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December 27, 2011
December 25, 2011
December 22, 2011
December 21, 2011
December 18, 2011
"December" 1,000,000,000 BC
December 14, 2011
December 11, 2011
Is the current World and US climate of international, national, religious, political, environmental and economic dissonance the root cause of the tiny number of Humans-who-meet-and-work-with-Aliens science fiction on the market or is that lack the cause of the dissonance?
This question was sparked by the Kirkus Review announcement of the Best SF and F of 2011 (http://www.kirkusreviews.com/best-of/2011/fiction/2011-best-fiction-science-fiction-and-fantasy/). Of the ten, seven are fantasy so I’m eliminating them. Of the last three, only Embassytown has Human and Alien interaction. The Quantum Thief takes place on a near-future Mars, and Rule 34 takes place in cyberspace.
Of SFFMeta’s Science Fiction All Time High Scores (http://www.sffmeta.com/listBooks?list=alltimehigh&genreDefaultNo=1, 100 books), only 10 are from 2011 (the rest were published between 1953 and 2010). Of THAT group, four feature aliens, three are mysteries and one of them is Embassytown.
So what am I trying to say?
Writers – whether they publish ebooks, exclusively online or their books are solely available at brick-and-mortar stores – are responsible for change. Darwin’s writing shook the world. The Prophet Mohammed changed the course of history. CS Lewis altered the beliefs of tens of thousands.
Science fiction writers, while their main goal is to entertain, are also responsible for preparing humanity for First Contact with aliens. Their job is to offer scenarios that we can weigh and explore. We can question ourselves and the society in which we live. For example, though it’s a movie, DISTRICT 9 offered a stunning thought: what if aliens don’t contact Americans?
Robert A Heinlein recognized his responsibility when he said: “I write for the following reasons – 1. To support myself and my family; 2. To entertain my readers; 3. And, if possible, to cause my readers to think.” (Robert Anson Heinlein to a Reader in a letter dated 20 January 1972, and reprinted in Grumbles From The Grave, pg 281; http://www.advocacyagainstcensorship.com/quotes/qtrah_pers.html)
This is the same reason I teach a summer school class called ALIEN WORLDS. The thoughts I want the kids to have are that “alien does not equal enemy” and I believe that this attitude can spill over from imaginary aliens to the people we meet or see on the news or on Youtube who seem alien.
I believe that this SF community may have truckled to the masses and have produced work to promulgate the belief that “alien equals enemy”. Even such writers as David Brin (http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2010/05/perspectives-on-seti-and-aliens-and.html) and Stephen Hawking (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extraterrestrial_life) have trumpeted the inherent dangers in letting the universe know we are here. This contributes to the meme that “alien equals enemy” and this plays out in promoting a climate of international, national, religious, political, environmental and economic dissonance.
I believe the SF community should fight the obvious trend and start to produce work in which “alien does not equal enemy”.
I think they should do it NOW.
December 8, 2011
This series is a little bit biographical and a little bit imaginary about my dad and a road trip he took in the summer of 1946, when he turned fifteen. He and a friend hitchhiked from Loring Park to Duluth, into Canada and back again. He was gone from home for a month. I was astonished and fascinated by the tale. So, I added some speculation about things I've always wondered about and this series is the result. To read earlier SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH, click on the label to the right. The FIRST entry is on the bottom.
The big woman scowled and said, “And exactly how do you know that they’re not spies.”
Bonnie stepped forward and touched the woman’s arm, “We ran into them a few days ago and gave them a ride.” She looked down at Freddie Merrill, offering him a hand up. He reached for her hand and took it and she pulled him to his feet. Then she gently pushed him toward Tommy Hastings. “They were hitchhiking up from Minneapolis and we found them all beat up and bloody on the road side.” She smiled at them and added, “I think they were fighting each other. Maybe they’re brothers?” Tommy found himself blushing furiously. She’d noticed their little tussle?
Freddie elbowed Tommy and said, “He ain’t my brother! I’m Freddie Merrill.”
Tommy straightened up and said, “Thomas Frederick Hastings.”
Freddie gave him a strange look. Tommy was pretty sure Freddie’d never heard his full name before. Dad and Mom didn’t do that “mad at the kid and use his full name thing” like Freddie’s did.
There was a yelp from farther back in the crowd and suddenly the workers parted. A woman strode out across the pebbled floor. She was old. Another woman followed her more slowly – it was the Anoka Witch!
The first woman walked up to Tommy. She stared at him then took his chin firmly in her hand and turned it first left then right. She muttered a curse, then said, “You look like him.”
“Who?” Tommy asked.
“James Hastings.” Tommy’s eyes met hers and she nodded slowly. She said, “So, James and Ruth finally did it.”
Freddie said, “Did what?”
She released Tommy and said, “Got hitched. She was top floor maid. He was a drifter the gardener hired to do heavy work around the estate. He flirted; she was just a kid. Like that for seven, maybe ten years.” The woman shook her head. “She warn’t mine, but practically. She came here when she was fourteen in ‘Ought-Four, an orphan.”
“My mom wasn’t an orphan!”
The woman shrugged, “Her mother left her a long time before Ruth Carrol ran away to Duluth – I think from what she’d say late at night when she’d been into the house wine – from somewhere in the Dakota Territory. Her daddy was a US Deputy Marshal who’d got hisself killed somewhere along the way. Life fell apart after that.” She paused, “I was kinda her mama here at Glensheen.”
“What was she doing here, then?”
“Like I said, working on the top floor. Maid,” she shrugged, “the Congdon’s called her a ‘domestic’.”
Tommy stared up at her and said, “Like I said, ‘What was she doing here, then?”
The woman frowned and her accent got so heavy Tommy could barely understand when she said, “They’re socialists, just like the rest of us.”
Tommy said, “What’s a socialist?”
Freddie cried out, “Communists! Run for your life!”
Tommy and Freddie had been friends practically since they were born. Tommy didn’t know anything about the woman standing in front of him who was saying his mom had been an orphan and her and his dad were socialists.
But he trusted Freddie with his life.
He followed Freddie along the northern spit of pebbles and then cut hard left into the darkness.
From behind them came the clear words, “If you catch ‘em, kill ‘em!”
December 6, 2011
December 4, 2011
I first ran across the work of Kristine Kathryn Rusch when her name appeared on the bottom of a standard rejection form I got from The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, where she was head editor for several years. A short time later, I ran across one of her short stories (“Retrieval Artist” in the June 2000 ANALOG), which of course, led me t0 her RETRIEVAL ARTIST novels. I’m a fan now and started reading her blog (http://kriswrites.com/) a year or more ago. As always, I look for good writing advice to pass on to you as well as applying it to my own writing. I have her permission to quote from the articles. You can find the complete article referenced below here: http://kriswrites.com/2011/06/22/the-business-rusch-short-stories/
I love short stories. I’ve been writing them from the day I first (in my case) laid pencil to paper. I’d never had any intention of penning grand novels or a fantasy series.
I read short stories and I loved them.
So I wrote short stories and they were published in ANALOG, CRICKET, CICADA, STORIES FOR CHILDREN, STUPEFYING STORIES and a half-dozen other places.
In this article, Kristine Kathryn Rusch mostly talks about how readers are the winners of the electronic publishing revolution – she has certainly taken advantage of it! – but she writes primarily about the written word.
I have discovered another branch of the SF publication kingdom: the spoken story!
Humans have been telling stories since the advent of language. The first stories we “read” as children are whilst we are being dandled on the knee of a favorite adult who somehow makes the same sounds over and over again that explain the pictures we see clearly on a piece of paper in front of us. They READ to us. The advent of stories being read to us used to disappear from our lives once we “learned to read”. Except for plays in theaters (which is a form of being read to), having someone read to me disappeared once I could do it myself.
Then came “Audio Books”.
I confess, I’ve never liked the idea of letting someone read to me as an adult. For some reason – probably a deeply-seated psychological interpretation that says to me “you are a child” when I hear a book being read to me intentionally. I never bought one and I CERTAINLY never listened to one myself!
Then the 21st Century arrived along with ipods, MP3 players (pause for dramatic effect) and the dreaded “multi-tasking”.
People who drove for a living and were readers had long ago discovered that they could drive and listen to novels at the same time. A young friend of mine is a policeman/artist/janitor and an avid reader as well. He has a collection of books, one of which he loaned me recently.
But his MAIN source of reading comes when he’s working. Whilst sweeping floors, sterilizing urinals and doing sundry other tasks, his head is firmly plugged into a pair of headphones and he’s listening to SOMEONE read to him!
I respect the intelligence of this young man immensely – but I just couldn’t…could I?
I’d made the jump to online publishing in the Fall of 2001 with the publication of a short story called “Christmas Tree” in a now-defunct (there are SO many of these now as well) called Gate-Way.
Now I’ve made another jump. Currently up at the podcast site of young adult science fiction, CAST OF WONDERS is the first half of my story, “Peanut Butter and Jellyfish” (http://www.castofwonders.org/). Yes, I can only imagine what you’re going to say, so I’ll save you your breath and answer now: “I know you told me so, so I humbly concede your prestidigitation (yes – I know what this means. It’s a joke to see if YOU know what it means!) skills and heave a great sigh of resignation.
I’ll also add this from Kristine Kathryn Rusch: “The rapid growth of the short story markets means that the editors are in the market for good material. Short stories are more than a vanity project for writers these days. I believe a good, fast short story writer who works in multiple genres could probably make a mid-five figure income these days or more. But…while everything else is in flux from agents to traditional book publishers to the growth of the e-book marketplace, the traditional short story market has become the brightest spot in the publishing firmament. And I, for one, think that’s spectacular.”
I’m pretty sure she’d be in favor of the niche audio markets have created for themselves – I know I’M in favor of them now!
November 29, 2011
November 27, 2011
I doubt that I’m the only one who has received a harsh critique of their writing.
I doubt that I’m the only one who has received a harsh critique of a life choice.
Even Jesus has harsh words to say to His disciples. In Luke 9:37-47, Jesus criticizes them both obviously and subtly: “ 37 The next day, after they had come down the mountain, a large crowd met Jesus. 38 A man in the crowd called out to him, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, my only child. 39 An evil spirit keeps seizing him, making him scream. It throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It batters him and hardly ever leaves him alone. 40 I begged your disciples to cast out the spirit, but they couldn’t do it.” 41 Jesus said, “You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you and put up with you?” Then he said to the man, “Bring your son here.” 42 As the boy came forward, the demon knocked him to the ground and threw him into a violent convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit and healed the boy. Then he gave him back to his father. 43 Awe gripped the people as they saw this majestic display of God’s power. While everyone was marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, 44 “Listen to me and remember what I say. The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies.”45 But they didn’t know what he meant. Its significance was hidden from them, so they couldn’t understand it, and they were afraid to ask him about it. 46 Then his disciples began arguing about which of them was the greatest. 47 But Jesus knew their thoughts, so he brought a little child to his side. 48 Then he said to them, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me also welcomes my Father who sent me. Whoever is the least among you is the greatest.”
The first critique is subtle. The crowd tells Jesus that His disciples can’t do something they claim they can. Jesus does it easily, implying in front of God and everyone that His disciples didn’t know what they were doing.
The second critique is not subtle at all. The disciples figure they’re a shoe-in for heaven and just have to figure out the victory banquet seating arrangements. Jesus tells them the kid standing next to Him is better than they are.
I have received both kinds of critiques of my writing. An example is pasted below and while neither Jesus nor this agent says "I hate this", it certainly must have felt like that for the disciples...and for me. The obvious is the first part:
“Wow, that is some story you just sent me! Editors could never call that one ‘too quiet’--the standard reason in the industry for passing on a picture book manuscript. I haven't even had my coffee yet and that one woke me up completely! In the end, though, Guy, it's a bit long for today's picture book market. Editors are calling for spare, compelling texts up to about 600 words. Should you choose to revisit the manuscript, I would be happy to take another look.”
The subtle is below and I’m still not sure if I will resubmit:
“Also, if you have it in you to re-send Victory of Fists again, I'd love to see the newly empowered version. If I've knocked the wind out of your sails, I will certainly understand.”
The obvious is just that and contains workable advice. I rewrote, tightened and resubmitted and even though it was turned down again, the story is markedly better. I will keep looking for a home for this one.
The second and subtle has given me pause. I certainly went back and reworked the story, but now I don’t know what to do with the second sentence. Is it a gracious way to let me back out or a backhanded way of saying, “Stop bothering me”? Is this 'positive and encouraging'?
November 24, 2011
I read the play version of Daniel Keyes’ FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON when I was in eighth grade. It has stayed with me for decades, a haunting 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 four pages back until you get to the bottom.
The trip home from the hospital was silent – mostly because Mai Li had practically passed out between CJ Hastings and their mom. It was dark and the lights of the cars on the interstate and the overhead floods washed them with blue, yellow and orange alternately.
They were nearly home when Mom said, “Do you think she’s dying, CJ?”
He looked at her and could barely see her between the lights. He opened his mouth to say something smart, waited a moment then said, “Why ask me?”
Mom said, “Because for all the work I’ve done taking care of her, you’ve always known her better than I did.”
“That’s not true, Mom…”
“Don’t worry about hurting my feelings, honey. You two have always been somehow – I don’t want to sound metaphysical, but your souls have always been knit together.”
CJ guffawed, heard her huff and added, “For not wanting to sound metaphysical, that was sure metaphysical.”
She laughed, too but drove in silence. They pulled into the driveway and stopped. Mom turned the car off and staring ahead, continued to wait. Finally CJ said, “Yeah. Unless she can come up with a genius move to save herself and reprogram the nanomachines before they rebuild her old brain, she’s dying.”
Mai Li stirred between them and sat up slowly, saying, “Like I’ve always said since becoming the next step in Human evolution, ‘you’re not retarded, just an idiot.’”
CJ rolled his eyes and said, “Thanks for the vote of confidence.” Together, him and Mom managed to get Mai Li out of the car and into the house.
Once she was in her room and Mom had gone to make a late dinner, she said to CJ, “You’re right, little idiot. Unless I can reprogram the nanos, I’m going to die. So get me my laptop and get out of my way. You’re going to have to be my legs for me while I figure this out.”
He squinted suspiciously and said, “What are you going to order?”
He paused then said, “I can get some for you at school tomorrow if you just tell me what you want.”
Mai Li looked up, her face angry – outraged, CJ might have guessed – locking eyes with him. She opened her mouth then guffawed. She laughed so hard she fell back on the bed and laughed until tears streamed from her eyes and Mom had come to the bedroom door. “What did you say to her?”
CJ opened his mouth to answer. He was pretty sure Mom wouldn’t get the drug joke. He was saved from a lie when he phone rang and Mai Li struggled to her elbows and said, “He was just trying to make me feel better by stimulating the release of endorphins into my brain.”
Mom snorted and left the room.
CJ said into his phone, “Job?”
“Duh. Listen, I can’t talk long. You gonna be at school tomorrow?”
CJ pulled the phone from his mouth and shouted, “Mom do I have to go to…”
“Yes!” she cut him off with a shout from the kitchen.
“Yeah,” he said to Job, “I’m gonna be there.”
“Good. You better tell Mr. Jalfroun you’re not gonna go to MacDonald-Chandrasekar. I heard from Trevon that Mr. Jalfroun heard from the M-C coach that you were gonna sign on with them for sure!”
“Who told them that?”
“Trevon told me he heard it from Luc who heard it from Sentury.”
CJ squinted angrily, his hand squeezing the phone. Good thing he was a wimp or he’d have crushed it. “I’ll get even with her for this.”
“That’s fine, but first tell Mr. Jalfroun tomorrow that you’re not quitting his team.”
“But I sorta am.”
“Going to Carter doesn’t count. He’s the assistant coach there.”
CJ opened his mouth to reply just as Mai Li screamed.
November 23, 2011
November 20, 2011
POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS – OCCUPY Portland, Science Fiction, Writing and Faith…a Volatile Combination
(The photo above is of Jeff VanderMeer who, when you GOOGLE “activist science fiction writer” pops up first. Second place is awarded to Cory Doctrow.)
Last weekend, I was in Portland, Oregon becoming more educated on the philosophy and changes of a program called International Baccalaureate(http://www.ibo.org/); which is a methodology and framework for delivering a world-class, globally-aware education for kindergartners through seniors in high school. My daughter was in the IB program from 6th-12th grade. The training she received both philosophically and academically have been very helpful in her college education.
OCCUPY Portland was there as well and provided me with a different kind of education.
I confess that I had no idea what was going on. I’m an old guy and protesting is, as Captain Kirk once said, “…a game for the young, Doctor.” The first time I heard the Occupants chanting, I couldn’t make out the words OR the placards (it was late at night). I thought they were advertising Wendy’s – “…something…something…something…99 cents!”
Yeah, I know. What a dork.
As the weekend spun out, though and the IB conferees completely ignored the protest (because they were, after all, globally-minded teachers); the news reported on the unusual peacefulness of the confrontation between police and protesters and the metaphysical prophecies of a man who, while meditating with a rock that was purported to produce sympathetic vibrations of peace, had had a vision of rain and peaceful protesting (and had offered the crystal to a police officer in the riot line – who had significantly accepted it); it all began to sink into me.
STAR TREK, BARRAYAR, STAR WARS, DUNE, SAGA OF THE SEVEN SUNS, BABYLON 5, SERENITY and FOUNDATION AND EMPIRE never depict peaceful protests.
In fact to my knowledge, protests do not happen very often in science fiction. Two scenes I can recall are from David Brin’s SUNDIVER in which people wave placards protesting the extra-terrestrial presence on Earth; and the mob scene in the movie CONTACT which exhibits the absolute worst of Humanity.
In both of those scenes, the scientist-types scoff and shake their heads in disbelief at the insanity of most of Humanity (except for the unanimous scientific part). In neither case did the main characters join in and in neither case are the protesters objections addressed.
I suppose the same thing has happened with the OCCUPY movement – while investment in the sciences is (at least peripherally) controlled by large corporations like 3M, Boston Scientific, Bayer and Monsanto; while there certainly are scientists who participate (http://www.genomeweb.com/blog/phd-scientists-occupy-wall-street) those same scientists (upon whom the stock exchange depends – MMM, BSX, BAYRY, MON) eschew OCCUPY: “‘The Occupy Wall Street movement recently has drawn criticism, however — particularly from those who view the protest as disorganized and unsophisticated,’ The New York Times' Nelson Schwartz and Eric Dash say. ‘Without a coherent message, the crowds will ultimately thin out, Wall Street types insist…’”
Christians have a clear, ecumenical presence in the OCCUPY movement (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/12/us/at-occupy-protests-bearing-witness-without-preaching-beliefs-by-mark-oppenheimer.html?_r=2&hp).
So what am I trying to say? Just this: SF writers are typically made up of individuals who have a scientific bent (if not always degrees). They can have a profound impact on the scientific community. They should be writing to influence, not just entertain. They should be writing to empower change and not maintain status quo. They should encourage challenging the status quo – of COURSE while entertaining!
Where are the protesters in SF?
Excuse me while I get to work on a protesting scientist who happens to be a Christian as well (and no, it is NOT an oxymoron).
November 16, 2011
November 11, 2011
I am going to be in Portland, Oregon until Monday night and so I won't be posting (I missed Thursday's post because I was working last night...)
November 8, 2011
Each Tuesday, rather than a POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY, I'd like to both challenge you and lend a helping hand. I generate more speculative and teen story ideas than I can ever use. My family rolls its collective eyes when I say, "Hang on a second! I just have to write down this idea..." Here, I'll include the initial inspiration (quote, website, podcast, etc) and then a thought or two that came to mind. These will simply be seeds -- plant, nurture, fertilize, chemically treat, irradiate, test or stress them as you see fit. I only ask if you let me know if anything comes of them.
F Trope: gypsy fortune telling
Serena Buzău is a sophomore in a highly selective, science and math high school near Minneapolis and despises her parent’s business. They travel from one fair or carnival or cruise ship to another and visit the homes of the gullible and wealthy – as gypsy fortune tellers.
Her life is good and outside of their “gigs”, her parents appear perfectly normal – her dad is an advertising consultant who runs his business from home and Mom has a beauty parlor in the basement. This gives the two of them freedom to do the “gypsy show”…though their “stage names” are actually their real names: Alin and Crina; and both are popular in the mountains of the Carpathian Mountain area of Romania.
They have their programs down to an art and occasionally – and ONLY if the money is right – they will cast curses.
This causes them no amount of amusement because they believe more in the power of suggestion than in the powers of ancient curses.
Then one day, word comes back to them that a curse they cast CAME TRUE exactly as they cast it. Others begin to come true as well. It soon appears that someone or something has decided to carry out the curses. Serena is up late one night, skyping with a friend of hers…
November 6, 2011
After four years, I’m starting to think about changing the name of my blog. But I’m not sure that will make any difference.
After four years, I’ve had something around 15000 hits (I know the counter is different, but since I’ve started, for one reason or another, the counter had to be reset). That’s a lot of hits.
Twenty-one people follow me. I’m very, very grateful to them!
I’m also wondering if it would be better if I renamed the blog to something less threatening.
I mean, think about it – in this day and age, how many people WANT to be irritated? Even possibly? There’s plenty to irritate me out in the real world without my intentionally seeking out MORE irritating essays!
Also, doing this on purpose means I have to TRY and bug people. The rest of my blog isn’t about that – it’s about working on my novels and kid’s books and seeking comments. I post a spare idea every Tuesday. My other blog is my own take as I’ve walked alongside my wife in her breast cancer experience (I do NOT want to say “journey”. That word implies taking a vacation or going somewhere you want to go – and arriving unscathed. My wife’s experience with breast cancer has been horrible, painful and full of weeping. There have BEEN joyful moments, but always after weeping…how’s that a “journey” of any sort? If you’re interested, you can check it out here: http://breastcancerreaper.blogspot.com/).
So far, the tally isn’t very encouraging – one blog and one weekly post intended to help people; one blog post asking for comments on my work in progress (I work on three projects at a time); and even on Sundays, I have three subjects I cover: WRITING ADVICE, Possibly Irritating Essays, and (like this one) a Slice of PIE (intended to irritate people only a little bit).
The total? Of eight types of posts, six are intended to help others or to help me (though I’ve always hoped people commenting on my works in progress would learn a thing or two as I change foci, character names, locations and directions in the story as it develops. I suppose I wanted it to be a learning experience for them as well as me.) One is blatantly out to get people’s goats, the other can be but isn’t always. Sometimes it’s just observations on life.
So, how about an analysis? What are the titles of the top five most popular blogs on Blogspot?
Can’t seem to find that, but I did find this: http://technorati.com/blogs/directory/. Techorati lists 1,285,000 blogs in nine categories. The largest category is “Living” with 52000 blogs. Of those, the largest categories are “Arts” and “Home”, each with some 19000 blogs.
Another site (http://www.ebizmba.com/articles/blogs) lists popular sites as well.
When it gets to the Top ___ Personal Blogs, it gets very fuzzy. People begin to break them into categories such as Science Fiction/Fantasy; Finance; Health; Family and Inspiration. Then you have Blogspot’s “Blogs of Note” – though based on what people are saying, there doesn’t seem to be a specific process. Which is fine. It doesn’t bother me because they’re giving me a free forum with no strings attached. All I have to do is use it.
So – as I can’t change the system, maybe I’ll change the blog’s name…
How about INTERSECT – ‘cause I love CHUCK on TV. The word is also in the blurb under the title. I also like the implications as well. So we’ll see. PIE may soon be under a new name!