it on. Watching him walk to the airlock and stand, loosed armed, AzAH said, “I guess the discussion is ended.” She followed him, pulling on her helmet.

DaneelAH looked at them, then back to the doorway the Dalai Lama had taken and said to HanAH, “I’m not converting to Buddhism, but what this man has done is amazing.”

HanAH only grunted and put his helmet on, heading to the others. He pushed past them and opened the inner lock door and clumped through. The rest followed him. They all turned at once, fixing DaneelAH with a monocular, gold-plated sun visor glare. Holding up one hand in surrender, the other holding the holy library. He had always had perfect recall and quoted the Dalai Lama, “‘No one on Mars has a complete holy book. The Koran here has been tampered with as have the Analects, the Aqdas, the Kojiki, the Tao Te Ching, the Torah, the Tripiaka, and the Vedas. Others less well known but just as important to their adherents have also been tampered with.’” He held up the crystal, “I’ve been given a holy library. The Dalai Lama charged me to bring people their corrected holy words.”

He put the crystal into a protective pocket and sealed it then put on his helmet. He tapped his radio control and heard HanAH say, “You have a chance here to stop all the other heretical faiths in their footsteps and allow only the true word of God to spread on Mars. What are you going to do?”

DaneelAH shrugged – a huge effort wearing the stiff fabric of the Martian surface suit. “Right now, I’m going to get us out of here. We have a mission on Mars and I intend to accomplish that first. After that, we can discuss a mission to Mars. But the Dalai Lama said that he was set on using peace and compassion in my treatment of the Christian on Mars as well as his oppressors – in this case the Mayors of the Domes. The marsbug we were riding in was programmed by a man named Paolo. His public file makes it quite clear that he’s a Christian evangelist.”

MishAH said, “This Lama and the evangelist aren’t even the same religion – why should we have anything to do with either one?”

DaneelAH paused and pulled the inner lock door closed and set it to cycle them out. “If you’re trying to provoke me to anger, I’m of the same mind as Dorje Gyatso. I don’t hold anything against the Buddhists, just as this Paolo evangelist has counseled the Christian community on Mars to forgive as Christ would also forgive them. Our greater danger is the Mayors and a growing pogrom. It will not be against the Jews only this time. The Mayors will direct it at anyone who disagrees with them; anyone who refuses to conform to the philosophy of the Unified Faith In Humanity – and as we are not true Humans, we will be swept aside in that pogrom.”

“Then we need to defect,” said HanAH.

“That’s absurd,” said AzAH.

MishAH didn’t say anything until they reached the marsbug. “Well? What are you thinking, MishAH?” snapped HanAH angrily.

She pulled her helmet off, stared at him, then looked to DaneelAH, “I think we have a mystery to solve before we start a evangelizing mission.”

DaneelAH nodded, “Something happened on Mars a long time ago and it’s driving the Mayors – almost as much as the rest of us fighting against Unified. We have to finish that.”

By then, AzAH, MishAH and HanAH had moved to their stations. Again, they all turned to look at him. He took a deep breath and said, “Out of the frying pan and into the fire.”

Only AzAH, the biological translator laughed. She glanced at the other two, shook her head, “I’ll explain once we’re under way.”

HanAH grunted, but started the marsbug and pulled away from Vogel Station.

August 26, 2014

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 171



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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: Super Powers


The entire classroom was staring at Fajr Nazor. She said, “What’s wrong with you?”
Wiremu Song, the boy she liked, sat behind her, and whom she often wanted to drop dead, raised his hand. He didn’t wait for Mr. Beidelman to call on him though, saying, “We’ve never seen a real mutant before, Mr. B. It’s creepy. I was wondering if you could ask Fajr,” he always pronounced it “fudger” even though she’d corrected him a zillion times, “to demonstrate her super powers?”


Mr. B hooked a thumb over his shoulder as he said, “You, Mr. S., can take a short hike to the
CoolDown.”


“Aw, Mr….”


Mr. B hooked his thumb again and touched his Bluetooth, sawing, “I have your dad’s number in my eye and all I have to do is blink.”


Wiremu – whom, Fajr admitted she often called “Wired Cow” – stood up and slouched out of the room, firing a venomous look at her. Once he was gone, she stood up and said, “I don’t mind talking about it, Mr. B. It is sort of interesting.”


He nodded and said, “Go ahead if you want to.”


“I do. My mutation is actually a pair of mutations. I can memorize anything anyone shows to me in a split second.”


A girl at the back of the room said, “I can do that!”


Fajr cleared her throat and said, “And then I can draw it with a pencil without looking at the paper.”


A boy by the window piped up, “I seen her do it! It’s amazing! But you can only do it if you seen that thing the first time, right?”


Fajr blushed. Only a few people had known that little wrinkle to her brain kink. She shrugged, “I never told anyone I was super.” She started to sit down then stood up again and said, “I never told anyone this, either, but it’s about the superist thing I can do.”


Both of Mr. B’s brows went up. The rest of the class leaned forward as she said, “I can make electrons slow down to almost zero velocity.”


Mr. B scowled then said slowly, “That’s quite a claim, Ms. Song. Do you have any evidence to back that up?”


She gestured to Wiremu who suddenly appeared in the classroom as she said, “I stopped his electrons from moving right after he started out of the room.” No one moved or seemed to breathe – the all of a suddenly the room exploded with screaming seventh graders…


Names: ♀ Egypt, Croatia ; New Zealand, Korea

August 24, 2014

WRITING ADVICE: What Went Right In “Absolute Limits”? Guy Stewart #5



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.

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

I started writing when I was thirteen – I turned thirteen in 1970. While I wasn’t thinking about writing my own stories, I’d started reading ANALOG SCIENCE FICTION AND FACT with this issue:

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I’d read the science fiction in the school library and when I finished this book:

http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1189089521l/1842761.jpgI wrote my first story – in pencil on lined paper. It was called THE WHITE VINES and took place in a corn field I saw every day while riding home on the bus.

I was hooked on the writing habit. Twenty-seven years later, I reached my first goal: publication in ANALOG with a Probability Zero story called “Absolute Limits”.

I’d been submitting to Stan Schmidt, who’s been editor of ANALOG since 1978 and only retired in 2013, giving his spot to Trevor Qachri. I had over a hundred rejections from ANALOG since my first submission in the middle 1970s.

What did I do right? What changed the unbroken string of rejections by my favorite magazine? For years, I thought I did everything right, yet my stories were bounced back to me without comment and the standard “Dear Contributor,” sheet of paper.

In a word – passion. Not the sexy kind of passion -- the EXCITED kind of passion. The INVOLVED kind of passion

“Absolute Limits” was a short story about something that bugged the living daylights out of me. People who drive faster than the speed limit – not matter what the speed limit is. The Germans solved the problem by removing those limits on the autobahn to allow anyone to go any speed.
In that impassioned piece of fiction, I sort of flew “sideways” to the German solution. I imagined a world where the development of a Faster Than Light drive had come up against a brick wall. People in that world, despite the average speed limit being 100 mph (161 km/hr), STILL speed. The FTL researcher, as frustrated with speeders in his future as I am in this world, sees a car with a jet engine roar past him. This sets off a rant and he rails, “It doesn’t matter what the speed limit is, people are going to break it!” – and the rant sparks an idea.

A few months and several legislative sessions later, the highway departments of several states put up brand new speed limit signs: SPEED LIMIT 186,000 Miles Per Second…
I believe that no matter what kinds of limits are put on people, they'll do their level best to break the limits. Break the law.


Presented with a sign that said that they could NOT go faster than the speed of light, what's the first thing people will try and do?


Absurd? Yes. I didn’t set out to write a PZ story and initially the 600 words that were published were a story that was about 2000 words long.

Humorous? I tried to make it funny.

I sent it and for the first time in my career, Stan sent a note back asking me to shorten it. Stunned, I did exactly what he asked and sent it out again.

My next contact with ANALOG was a contract. The day my wife called me at work to tell me the contract had arrived, I wept.

After I got the check, I waited. The proofs arrived, though I had no more contact with Stan Schmidt. The next thing I knew, my name was on the Table of Contents of the August 1996 issue of ANALOG.

So what did I do RIGHT?

  1. I was passionate about the “subject”. In other words, people who speed irritate the living daylights out of me. But I couldn’t write a short story about me destroying them…well, I suppose I could, but George Miller’s Mad Max was written and filmed in the late 1970’s already...I had to do something different. How about absurd exaggeration instead?
  2. I had a market I dearly wanted to break into.
  3. Everything I wrote was aimed at that market.
  4. I kept writing – trying a new story, new ideas, and new manuscripts regularly.
  5. I had a clear idea of what I wanted the story to say.
  6. When the editor wanted a re-write, I offered no argument. I re-wrote it.
  7. I was fast with the rewrites.

Since that manuscript, Stan – and now Trevor Qachri – usually rejected my work with a personal note. But sometimes there were acceptances. I’ve had three stories in ANALOG and I’ve tried to write my stories for them (and for every editor) with passion. I'm working on my first sale to Trevor, and I'm hoping it will be soon.