December 30, 2012

Hug Your Young Adult

Today was to have been a Writing Advice column, but it won't be because there are things more important than writing.

I know. I can't believe I said that, but even though this won't be about writing, it will come BACK to writing, strangely enough. But it won't be words of wisdom or anything profound or helpful to your writing career. It will be about history. It will be about family. It will be about grief.

Some thirty years ago, as a stopping place on the journey, I worked for a summer at Wapogasset Lutheran Bible Camp near Amery, Wisconsin. It was the...fourth or fifth camp I'd worked at, but it was the ONLY camp whose effects have resonated down through the years to this morning, thirty years later. I made some friends that summer that I still see: Lynn, Jon, Loren, Char, Joel...and I see their kids and occasionally their grandkids.

The reason I was there was to play with young people. I was a camp counselor; what ELSE do they do but play tag, go swimming, sing songs around a campfire, sing rowdy praises to God, and write silly ditties like The Smell Song? Since graduating from high school in 1975, I'd found myself entangled in something called "youth ministry". So I kept on. Pursuing that entanglement led me to playground supervisor for the local Park and Recreation program, thence into Bible camp counselor and director, onward to science teacher until I washed up on the shore of my current job, high school counselor.

If you wanted to sound grandiose about it, you might say that my life has been dedicated to the lives of young adults. Even my writing is strongly slanted to YA.

Why.

*deep breath* Because the lives of young adults are balanced on the thin edge of greatness and disaster. I have seen young adults crash and burn. I have known young adults who were gunned down in gang violence. I have seen young adults fall headfirst and knowingly into addictions varied and colorful. I have also seen young adults act selflessly to help others. I have seen young adults embrace the homeless and needy and through their actions, make a profound difference in the lives of the people of this planet we live on. I have seen young adults move into careers both profound and mundane.

Young adulthood is where the action is. Young adulthood is where the greatest potential for greatness and disaster is.

And I stand there every day.

That is why the death of a young adult; struck down by influenza that might be a relative of the flu that murdered roughly two percent OF THE WORLD'S POPULATION from 1918 to 1920, most of them young adults; has hit me so hard. I met his mother at Bible Camp, where we shared a love of "hair pie" and worked together to have a profound impact on the lives of YOUNGER young adults and children. It is she who lost her son yesterday.

That's why I grieve today. It's for young people like him that I write. That's why you need to go out and hug the young adults in your own life. Because you never know when you will be denied that opportunity; and young adults NEED to be hugged sometimes.

image: http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/maxschwolert/photos

December 27, 2012

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 37: Paolo To Bradbury

On a well-settled Mars, the five major city Council regimes struggle to meld into a stable, working government. Embracing an official United 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.

Lewis Purvis, after entering the redoubt of the Free Martian Fellowship, struggled against the Free Martians holding him.

Svetlana’s nerve disruptor came up. “I wouldn’t get too violent, kid. Doesn’t look like it would take much to scramble your brain.”

Paolo held up a hand and looked to Svetlana, asking, “May I?”

“What if he tries to kill you?”

Paolo shrugged, “I don’t think that’s what he came here for, but if he does, then it’s one less Christian in the world to irritate Mars Authority.”

Chumani Minnesota exclaimed, “Hey! We’re Mars Authority and you haven’t irritated us.”

Paolo smiled and said, “Just give me time.”

Lewis said suddenly, “I have something I can give you,” he looked at Svetlana, “if you let Mr. Marcillon go free with me.”

“I’m not…”

Micah Ruffin cut her off, “What have you got, kid?”

Lewis’ eyes never left Svetlana. She said, “What have you got?” He looked at Micah and Alayc To’xay and she signaled to them to release him.

He leaned forward and opened a pocket on the leg of his surface suit. From it he pulled a box about ten centimeters long and held it out to her. “If you believe in the Watchers, then you’ll want this.”

Svetlana scowled and said, “Is it a bomb?”

Lewis said, “No. The Christian community I’m part of doesn’t hold with suicide bombing.”

Alayc said, “Too bad the Buddhists don’t hold with your beliefs.” He took the box and handed it to Svetlana.

“What’s in here.”

“Bones.”

Scowling, she opened the box. Nothing exploded except the breath from her lungs. Wide-eyed she looked at him, “Where did you get these? Are they real?”

He nodded slowly, “One of our group is a Ares-paleontologist. She was at a northern excavation site near the Cydonian ‘face on Mars’. She figured we’d need to bribe some people in Bradbury to ignore our group and one of the Mayor’s aids is a fossil freak. So she brought this back. What is it?”

“A finger bone.”

Alayc and Micah dropped Lewis’ arms and strode to Svetlana’s side, staring into the box. She looked up again, “Are there more?”

“We don’t have any, but I assume there are others where this one came from.”

“Do you know where she found it?”

“Just somewhere near the ‘face on mars’. I’m a computer game programmer – I try and focus on the future, not the past.”

She closed the box and handed it back to him.

Micah exclaimed, “What are you doing?”

“We don’t need proof. We have faith.” She turned to Paolo, locking gazes and said, “I’ve always believed in the Watchers. And we haven’t been holding Paolo against his will – he’s never been our prisoner, so you don’t need to bribe us to release him.”

Lewis looked to Paolo, “Then you’ll come and pray for Bradbury?”

Paolo grimaced. “What makes you think my prayers are more powerful than yours?”

The youngster gestured to the Free Martians. “I heard they kill people who find them. I didn’t expect to live long enough to give them the bribe. But here you are – and they didn’t kill you and they don’t need my bribe.” He shrugged, “You must be a lot more powerful in your prayer life than we are.”

Paolo snorted. “Your namesake – CS Lewis – once wrote ‘Does God forsake just those who serve Him best? Little people like you and me, if our prayers are sometimes granted, beyond all hope and probability, had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage…If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle.’” Paolo shook his head then said, “I’ll come with you not because I can pray better than you, but because you have things you can teach me.”

Chumani and Chen looked from Lewis to Paolo. Chen said, “I need to get back to Robinson.”

“I could go with you,” said Chumani to Paolo.

“Why would you do that?”

Paolo shook his head. “I’ll go back with Lewis here.” He stepped up to Chumani and Chen and said, “Thank you for following me, but I think your witness will be more important back in Bradbury. Go there, share the Good News. You’ll hear from the Underground soon. I guarantee it.”

The two men nodded, glancing at Svetlana. She said, “Be my guest. Good luck.” They headed for the airlock. Lewis started to snap up his suit. Svetlana said, “You could clean up before you leave...”

“Not while my friends are being shoved out the airlocks.”

She nodded slowly then said, “Lots of people laugh at us, but at least they haven’t started spacing any of us.”

The airlock cycled as Chen and Chumani left. Paolo closed his legs into the suit and started to snap the wrist seals. He looked at Svetlana. Lewis did, too then handed the box to her. “You respect this more than I do. And maybe you’ll remember this if we ever need help someday.”

Svetlana took it, nodded then turned to stride deeper into the Fellowship’s cavern.

December 25, 2012

Christmas In A Nutshell...



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DKk9rv2hUfA

Like Tolkien, Gene Wolfe, Johnny Hart and others, Charles Schultz was a devout Christian who lived out CS Lewis' exhortation to create art, entertain and serve Humanity with their Christianity latent:

 “What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects with their Christianity latent.” (God in the Dock, pg 93)

Blessed Christmas to ALL!

December 23, 2012

Slice of PIE: Independence Day Is WRONG!

After watching “The Goop On the Girl”, an episode of our family favorite TV show “Bones”, in which the intern Daisy reminds everyone in the show and the viewing world that “if you’re going to celebrate christmas, you should be doing it in March”; I sighed deeply and…Well, I decided to poke into other holidays we celebrate with gusto – St. Patrick’s Day, Thanksgiving, Easter, Martin Luther King’s Birthday, and President’s Day. As Christmas is near and dear to my heart, I thought I’d pick on the one that’s nearest and dearest to our ‘Merican hearts.

Independence Day.

The Fourth of July is immortalized as the day the American British Colonies declared their independence from England’s rule. It has such a nice ring, it even looks good: The Fourth of July. Much better than The Second of July.

“Have a nice Fourth!” So smooth.

“Have a nice Second!” So clumsy. Ugly, really.

Unfortunately, the Second happens to be the truth: “During the American Revolution, the legal separation of the Thirteen Colonies from Great Britain occurred on July 2, 1776, when the Second Continental Congress voted to approve a resolution of independence that had been proposed in June by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia declaring the United States independent from Great Britain.” Or was it later than that? “...though the wording of the Declaration was approved on July 4, the date of its signing was August 2...” and add this, too: “the famous signed version of the Declaration was created after July 19...”

OK, so what’s two measly days? Who cares – not like it’s three MONTHS!

How about the Stars and Stripes? That’s authentically Fourth of July, right? On June 14, 1777...the Second Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution which stated: ‘Resolved, that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field...tradition holds that the new flag was first hoisted in June 1777…[and] was most probably meant to define a naval ensign. In the late 18th century, the notion of national flag did not yet exist, or was only nascent.”

Uh...

“The Star Spangled Banner”?

Sorry. The song was written some time between 6:00 A.M. on 13 September 1814 and 7:00 AM 14 September 1814 during the British bombardment of Fort McHenry near Baltimore, Maryland during the War of 1812. Facts: the POEM was written then by Francis Scott Key. Music was written by a Brit named John Stafford Smith in 1780 and was already a popular tune called “The Anacreontic Song” (or “To Anacreon in Heaven”). “The song gained popularity throughout the 19th century and bands played it during public events, such as July 4th celebrations. On July 27, 1889, Secretary of the Navy Benjamin F. Tracy signed General Order #374, making ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ the official tune to be played at the raising of the flag.”

OK…fireworks! Invented in China during the Eastern Zhou Dynasty in the 7th Century BC, they made their way into the new USA a year (or whatever) after the signing of the Declaration of Independence (whenever that was). Stuff was blowing up during the Revolutionary War, right? That’s…sorta close: “In 1777, thirteen gunshots were fired, once at morning and again as evening fell, on July 4 in Bristol, Rhode Island. Philadelphia celebrated the first anniversary in a manner a modern American would find quite familiar: an official dinner for the Continental Congress, toasts, 13-gun salutes, speeches, prayers, music, parades, troop reviews, and fireworks. Ships were decked with red, white, and blue bunting.”

So, for those of you who like to point out that Christmas is an appropriation of the Roman holiday of Saturnalia and that Jesus was probably born in March (what month is that according to the ancient Jewish calendar of Jesus’ time? Or do we use the Julian (which was invented in 45 BC) or the Gregorian (wasn’t invented until 1582) or was He born during the Mensis intercalaris? or Nisan 14; and Yule logs are Druid things in addition to mistletoe; Christmas trees are German and lefse and pickled herring are Norwegian; Santa Claus is…well, patterned after a 4th century Greek Christian bishop of Myra in Turkey who was well-known for helping the poor...take a good hard look at our venerable Fourth of July, American Independence Day and make sure you tell everyone about the ambiguity of our National Holiday.

Oh, and don’t forget to party on the correct day: The Fourteenth of June? The Second of July? The Fourth of July? The Nineteenth of July? The Twenty-seventh of July? The Second of August? The Fourteenth of September? What day should you really celebrate Independence Day? By the way, what day did a copy of the Declaration of Independence actually reach King George III telling him the Colonies were no longer his? August? September? October? November? Maybe March 1777...

Just a hotdog, a little potato salad, and apple pie for thought. (Huh. How did THEY come to be associated with The Fourth of July? I wonder...I just know someone's going to be offended by my cheeky piece...)

December 20, 2012

SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH #44: July 20, 1946

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.

Tommy jammed his elbow into Eddie’s gut.

Eddie jumped, sliding into Edwina Olds, Lieutenant, WACS (ret.). Muttering, Eddie shoved Tommy back who crashed into the door just as a truck appeared on the road ahead, coming from around a corner. Tommy pointed out the front window, jamming his fingers against the glass. He shouted, “It’s the socialists!”

Ed shook her head, leaned forward and stared at the approaching truck. “If that’s your socialists, then we’re probably in trouble.”

“Why?”

“There’s ten of them and only three of us.”

Freddie said, “I’m not counting us.”

Ed glanced at him, smiled and said, “I’m sure the two of you are good in a fight. You’ve had enough practice.”

Across the road, the truck drifted to the shoulder and pulled to a stop. Two of the men jumped out, glanced both ways and crossed the road to the truck.

Ed leaned out, making sure the arm with the tattoo was obvious and said, “You boys looking for something?”

Across the road, a woman got out of the truck. Peeking over the dash, Freddie whispered, “It’s the witch!”

On the road, one of the men shouted, “We’re looking for two boys!”

Ed said, “The two of you are boys compared to me, sonny. You’re found.”

“Not funny, lady. The boys are thieves. They stole money from our house master. You seen ‘em?”

“Nope.”

“We look in your truck?”

“Nope.”

Freddie and Tommy couldn’t see the men, but there was a loud bang on the door. One of the men said, “Listen lady, there’s ten of us…”

“Looks to me there’s more like nine – and if you want to tangle with me, I’d be happy to meet you at the Hilltop Inn up in Grand Marais. I’m a discharged Navy Lieutenant and I fought a pair of Japs off with my bare hands and broke both of their necks. I was right behind the boys at Iwo Jima as well. If you want to fight me fair and square, that’d be fine. But when I tell you boys I ain’t got no children on this here rig, I’m tellin’ it to you true. So, what’s it gonna be? I’ll take the girl on with any of you.”

From outside, a woman cried, “For she that stealeth these boys from their owner, let them change into serpents in her hands and rend her. Let her be struck with palsy, and all her members blasted. Let her languish in pain crying out for mercy, and let there be no surcease to her agony till she sing in...”

The rest of the curse disappeared in the roar of the logging truck’s engine. An instant later, the truck crawled forward as the men outside shouted, though their words were drowned out by the truck. Ed laid on the brakes, leaned out the window and shouted, “Listen, witch-woman, your fancy curse don’t work on me ‘cause I’m a good Christian woman; but if I ever hear your voice again, I’m going to have less to say and more to do. The end result will be your face in a mess. Have a nice day!”

Once the truck was up to speed, the boys sat up, blinking in the bright light, staring in amazement at Ed. Freddie said, “Would you have really beat them up for us?”

Ed snorted, ground the truck into its highest gear of the morning and shouted over the roar, “Why not? You boys seem like good people; just got your butts in a bit of trouble.”

Tommy fell back against the seat and said, “That’s the story of my life.”

December 18, 2012

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 91

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: black magic
Current Event: “In many popular video games, such as Final Fantasy, white and black magic is simply used to distinguish between healing/defensive spells (such as a "cure") and offensive/elemental spells (such as "fire") respectively, and does not carry an inherent good or evil connotation.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_magic)

Pastor Kim Dong Shik made a face and said, “I don’t dislike the game. I dislike the redefinition.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” said Martin Caine. A couple other boys from the youth group stood behind him, nodding.

Pastor Kim took a breath, but Trevor Mena cut him off, “You sure you’re not just trying to get us to stop playing a game you think is evil or something dumb like that?”

The pastor bit his lower lip for a moment then said, “Define ‘black magic’ for me.”

The third boy, Aagaard Zorilla said, “That’s easy – black magic is what you use to defend your characters from attack.”

“As opposed to what kind of magic?”

“White magic, of course!” said Trevor.

“Yeah, when you want to attack, you use black magic.”

“Or if you want to summon any of the elementals like earth, air, fire or water.”

Pastor Kim nodded. “So do you think that’s been the definition all along?”

All three boys looked puzzled. Finally Aagaard said, “That’s always been the definition I’ve used.”

“Care to hear a more…historical definition?”
All three rolled their eyes.

Pastor Kim laughed and nodded, saying, “Oh, I get it! Anything that’s older than you isn’t important anymore!” Even though Trevor and Aagaard laughed, Martin found himself stepping back. Pastor Kim smiled sadly then said, “So you don’t think I’m important anymore?”

The smile on the faces of two of the boys disappeared. Martin’s grew as he said, “Too bad you’re one of the only ones who noticed.” His voice had dropped an octave and his skin, instead of flushing red like a blush, was flushing black as if the toxins from pasturella pestis had flooded his blood vessels.

The pastor’s eyes bugged a bit, but Martin made a face. The old-fashioned “holy man” was supposed to run away, terrified of the spell the mage had cast over Martin a few weeks ago. The mage – a college professor Martin had heard speak at his sister’s college one night – had assured him that old-fashioned christianity wasn’t relevant, let alone imbued with the kind of power mages controlled.

When Martin had mentioned his pastor was pretty cool, the professor had laughed and asked if he wanted to be truly empowered – granted power great enough to make any old christian drop to their knees in quaking fear. Martin had shrugged and said, “Sure.”

At the moment, his chest swelled and he felt taller than he’d ever felt before. He seemed to be able to look over Aagaard and Trevor and down on Pastor Kim.

But instead of cowering, Pastor Kim…

Names: South Korean, American, Uruguayan

December 16, 2012

PIE: Calculations and Understanding

 I laughed the first time I read the captions of the image ABOVE:

I grimaced when I saw the one BELOW:

Why?

Because together they made me think that as a classroom teacher I am incredibly guilty of holding kids back.

Add to this mix: my grandson was sitting on my lap, watching a Sesame Street YouTube. He was fiddling with a pen as well, as he recently learned that you could draw things as well. At one point he informed me, "You can bite this end." and proceeded to chew on the capped end. When his video ended, he flipped his pen so the cap was down and tapped the long bar to play the video again. It wasn't a lucky shot. It wasn't an accident. He knew exactly what he was doing. He's been ex-utero for EXACTLY twenty-eight months and one day, yet he handles computers as if he was born to them.

Oh. He was.

I was also thinking about a failed referendum in our district ($5 million over 5 years for technology updates) as well as reading how kids aren't reading much any more. Also, I read the blogs and articles of old folks (25 years old +) who trumpet the ascendancy of the ebook.

All of this together collides in this way:

Old folks -- those people who are 25 years old and older -- were born on the cusp of a renaissance. Once the computer had been integrated into society, it remained only for a generation to be born who knew nothing BUT instantaneous computer connections, keyboards and lighted screens. These kids are confronted on a daily basis with teachers who actually had to LEARN to use computers or type in HTML. Bits are placed in their mouths by people (like me) who once taught with mimeograph machines, overhead projectors, hand-written grade books, "attendance lists" posted on doors for collection, and 16mm film projectors -- and then they are told to "take notes and read this assignment making sure you highlight the main idea in each paragraph".

Really?

Really???

These kids can look at the first image -- and then find the answer without batting an eyelash by finding it on the internet -- my guess is that the second image was done by a 24 month old toddler.  These kids are not drawn into reading because all they have to read is paper textbooks and paper fiction. We (the public schools I work in) don't HAVE ipads, Kindles, Nooks or Sony Ereaders in our school library. These kids rarely, if ever, pick up a paper book to read. Especially when all they have to do is wait until the book is made into a movie. They will NEVER get the books we enjoyed as young people -- or the SF being written for young adults today (sparse to say the least -- because "teenagers don't read science fiction"...and the community refuses to support technology for the schools, believing (sometimes rightly -- but never always) that it will only be a waste.
 
I've tried saying this in other fora but not sure if I'm getting through: The REAL change will take place when STUDENTS start reading ebooks at school. Virtually every assigned textbook and novel-for-class in my school of 2000 students is paper. Until the SCHOOL revolution occurs (and I work at a school that is 55% non-white, 40% free-and-reduced lunch, one step out of the inner city), the numbers will probably stay flat. The first company that can REALLY get an ebook into the hands of middle and high school students (and I mean REALLY make it affordable to the lower middle class and poor) will be the first to change how the US reads...So, schools remain in the late seventies technologically with TEACHERS mostly from that same era (some slightly later) attempting to both educate and intellectually engage these young people.

I can say without hesitation that we are failing. As long as we blithely traipse into our future paying minimal attention to the young people we should be recruiting to our vision and blame them for their "school failures" (and please carefully NOTE: I am not saying we excuse laziness, sloth or intentional education sabotage), we will continue our long slide into a technological Dark Age.

All that from two silly internet images, my grandson's facility with a computer, the loss of a school district technology referendum, and the old folks (25+) trumpeting the proliferation of ebooks (while at the same time either not voting for the money to SERIOUSLY upgrade the technology available to public schools; ignoring the issue; or not doing lots and lots more to get ACTUALLY affordable ebook readers (at the bare minimum) into schools.

 Reference: Nathan Bransford's blog -- Comment #36,

December 13, 2012

STEAMPUNK MONKEY #8

The idea for this starts with a story I tried to write about a thieving monkey who took keys and used them to unlock its cage. That was it. The story was called BRIGHT FLASH THE MONKEY’S PAWS. It was my third or fourth attempt at writing a picture book – and it was really bad. With the advent of the genre of steampunk, I started rethinking the story. Here it is – OK, just realized that I wrote something entirely different for #5 than I thought I did. So…this is going to be where the story SHOULD have gone. If you don’t mind, ignore #6 above!

…then jumped from the tub and ran after the steam powered monkey.

The monkey ran down the street and turned a corner. “You come back!” Clementine cried.

She ran after the monkey. When she turned the corner, a flock of pigeons leaped into the air. Feathers flew everywhere!

Clementine did not sneeze, and did not sneeze, and did not sneeze. She was way too mad!

December 11, 2012

IDEAS ON TUESDAY 90

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: totally intelligent robots who were made by “no one”

“I think it makes the point really well,” said Hojo Mosako, gesturing at the unveiled robot. With wheels. And a driver. “It says that robot intelligence is impossible. And that robot intelligence can only go where Human intelligence has already paved the way.”

“It doesn’t say that at all!” replied Tsuyoshi Shibano. “It’s the first step in the evolution of robotic intelligence!”

“How’s that?” Hojo asked.

The crowds at the trade show had thinned, leaving a circle of open space around the robot. Tsuyoshi said, “Just because all these losers can’t recognize the first step in the evolution of robot intelligence.”

“What? You think smart robots are going to just appear out of nowhere with no one making them?” she asked.

“Why does anything have to make intelligence? We got here without anyone making us smart?” Tsuyoshi said, rubbing his hand over his head.

“Speak for yourself,” Hoyo said, tossing her hair. “I’m a Christian. I believe God made intelligence and that it didn’t just ‘spring’ from nothing.”

He snorted, looked up at the robot on wheels and said, “I can prove it to you.”

“Prove what?”

“I can prove to you that this robot may be the first step in the ACCIDENTAL evolution of robotic intelligence.” He started forward, glancing both ways and put a foot up on the robot’s wheel.

“What are you doing?” He ignored her and continued to climb until he’d reached the door. He searched for a moment, then grabbed a standard door handle, yanked it and lifted it open. Hoyo shouted, “The only thing you’re going to prove is that a person can in fact be jailed for exhibiting stupidity!”

“Just goes to show what you know!” he shouted and slammed the door. He’d watched the demonstration and gone over the schematics a half dozen times for just this moment. Admittedly, he was just fantasizing then. He’d never planned on going this far.

Through a forward observation slit, he could see Hoyo jumping up and down, waving frantically while at the same time trying not to draw attention to his hijacking. He scanned the interior then tapped a key he’d only discovered his last time through the schematics. He’d only found it then after back tracking a half dozen times and then finally figuring it out for himself. An oblong circle with horizontal squiggles across it was stenciled above a plastic case covering a single switch. He opened the box and flipped the switch. To the best of his knowledge, the symbol stood for cognitive augmentation.

A brain booster.

A helmet rested between his legs. LEDs striped the helmet glowed green and red. He picked it up and slowly settled it on his head.

December 9, 2012

WRITING ADVICE: Bruce Bethke’s TWELVE STEP PROGRAM FOR WRITERS #3

Somewhere around thirty years ago, I met Bruce Bethke for the first time – when I responded to an ad in a newspaper for a science fiction writers group seeking new members. I called, then sent in an “audition story” and was invited to join the group at the ORIGINAL, original Loft Literary Center (before grant money started flowing) in Minneapolis. One of THEM reviews books now, the other published a few books and short stories but no longer writes. Bruce doesn’t write much lately except for non-fiction; he is currently executive editor of STUPEFYING STORIES, an irregular anthology of new speculative fiction, he mostly works for a super computer company as well as presiding over Rampant Loon Press. These nuggets of wisdom can be found here: http://www.sfwa.org/2009/06/a-12-step-program-for-writers/. They are used with the author’s permission.

3. We have made a decision to turn our lives and our professional careers over completely to our New Agent. God help us.
 
As I’ve only HAD a first agent, this is a tough one to comment on, so I’ll have to rely on the blogosphere regaarding First Agents:

I gratefully signed with an agency, and we sold my first and second novels…in a two-book deal. But within twelve months, the blush of first love rubbed off the bloom, and I discovered that my first agent was not my match.” (http://www.themillions.com/2012/11/finding-true-love-finding-a-literary-agent.html)

“I was about to give up hope and on the verge of falling into a deep depression, when a big fat letter showed up from…a Literary Agency…’Dear Mr. Manchee, I have read your most extraordinary book and would love to represent you…someone thought my novel was ‘Extraordinary,’ so I read [in] the contract proposal…that he wanted $1800 to do some polishing of the novel…” (http://williammanchee.net/myfirstliteraryagent.html)

“…the first agent who took me on was a paragon of imperfection…we communicated only by phone, fax, or letter…She said my first novel was brilliant…I trusted her…she or her assistant rarely returned a call or replied to a fax…I never received a single copy of a rejection letter...The relationship was a black hole…I sent her a registered letter ending the relationship.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lev-raphael/first-kill-all-the-litera_b_1935093.html)

From what I can tell so far, God IS the only one who can help here…I don’t mean that in a bad way, but as a Christian, I have a decent idea about what I can control and what I have to leave in His hands. I can’t control anyone but myself (and if you put me in a room with a fresh Boston Cream Pie, I cannot even guarantee that…)

So according to Bruce Bethke, that is exactly what I’m going to be doing!

December 6, 2012

THE RECONSTRUCTION OF MAI LI HASTINGS 44

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 several pages back until you get to the bottom first entry – which happens to be Chapter 2...

He groaned, his stomach heaved, but he  kept everything down and didn’t barf on anyone.

At least he didn’t THINK he barfed on anyone as he went back to sleep.

The next time he woke up, someone said, “We ran a full set of CAT scans and there’s no evidence of a concussion. He’ll be woozy for a day or so. You could keep him home from school for a couple of days.”

He chose that moment to sit up from the waist. Mom and some medical person started and he said, “I’m not woozy.” He looked at Mom and said, “Where…” He was in his basement bedroom. “Mom?”

She nodded to the man, “This is Darryl. He’s the paramedic who just brought us home. Do you remember walking into the house?”

CJ blinked at her, then looked at Darryl. Finally he said, “I sorta do.” In the corner of his room Butterfly/Beardsley squeaked. He moved to get out of bed and the world swung around him. Mom and Darryl moved toward him but he held up a hand. “Hang on. I gotta go to the last two or whatever days of school...”

“The school’s going to Valleyfaire! You can’t possibly go, Christopher!”

“Kid, I ain’t your dad, but if you’re lookin’ to commit suicide, all you gotta do is go down on the Slaughtermaker once and you’ll probably die half way through. Most likely surely you’ll die if you don’t get off at the halfway point.” He shrugged, said to CJ’s Mom, “Don’t let him say I didn’t warn him,” then climbed up the stairs.

“You’re not going! I’m not going to lose both of my children…”

CJ jumped to his feet, swayed then started up the stairs, “Mai Li didn’t die!”

“No!” Mom shouted, grabbing him by a pant leg and holding his foot down. “She’s sleeping upstairs and if you’d just stop a second I’ll tell you what happened!”

CJ stopped moving, turned and because the rest of the world kept turning around him, sat down hard on the stairs. He said, “What?”

Mom walked up and sat on the step below his and said, “Whatever it was that you shot into her IV stabilized all of her signs. She woke up, she was eating and talking – but she was sleeping a lot. I said I was taking her home. They couldn’t think of any reason to keep us there now that they know Doctor Chazhukaran is a lunatic and not only tried to kill you but also tried to kill your sister. I told the hospital that I’d be suing them pretty much immediately if they didn’t let us go home. So they smiled, sent their best doctors and made it so we got out in record time. Mai Li’s sleeping upstairs. She said that was one of the effects of giving her the dose of the nanomachines she designed.”

“So she’s getting better?”

Mom nodded. “She told me to tell you…”

An ear-splitting scream came from upstairs...

December 4, 2012

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 89

Each Tuesday, rather than a POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY, I'd like to both challenge you and lend a helping hand. I generate more speculative and teen story ideas than I can ever use. My family rolls its collective eyes when I say, "Hang on a second! I just have to write down this idea..." Here, I'll include the initial inspiration (quote, website, podcast, etc) and then a thought or two that came to mind. These will simply be seeds -- plant, nurture, fertilize, chemically treat, irradiate, test or stress them as you see fit. I only ask if you let me know if anything comes of them.

H Trope: Heart removal/containment


Defman Balasubramanium leaned back in the chair bolted to the floor. He touched the control panel under his fingers and the walls of the ship seemed to dissolve around him and he floated above the Rings of Saturn without a suit or a ship.

It had taken two years for him to reach this orbit, anticipation high the past three months as the Democracy of Saturn had grown in his view screen. He was eligible for membership in the most advanced culture Humanity had ever created.

If his cargo had survived intact.

“Speaking of which,” he said. He joined the talk stream between Earth and Neptune and talked with his gfs and bfs until he reached the Heart Garden. “Listen, I got work to do.”

“What? You and Rosie Palm gotta catch up on the broadcasts of ‘Prostit...’” Def shut down the entire link, cutting everyone off as he touched down in the microgravity jump shaft that ran the length of the ship.

The inertia drive had shut down once the ship had decelerated after boosting for nine months. Except for the virtual concerts he ran in the holomovie theatre with his friends, the parties he hosted the same way and the...ahem...he often turned everything off and listened.

In the silence that ensued while the ship had drifted into Saturn’s orbit, travelling millions of kilometres per hour, he heard the Hearts in the Garden.

Since he was sixteen, he’d tended the Heart Garden. The cargo was vital to the Democracy as it seemed to be necessary for vital Human organs to grow in one Earth G when they were outside a body. There was a plague that caused profound damage to the heart.

He swung out, ran a program check of the myocardial stimulation unit that tied all two hundred hearts together, making them beat as one, then started a routine he’d followed since the day he and the organs had been launched from Space Station Courage.

The normal intrinsic electrical conduction of the heart allowed electrical propagation to be transmitted from the Sinoatrial Node through both atria and forward to the Atrioventricular Node. Normal/baseline physiology allowed further propagation from the AV node to the Purkinje Fibers…

He managed to stop himself. He’d gotten into the medical end of his job, eventually taking and passing the various tests until he reached a point where he was an EMT now. In fact, he’d gotten smarter than he’d ever expected himself to be. Earth and Saturn pretty much left him alone now to work with them. In fact, once or twice they had asked his opinion of treatment of the organs.

It had proved devastating to the health of the hearts if they were frozen. Even with the help of Democracy physicists combined with Earth’s best doctors, the number of hearts that were revived unharmed once they completed their journey was less than four percent. That number combined with the cost of the journey was unacceptable to either Earth or Saturn.

The only call his link allowed when he banned everyone else was his best friend, Jyotsna Tamang.

He wasn’t sure what he’d have done in space if it wasn’t for the Democracy’s instantaneous communication. He accepted the call and said, “What? I’m busy working!”

“I’m on the tractor, too!” Jyotsna’s family had emigrated to the central plains of Brazil, the breadbasket of the world, where she was a simple farmer’s daughter.

Well educated, though, “Well, I plant and harvest hearts while you plant and harvest...whatever you plant and harvest.”
“Jojoba,” she said. The possibility of educating himself if he felt like it, limitless access to entertainment and absolutely no supervision at all – with the understanding that if he really screwed off, he’d probably die – sent him to Saturn with two hundred beating hearts at an acceleration of one G. Sometimes, he thought that all he could hear was them beating. Even when he played a transuranic concert; even when he blared Bach’s Concerto in D Minor into sound-proofed headphones.

He could always hear the hearts…

India boy’s name
Nepali girl’s name

December 2, 2012

Slice of PIE: Chaos & Aliens+Humans

Have you ever played the card game, CHAOS?

According to the advertising it is: “…the Ruthless Card Game of Ever Changing Rules…To win the game all you have to do is get rid of your cards, but right when you think you've figured out the rules, the rules change...again and again…56 game cards, 56 rule cards..”

Each player gets five number and game change cards in black, yellow, red or blue. The numbers range from 1-9, the game change cards include: next player loses a turn, reverse direction and such.

In addition to the five cards, each player has one Rule Card. On it will be something like, “Player must say ‘Hello, it’s yellow’ before playing a yellow card.” There is a penalty associated with every rule. Some of the rules are obvious, like “Player must speak in the third person” – and if I’m holding the card, I enforces the penalty, saying, “Guy gives you a card from Guy’s deck.”

While chaotic, it DOES allow other players to figure out the rule and play by it.

Other rules are hidden, like “Player must say ‘Two Turtle Dove’ when laying down a 2 card.” While this is just as silly as the other rule, the enforcer only says, “Lack of expression!” The rule breaker knows they broke a rule – but not what the rule was and there was no hint .

To tell you the truth, I dislike this game a great deal. As a former but recent science teacher, my world revolved around rules for the past 30 years – Newton’s Laws, The Periodic Law, Laws of Gravity, Entropy, Heat and others kept me busy explaining how the universe works. But in CHAOS, you barely have time to play your cards when the rules change willy-nilly – AND YOU DON’T HAVE ANY WAY OF FIGURING OUT WHAT THE NEW ONES ARE!

That being said, I am about half way through my newest SF novel, OMNIVORE’S DEBT. It involves aliens and Humans trying to get along together in a universe where debt is incurred when a sentient people receive the keys to a major scientific breakthrough. Humans are busy paying back the equations given to them by the Shabe that led to micro-fusion power plants.

The biggest challenge in writing SF with aliens is to avoid making them “humans in funny suits” like most of the ones in STAR TREK and STAR WARS. DR. WHO makes a good stab at creating believable aliens and there are a few STAR TREK intelligences that have left a strong mark on me for their strangeness – the Horta and the alien from “Vox Sola” spring to mind.

The upshot is that when Humans eventually meet real aliens, they are likely to have cultures that make as much sense to us as the game CHAOS makes to me. It’s unlikely that an alien civilization will come with a code book by which we might decipher their behavior – at least Humans don’t appear to have made up any such document. If we didn’t, why would we expect an alien civilization to do it?

Some would argue that such a document would be impossible to make because of the “diversity” of Human life and culture. I would argue that there are essential behaviors, sounds and tools Humans have that if we codified them and created some sort of document, we could beam to any incoming alien starship.

At least we might avoid the WAR OF THE WORLDS or INDEPENDENCE DAY or even the DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL kinds of situations.

Especially if our alien visitors send us an equivalent document.

Your thoughts?

December 1, 2012

Craziness Ensues, Postings Interrupted

Conferences at school. Craziness at school. New cabinetry in the kitchen and internet down for hours at a time.

Missed my post Thursday. Not sure if I can do my post at GUY'S GOTTA TALK ABOUT BREAST CANCER...either.

Sorry all.

November 28, 2012

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 88

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.

Sorry it was late -- conferences last night and a CRAZY busy schedule...

F Trope: White magic

Mahamat Abeche and Liha Beledweyne looked at each other across the table in the Gersthofen Commons of Göggingen College.

“The thing about Americans?” Liha said. She watched a gaggle of students mutter on by.

“Which thing about Americans?” asked Mahamat. Liha looked at him in disgust. For having so many bad things to say about the US, he certainly had no qualms about the food. He was stuffing a sheaf of “French” fries into his mouth then washing it down with a Coke.

“The thing about Americans is that they’re so…materialistic. They think that what they see is what they get.” He rolled her eyes and shook her head. Even she picked up Americanisms without even realizing it. Her father had warned her that America would badly muffle her perception of the spirit world. She’d figured she could handle it. She now figured that it was a good thing that the college was so close to a Somolian neighborhood – while her spiritual sense was nowhere near as sharp as it had been at home, at least she still had one.
Mahamat looked up at her over his plate of fried. Once he’d chewed and swallowed, she said, “You East Africans are so proud of your supposed closeness with the spirit world. What about us? Chad grew from a population emigrated there in the seventh millennium B.C.!”

She snorted. “We were there from the ninth millennium B.C. onward. We were practically there are the dawn of Human civilization.”

“So you supposedly know all about everything spiritual because your forebears were around a couple thousand years before mine were?”

“No, I’m more spiritual because I’m more spiritual. You’re a brainless blob with so little spiritual sense that I’ve been dead trees with more spiritual energy than you have.”

“Hey!” Mahamat exclaimed. The tip of a fry fell from his mouth.

“So, if you’re more spiritual than a log, you’re gonna have to prove it.”

He grunted then said, “I didn’t want to have to bring out the big guns, but now you’ve impugned my masculinity. I have to...”

“Do you even know what the word means?”

“What? ‘impugn’ means ‘honesty of (a statement or motive); challenge; call into question.’ See?” He smirked.

“That’s not the word I meant.”

Scowling, he said, “I know white magic and I can prove it.”

“What?”

Mahamat lifted his chin. “In white magic – as it was passed on to me by my mother – we follow specific ethical codes and adopt social convention. But I know a spell to protect an item.” He leaned over and grabbed his backpack, opened it and pulled his laptop out, opened it and powered it up. Sitting back in his chair, he muttered then looked up at her. “I’ve protected my laptop with a spell.” He stood up. “I gotta go to the bathroom,” he said loudly and walked away.

Liha said, “What are you doing? If you leave your...” He flipped her off and kept going.

She stared after him incredulously, flipped him back, spun around and walked away. She walked past the Göggingen Gallery then came back around, unobtrusively watching the open laptop. It sat just fine for several moments. Four people walked past going in different directions, but no one made a move for the computer.

Then a peculiarly shabby male student, long hair obscuring his face, his sweatshirt slightly rattier than usual walked toward the table. He reached for the laptop…

(female Somalian name)
(male Tchadian name)