August 29, 2010

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: Fermi’s Paradox, Alien Nations and the Past, Present and Future of Humanity

Fermi’s Paradox: the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations and the lack of evidence for, or contact with, such civilizations…
One of my favorite recent movies was DISTRICT 9. The immediacy, intensity and the sheer audacity of aliens picking a nation to hover over that WASN’T a super power made it one of my favorites.
But my all-time favorite in the category of Aliens Who “Crash Land” On Earth And Have To Be Integrated Into Human Society movie is ALIEN NATION. For me, both the movie and TV show were revolutionary in concept and fascinating in execution.
D9 and AN dealt with very similar issues from utterly different points of view. With arguably different intent, the two movies illustrate the same sad-but-true perception of Humanity: given aliens in need, we’ll accept them with open arms then tie them up in red tape until they have no choice but to become us (ALIEN NATION) or revolt and break free of the tape (DISTRICT 9).
And how is this any different from the rest of Human history?
Of course, everyone will leap on the first bandwagon that rolls by: how straights treat gays. They’ll shout, “That’s exactly the same way Humans treat the aliens! This has never happened before in history and we’re so persecuted!” Of course, all straights want to put ‘em in concentration camps to separate them from all the non-gays, right? First time it’s EVER happened, right?
Um…isn’t that what Americans did to anyone who was even remotely suspect of having Japanese heritage after The Day That Will Live In Infamy? Even if they were second generation, born and bred Americans, they were suspected of being Japanese sympathizers and needed to be locked away.
Er…what about the red-headed Irish refugees fleeing the Irish Potato Famine: “One honest immigrant wrote home at the height of the potato famine exodus, ‘My master is a great tyrant, he treats me as badly as if I was a common Irishman.’ The writer further added, ‘Our position in America is one of shame and poverty.’ No group was considered lower than an Irishman in America during the 1850s.” (
Uh…isn’t that what happened to African slaves when they were brutally captured or bought from other African tribes who had captured them during one or another war? They were put away on plantations and legislated out of humanity and into the realm of tractors and land – possessions to be bartered with as the “owner” saw fit.
Well…virtually every society has oppressed women at some time or another, freed them then oppressed them again. Islam is NOT unusual in this on-again-off-again granting of women’s rights: India, Europe, Iran, Britain, the United States, Mexico, Sweden, Japan, Arabia, and Germany have all extended then retracted rights at some time or another.
Then there’re those Greeks and Romans, The Paragons And Inventors Of Freedom And Democracy…During the reign of Greece, “Thucydides recalls that 7,000 inhabitants of Hycarra in Sicily were taken prisoner by Nicias and sold for 120 talents in the neighboring village of Catania. (; “The institution of slavery in ancient Rome reduced those held to a condition of less than persons under their legal system. Stripped of many rights, including the ability to marry, slaves were the property of their owners.” (
The thing is, is that it isn’t any different from the rest of Human history. What is frightening is that we in the 21st Century believe that First Contact will be a happy event and SHOULD happen and that POOF! the aliens will be welcomed with open arms and a new Golden Age will ensue as we solve all our problems because we know that we are no longer alone.
What might happen though is that our Visitors will be tied up in red tape so thick they won’t know what hit them. Hopefully they won’t have seen the ENTERPRISE episodes that take place in the Mirror Universe (
Then again, if They have read our history, seen our TV shows and watched our movies – maybe Fermi’s Paradox isn’t quite so paradoxical…

August 22, 2010

WRITING ADVICE: Nathan Bransford 6 – How (and whether) To List Your Publishing Credits

Nathan Bransford is a West Coast agent with the New York literary agency, Curtis Brown, Ltd. For the past nine years, he has been writing a popular blog reflecting on and illuminating the publishing world. Humorous, serious and ultimately enlightening, I’ll be looking at how THE ESSENTIALS (PLEASE READ BEFORE YOU QUERY) have had an impact on my writing. I am using them with his permission and if you’d like to read his blog (which I highly recommend) go to

This is less a problem now than it was when I first started submitting my work seriously in 1979…the reason for which should be obvious. I am a published writer with a variety of manuscripts that’re not reflected by the column to the right.

For example, I wrote the script for a Christmas musical called “Just In Time For Christmas” that had a…ahem…science fiction theme (ie, the characters used a time machine to go to various points in the past). I also had a hand in writing lyrics for a couple of the songs. At the same church, I wrote a narration for a compilation of sacred music. While the script focused on the Vietnam War, the music focused on hope.

Both of these were directed and performed, but technically are not published because no one can use them again. Besides, if I want to send Nathan Bransford my 110,000 word science fiction novel, I’m not going to use these as credits because THEY HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH A HARD SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL WRITTEN FOR ADULTS. Instead, I mention that I’ve had three stories in ANALOG (a magazine that both publishes science fiction and has a long, verifiable and venerable reputation) and several other adult, hard science fiction publications.

But let’s say I’m going to send him my science fiction novel for teens, HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES: EMERALD OF EARTH? I am actually going to do this sometime in the next six months (once I’m done editing and polishing the ms (=manuscript). In the cover letter, I will first mention my publication in CICADA (a magazine written for teens), then CRICKET (the first magazine is in the same family as this one, which has an unparalleled reputation for publishing literature for young people), and then I’ll mention ANALOG. I’ll probably throw in my two most current publications as well just to show I’m still “at it”.

Then is it “poof!” Nathan Bransford takes me on and I rocket into stardom?

*cough* *cough*…not quite.

In fact, Nathan Bransford points out: “The most important thing to remember about publishing credits big and small is the focus should be on the project you are querying about, not on your credits.” And if you have NO credits, don’t worry. Lots and lots of people have had their novels published without a single publishing credit – just lots of belief in themselves.

Keep in mind: even Stephen King and Robert Jordan had to write their first book or story. They did however, have to eventually write their first query letter. Once upon a time, no one knew who J.K. Rowling was, either…until she wrote a query letter and sent out a part of her ms.


August 19, 2010


Daniel Keyes’ FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON: the story has stayed with me for decades, a symbol for both the overwhelming possibilities of the human intellect and the overwhelming impossibilities faced by a profoundly challenged human mind. I’ve started and stopped this novel a half a dozen times in eleven years. I want to bring the original idea into the present millennium. To read RECONSTRUCTION from beginning to here, click on the label to the right and scroll to the bottom.

By the time CJ Hastings was reading at a ninth grade level, Mai Li said, “You can stop showing off now.”

“Look who’s showing off,” CJ said, waving his hands at the bank of jury-rigged electronics. Mai Li had the desktop linked to the laptop to create a dual screen and both her cellphone and Mom’s smartphone linked to something that only showed gibberish on the smart’s screen. The electronic typewriter was tied to all of them and acting as a printer.

The corner of her mouth turned up for a nano then she got serious again and said, “Look, I have to leave home.” She leaned back in the desk chair. “I’ve learned as much as I can here. I need more education and I can only get it by going to college.”

“Why do you have to do that? Can’t you do it all on line? I seen it on TV – you can get a degree from home…”

She snorted. “While that’s true, I don’t want a degree from Bob’s University of Really Keen Advertising. I need one from Johns Hopkins if I’m going to do what I want to do.”

“What do you want to do?”

She shot him a sidewise look, bit her upper lip, took a deep breath and said, “I want to make more people like me.”

“What, formerly brain-damaged, snotty smart-asses who cuss all the time?” CJ leaned back. He wasn’t sure he should have done that. But he wasn’t sure he wanted Mai Li to leave either. If he wasn’t going to do it, no one would. Mom was too nice and the doctors at the U thought they were too great to do it. Someone had to let her know she had roots.

For just ten nanoseconds, CJ thought she was going to murder him. The rage that flashed over her face twisted the muscles and blazed from her eyes like glowing Klingon photon torpedo tubes in the old STAR TREK movies he liked to watch. He was in the crosshairs. He was going to die if she let her rage get the better of her.

“Better me than the rest of the world,” he whispered as she locked her unblinking gaze on his face. Her hands jerked up toward his neck. CJ could hear Mom in the kitchen. But his sister could have his neck snapped in less time that it took him to cry out. It looked like Mai Li was about to do it.

She put her hands on his skin.

He gulped.

The rage died and her hands fell away. The photon torpedo glow faded and she finally blinked. She whispered, “I almost killed you.”

“I know.”

“Why did you do that?”

“‘cause people aren’t gonna always think you’re the smartest out there. And they’re gonna be jealous. Like Dr. Chazhukaran at the U. He’s gonna wanna kill you just like you were gonna kill me.”


“You’re gonna blow all of them out of the water with your brains. You think smart people are gonna like it that all you had to do was get a shot and ‘poof’, you’re a super-hyper-major-genius-babe?”

“I’m not a super-hyper-major-genius-babe!” she stared at him then added softly, “Am I?”

CJ nodded. “Yeah, you are. And you’re irritating as hell, too.”

She reared back, her hand coming up to backhand him. He closed his eyes, leaning away from her but not retreating. She didn’t hit him. Finally, she said, “So you’re saying I better get used to people acting like my little idiot brother?”

CJ snorted, grinned and nodded. “Probably worse ‘cause I know I’m retarded. They’re gonna think they’re more of a genius than you ‘cause they made you.”

“You’re not retarded,” Mai Li said, turning from him to the computer. She started typing at light speed again.

“What are you doing?”

“Shut up and leave me alone, idiot,” she snapped.

“What?” CJ exclaimed.

She turned, flashed a smile at him then went back to work. “Call me a smart-ass, will you?”

CJ rolled his eyes, scowled, shook his head and left the room. He couldn’t help though that as soon as he had his back to her, he was smirking. “And I can read,” he said.


August 15, 2010

A Slice of PIE: Let Your Light So Shine…

I was at a wedding yesterday and one of the verses read during the ceremony was the same one my wife and I based our service on 23 years ago:

"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16

The verses from our wedding, in this context, tied with circumstances of this past summer reminds me that my life on Earth is not solely for me to enjoy. I have a purpose; a calling; there is a plan for my life that may include discomfort, sometimes pain.

That discomfort and pain may be in stead of discomfort and pain of others, it may be discomfort and pain leading to personal growth. It may even be discomfort and pain that we cannot for the life of us understand.

These thoughts brought up a scene from LORD OF THE RINGS. When Gondor is besieged by the armies of the Dark Lord, Sauron, Pippin climbs to the tower and lights the signal fires that call Rohan. Once it is lit, that signal goes “around the world” and the Riders of Rohan see the message. It is still up to them to respond, but they can do nothing else. They ride to Gondor’s aid and help defeat Sauron’s armies. This costs them dearly – even to the death of their king, Theoden.

Letting the light shine in the world is my job, my purpose, my calling and my plan. It’s the purpose, calling and plan my wife and I took up when we married. It’s my responsibility to make sure the fires are maintained, lit and when others light the fire as a call for help, it’s my purpose and calling to respond, no matter how difficult or painful.


August 14, 2010


This is my entry for the FRIDAY CHALLENGE, 8/14/10. [If canines were independently to evolve into an intelligent, tool-using, and ultimately space-faring species, what would they look like? How would they behave? What would their technology look like? What sort of tools would canines feel it necessary to invent? Simply the idea of dog breeds in itself: that's the result of thousands of years of human meddling in canine genetics. So let's start all over with—oh, coyotes, not wolves. After all, here on Earth, it wasn't the gorillas that became the dominant simians, but something more akin to the chimpanzee. Let's posit that untold ages ago, on some other world, something happened to change coyotes so that they became a bipedal (okay, the legs, hips, and spine need to change), tool-using (ditto for the shoulders and rib cage), intelligent (okay, no more mail-ordering anything from Acme), species. And now fast-forward a few millennia, and give us a few quick paragraphs describing the moment of first contact between humans and a truly alien, but canine-based, species. What would they look like, to human eyes? What kind of social structure would be evidenced in their behavior and interaction with each other? With ears that hear in a completely different slice of the audio spectrum and canine mouth parts, how would they even communicate with us? How would they communicate with each other? What would they smell like? ] Bruce said just a few paragraphs, but it was really, really hard not to write a whole short story. Which I will. Very soon.

By the time Phenda reached the ground, she was shaking her head. “I didn’t sign up for this,” the muttered.

“No one signed up for this. But someone has to meet them face-to-face. You got picked.” There was a pause then Voice said, “Six. Right behind you.”

She nodded and turned.

The Kiiotes were standing shoulder-to-shoulder about four meters from the ship. Looking like big-headed coyotes with muzzle, large ears, fur that ranged in color from wheat to chocolate, more coyote-like than dog or wolf-like, they watched her with quick blinking, golden eyes.

They stood like canines on four feet. She stepped forward, squatting to hold out her fist. Resisting the urge to pet one, she resisted a similar urge to run away in terror. Human culture had been both prey and master to creatures much like these and the crossed response was almost as deeply embedded as a reflex. She controlled her own motions rigidly.

Abruptly, they crouched as one, shoulders down, tails in the air. Pushing up from the ground, they stood and she could see bones moving under fur and muscle. Each one straightened its neck with a snap, shrugging the shoulders back at the same time stretching the arms out straight before them, wriggling four slender digits. Two others unfolded from farther up the forearm. Long-clawed, they were opposable and matched with two fingers each. Chest muscles stretched tighter and the neck appeared more rigidly held than a Human one, tilting the head and neck forward where it swung side-to-side, nostrils on the muzzle twitching. The facial skin pulled tighter, stretching the lips back to reveal a carnivore’s teeth and more of the orbis of the eye.

In the rear legs, end toes splayed widely forward, ankle and lower leg straightened to lock into a tibia-fibula arrangement. The upper leg and pelvis flared in all of them, but the upper leg remained forward bent rather than Human vertical, giving all of them the impression of coiled springs.

There were no external genitalia Phenda could see.

With a final shake, they walked to her, all six sets of ears swiveling forward and noses twitching spasmodically, encircling her and sniffing her. Two of them sniffed her vagina, backing away with a snort. All of them sniffed her anus, hands and feet. Phenda kept her eyes down and hands in the air.

Stepping back, they formed a loose circle around her then dropped to a now-awkward all-four position, and urinated on the ground. The two who had sniffed her vagina urinated like canine-analogue females. The males had pouched organs that served for urinating.

Bouncing to two feet again, they moved back into a pack, the females taking a forward position flanking a male, the others stepping back and squatting. Looking closely, Phenda finally noticed that the male before her had ear nicks, with muzzle and nose scars. The females were scarred as well.

The male lifted his chin and howled briefly the pack taking up the chorus. When he stopped, the rest stopped and he yipped twice, adding a bark at the end.

Voice said, “That’s easy. Comp’s got a translation...”

Phenda muttered, “I don’t need your color commentary. Feed me the translation directly.”

“Fine, then,” said the disgruntled Voice.

The cleaner drone of the translation program came through her earphone. It said, “‘Where is your pack?’”

Phenda grimaced, showing her teeth, snapped them and howled back, mimicking the song of the coyote pack leader she worked with in North Dakota. She also squeezed her glutes and added a fart she’d been holding after eating all that beef last night.

The Kiiote’s ears flipped back and their noses twitched wildly.

She had no ears to move, so she lifted her hands, fingers straight up, both hands facing the Kiiote, standing still.

The male barked, yipped, howled alone for an instant and stopped. The computer said, “‘You are listening and you smell like a hunter. We have never met your kind. We would meet your pack.’”

Phenda squeezed a fart again, yipped and howled, stretched luxuriously – a coyote gesture of calm departure and turned back to the ship.

Voice exclaimed, “Don’t turn your back on them, they’ll kill you!”

Phenda yipped and didn’t add a fart.

Behind her, the Kiiote barked what was clearly laughter at her disdain for the voice she was sure they heard.

Growling to herself, she thought that she might just volunteer to work with these aliens.

August 13, 2010


This series is a little bit biographical and a little bit imaginary about my dad and a road trip he took in the summer of 1946, when he turned fifteen. He and a friend hitchhiked from Loring Park to Duluth, into Canada and back again. He was gone from home for a month. I was astonished and fascinated by the tale. So I added some imaginary elements and this series is the result. To read earlier SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH, click on the label to the right. The FIRST entry is on the bottom.

It was dark.

Tommy Hastings whispered, “I never seen anything so dark in all my life.”

“Darker than when Dad locked me in the closet under the stairs for a week,” said Freddie Merrill.

The boys ran side-by-side down the dark, asphalt road along the southern shore of Lake Mille Lacs.

“Y’ think we lost ‘em?” Freddie said, panting.

“Don’t know. Maybe. Farmer can’t shoot this far anyways,” said Tommy past panting breaths. He slowed down.

“Witch can’t run at all.”

“Didn’t see the mobsters,” said Tommy, stopping.

“Only ones I was scared of,” said Freddie, bending over as he put his hands on his knees.

The boys stood in the road for a long time, wheezing like old men. A cool breeze blew in from the lake, shaking the leaves on the trees and sighing through the needles on the pine surrounding them. Not a sliver of moonlight reached them under the dense cover of the trees. Tommy took a deep breath and said, “I don’t think they’re coming after us.”

“Why’d they say they’d see us in Duluth?”

Tommy shrugged in the darkness and said, “Trying to scare us?”

Freddie snorted. “They did a good job.”

“You scared?”


There was a long pause. “Me, too.”

“You were?”

Tommy nodded, realized Freddie couldn’t have seen it and said, “We gotta keep moving. There’s no saying if they just let us go or if they just wanted to give us a head start so they can chase us faster.”

“You think they’d do that?” Freddie asked as he started walking.

“Don’t know what witches, mobsters and commies would do.”

They walked a long time before Freddie said, “Why’d they want to do anything to us? We ain’t never hurt them.”

“We know they’re mobsters and witches and…”

“…and an old farmer? What do they got to do with each other?”

“Like you said, they’re Communists.”

“I never said that,” said Tommy. “Your cousin said that in Anoka.”

Neither one spoke until Freddie said, “That’s right. What does she know?”

“Nothing,” said Tommy.

They kept walking, passing a couple farms lit with single lights in their windows. Freddie said, “You think they’re gonna be getting up soon to do the milking?”


“Dad told me farmers gotta milk their cows really, really early.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m hungry and a glass of milk sounds good right about now.”

Other lights appeared ahead of them as they walked until they came out of the trees and saw a big white sign that read, “THE CITY OF BAYVIEW WELCOMES YOU!”

They reached the edge of town – a strip of asphalt lined with stores that were all closed. In the middle of town was a marquee, still lit up. On the marquee were the words: CALIFORNIA GOLD RUSH starring Wild Bill Elliot Robert Blake Alice Fleming

The buzz of the electric lights was almost deafening in the still night.

“Never saw this one,” said Freddie.

“You never seen any movie,” said Tommy.

There was a long pause, then Freddie hung his head and started walking again as he said, “Probably never will, neither.”

Tommy hurried to catch up with him and said, “Sure you will! When we get to Duluth, we’ll go to a movie!”

“I don’t got no money.”

Another silence fell between them as they kept walking, eventually leaving the bright lights of Bayview behind them. Tommy sighed and said, “Me, neither.” They walked. Tommy said, “Maybe we could sneak into one. Duluth’s a big city. No one’s gonna be watching two kids.”

They hit a curve in the road and the lights of Bayview disappeared. Freddie took a deep breath and finally said, “Yeah. Maybe. Anything can happen in Duluth, right? It’s a big city. Not so big as Minneapolis, but pretty big. And you got family there, too, don’t you?”

Tommy’s eyes went wide. He was glad Freddie couldn’t see him when he replied, “I do got family there. We’ll see them.” He was glad ‘cause when Freddie could see him, he knew exactly when he was lying…


August 8, 2010

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: Living and Maple Syrup Is In the Details

“The Christian life is not a constant high. I have my moments of deep discouragement. I have to go to God in prayer with tears in my eyes, and say, 'O God, forgive me,' or 'Help me.'

Billy Graham

“After a while I started to think of that as an image of something that went a lot deeper than the dead dog, which is you can't bring back anything to life.

Alan Alda

“I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God's business.

Michael J. Fox

Have you ever listened to or read an autobiography?

Do you know how hard it is to make maple syrup? (

I’ve read the autobiographies of Billy Graham, Michael J. Fox, and Alan Alda just to name a few. It always seems to me that wisdom drips off the pages. I marvel at how this event or that person or the other thing had a powerful impact on who they became by the end of the book.

I scribble down profound quotes, finish the book, then put it down with a sigh and wish I could have one of those events.


I’ve been teaching summer writing classes to third through eleventh graders for thirteen years. After introducing them to a type of writing like poetry, journalism, or the personal essay, I have them write in that type. Then I read and comment.

They are often meticulous, careful and wonderful writers. But once we get to “fiction”, which everyone assumes they are great at, that care evaporates and I read stories that leap from “I got up in the morning,” and reach “And the alien sorcerer curled under the feet of the purple pony. Victory at last,” in ten paragraphs.

The skill they used in writing journalistic details or descriptive poetry is thrown out the window and I am left with a skeleton of a story.

When I hand it back to them, they ask, “What’s wrong?”

I tap the page on the word I’ve written there: “DETAILS!”

When they come back with those details dutifully written out, I then wade through pages and pages of walking, eating, looking, seeing and “real dialogue” with “um”, “er”, and “Well” completely intact. Then I have to write, “Trim it down some!”


Robert A Heinlein’s almost-autobiography, GRUMBLES FROM THE GRAVE, “consists of excerpts of correspondence from the period from 1939 to 1970”. Those pages cover 31 years of his life.

Let me do some math here: 31 years x 365 days = 11,315 days.

It took me seven days to read it: 11,315/7 = 1616 days/ 365 days a year = 4.4 years of his life per day of my reading.

The realization that hit me recently, was that when I am reading an autobiography, I am emphatically NOT reading the details of someone’s life. I am reading SOME of the details of their life. In fact, I’m reading very select details of their lives; details that propel their story forward and make me want to read more. Like maple syrup, the autobiography is a distillation of that person’s life.

That realization was important for me to see. My life isn’t over yet and I often wonder where the profundity is. What mark have I left on the world? Will anyone want to read my autobiography (in paper or on Nook™)?

I don’t know for sure, but when I reach the point that I want to begin to distill my life down, I’m confident I’ll find those quotes that define me. I just have to boil away all the mundane details and there, when all is said and done, will be the maple syrup of my life.

How about you?


August 3, 2010

COVER Of The Books I'll Be In Soon!

Above is a picture of ONE of the books I've got a short story in that is due out sometime in the near future.

Below is the cover of a collection of science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction I'll be appearing later on this month (or early September)! Please buy a copy so I can become Rich and Famous (and so Bruce and his wife can recoup some of their investment!)

If you look really, really close, you can see that my name is the third one down under the subtitle, "Plus all-new stories by"...

Cool, huh?

August 1, 2010

Twenty-three Years Ago, In 1987... of the most significant events of the 20th Century commenced.

Planners, futurists, celebrities and common folk watched as the ground was broken for a construct of monumental size. In the planning stages since antiquity, when finished, it would stand as a testament to love, determination and sheer expertise to the peoples of the world.

It would one day be declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, though not everyone would agree. At least not right away.

It was a thing of beauty and without a doubt, it funneled goods and resources from one place to another, transporting a truly amazing amount of material.

Despite its age, this construct still stands, still moves, still works so well that it remains one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World and still brings people from all over the world together to gaze on it with amazement.

I am NOT talking about the Channel Tunnel (Chunnel) that links England and France, you silly person! What were you thinking? (Say those sentences with a Monty Python French accent, please.) Well, not ONLY that...

I'm talking about Liz and me! For 23 years, we have stood together -- amazing people the world over (well, at least a couple people from other countries), a construct that will last a long, long time, connecting the world of man and woman, a thing of beauty (at least LIZ is!) and certainly a Wonder of the Modern World. I'm sure we'll continue to transport material from many places to many OTHER places.

I can think of nothing more amazing than our marriage.

I can think of no one else with whom I would like to spend eternity.

I love Liz!