March 31, 2013

Risen, INDEED!

I've been writing this blog for six years. I've done a few Easter posts but this one I wrote for GUY'S GOTTA TALK ABOUT BREAST CANCER was good -- not about me, but good for me.

Fifty posts, fifty weeks.

Good Friday was last night.

Why do they call it good? Strangely enough, the best explanation I have ever heard or seen popped up on Friday on my niece’s FaceBook post in the form of a comic strip drawn by legendary artist, Johnny Hart, creator of the strip “B.C.” and co-creator of the strip, “The Wizard of Id”:
This is the only reason such a day, such a celebration could be called “good”.

My daughter and I were talking about Good Friday on the way to the service and back. She observed that this the only specifically Christian Holy Day that the secular world has been unable to co-op. We decided that there’s no way that such an event could be made cute or represented by cuddly animals, people in costumes or from which candy companies might not spin adorable commercials or bunnies laying chocolate eggs. Any attempt to “cute-i-fy” Good Friday is doomed to failure by the nature of the day.

It’s grim. Gruesome. Dark.

It’s all about torture and execution.

Outsiders – those who don’t know of, believe or otherwise acknowledge Christianity find it offensive and inexplicable; perhaps even insane. “Why would you possibly want to remember the horrific execution of your rabbi and teacher?”

Last night I realized for the first time that the events leading up to the execution of the Christ are NOT about the failure of God to accomplish His mission on Earth. The crucifixion was NOT a backup plan for the enlightnement of Humanity (and a bad one at that).

The events prior to Good Friday were an exhibit.

An exhibit of everything that is rotten in Humanity and a display of ample proportions of exactly why it needed forgiveness and saving.

The infant Jesus was born a slave to an empire both global and cruel. His birth sparked the slaughter of hundreds of other innocent newborns by decree. His life exposed the tedious, unremarkableness of thirty years of growing old in an ancient world and the loss of his father during adolescence; his three years of ministry exposed him to corrupt government, avarice and greed, ridicule by the intelligentsia, betrayal and abandonment by friends, public adulation turned mockery, lies, a corrupted justice system that did not represent slaves, gambling and drug abuse.

What does this have to do with my wife’s breast cancer? Last night, I was shamed by His suffering because I have for some time now begged and challenged Him to explain, “Why have you made me suffer so?”

He hadn’t answered my plea until last night when He said, “I can’t explain that, Guy. But I can say that I have been with you in that suffering because I understand suffering. I understand despair. I get you. That’s why I haven’t cast a lightning bolt in your direction for your impertinence. I understand, as few others can, your suffering, and I’ll stand by you and answer what questions I can. Look at your blog – lots of answers there. Not ‘the answer’, that won’t come until we can talk face-to-face; but you got a lot of them. See you later, bud.”

I know this isn’t about breast cancer exactly; I suppose I pulled a Johnny Hart on you all. Be that as it may, my prayer is that you might find some answers to your suffering. If you can’t find answers, then I’d be happy to talk with you. Just leave me a comment and I’ll reply…

image: http://images.tcj.com/2012/03/Hart-6.jpg

March 28, 2013

Love In A Time Of Alien Invasion 1 (Reboot)

All right – that wasn’t the direction I wanted to go. Seems…stale. How about this: The Cold War between the Kiiote and the Yown’Hoo has become a shooting war. The only way to stop it is to make Kiiote, Yown’Hoo and Human an interlocking matrix of need – to create “super beings” capable of not only living together, but combining three different technologies into one. To this end, the wise of each people have raised Triads in secret. Each Triad consists of a Yown’Hoo, a Kiiote and a Human. Protected by a corporation, the Triads will unite all three peoples to stop the war destroying Earth and consuming the Kiiote and the Yown’Hoo. Even more importantly, the Triads will soon be called on to save not just the three peoples – but the rest of the Intelligences in the Cooperative as an incomprehensible extra-galactic force surges into the Milky Way, absorbing everything in its path.

Try again:

When me and Kashayla kissed for the first time, there was fireworks. That would have been great except that the fireworks were real, they were in space, and they were mostly between the alien Kiiote and the even more alien Yown’Hoo.
Kashayla pulled away first, her eyes open. Nothing kills the mood like your girlfriend staring into your eyes from four centimeters away. She lifted her chin to the red and blue streaks in the sky and said, “There isn’t anything on the net about this.”
“You don’t read the right netnews,” I said. She was sort of irritating that way. She saw the world from only ten netnews sources which she checked only four or five times a day.
What can you find out about the real world from only ten points of view? I kept twenty-nine active links and got updates every half an hour. I said, “LunarEye saw all kinds of ship movement. Started yesterday.”
Kashayla pushed away from me and dropped with a thump on the park bench. We were in Spooner Park, not far from DownTown Minneapolis. The City had turned its lights out for the night, so we had a clear view of the eastern sky. It was easy to see the Twin Stars overhead now. One was a Yown’Hoo foldable plateship, the other was a Kiiote orbital den. She said, “When were you going to tell me?”
“I thought we talked about it? You don’t want to know...”
She snorted and started walking toward Dunwoody Boulevard. I ran to catch up with here. “Hey! Come on. We still have an hour before we absolutely have to be at the Dome!”
We weren’t supposed to be in Spooner Park. We were supposed to be meeting the other Triads in the old MetroDome. Me and Kashayla were in different Triads and while the Board didn’t care if we mixed up among ourselves, we were sure to get in trouble because we’d ditched our Kiiote and Yown’Hoo mates to have some alone time.
She said, “We need to be there, Oscar.”
I winced. Everyone else in our local branch of The Cooperative called me Car. She was the only one who used my real name. I let her ‘cause it sounded good in her mouth. I just didn’t want anyone else hanging around to hear it. She made it to Dunwoody and flagged down a bus. It hovered over the black surface of the CHEAPALIN road, on a magnetic cushion.
“Just wait!” I grabbed her.
I was looking up at her trying to catch my breath, thankful she’d thrown me so that I landed on the little strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street rather than on the hard concrete.
The bus driver – who was another woman – grinned down at me. Then she looked at Kashayla and said, “You want me to wait or let him walk?”
‘Shayla scowled at me and said, “You gonna grab me again?”
I managed to wheeze a, “No. Sorry,” as I lifted my hands from the ground.
“You better not.” She turned to the driver and said, “When’s the next bus?”
“An hour.”
‘Shayla nodded. “Would you mind waiting a minute while I peel him out of the grass?”
“No problem, Honey. I haven’t seen such a good show in weeks.” She shook her head, still grinning and muttered, “Young love.”
Me and ‘Shayla said at the same time, “We aren’t in love.” ‘Shayla reached down. I took her hand and scrambled to my feet. Triad members were trained in multiple forms of unarmed combat. I wouldn’t have been so easy to throw – if I hadn’t been distracted by how much I like her. I brushed myself off and we got on the bus and sat down. It slid forward like it was on ice.
 “What did you mean?” ‘Shayla asked.
“I meant,” I stopped. More than likely we were heading for our old argument. We’d been having it since we were ten so I was pretty sure we weren’t going to resolve the issue right here. On the night the Alien Cold War all of a sudden became a Hot War, I said, “One thing we can agree on?”
The bus stopped again. Outside were two of the alien Kiiote and two of the even more alien Yown’Hoo.
Our mates. The bus driver looked back at us, then hard at ‘Shayla and said, “You know them?”
“Yeah. They were supposed to be with us, but we ditched them.”
The woman grunted, no longer amused and opened the door, lowering the ramp for the lumbering, llama-like Yown’Hoo.
 ‘Shayla looked at me and said, “What’s that?”
I lifted my chin toward our mates and said, “I’m scared. How about you?”
We locked gazes, then she sighed and slid closer to me. Leaning her head on my shoulder, she said, “I think that’s an awful powerful thing to have in common.” We pulled apart as our alien mates got on the bus and started talking in the mixed up language only Triads understood. Despite how much I liked ‘Shayla, I relaxed as we separated. I’d been with my mates since we were all born. They were my friends.
The last Yown’Hoo in walked past me and with one of its strong manipulating tentacles, smacked me in the arm and whistled, “Idiot!”
I slugged him back and said, “Snotugly!”
The Kiiote that crouched into the seat behind me poked me with her prehensile tail and said, “Deviate!”
I jerked my head back, catching her tail between my neck and the bus seat and said, “Jealous.”
It was great to be with my best friends.

March 26, 2013

IDEAS ON TUESDAY 105

Each Tuesday, rather than a POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY, I'd like to both challenge you and lend a helping hand. I generate more speculative and teen story ideas than I can ever use. My family rolls its collective eyes when I say, "Hang on a second! I just have to write down this idea..." Here, I'll include the initial inspiration (quote, website, podcast, etc) and then a thought or two that came to mind. These will simply be seeds -- plant, nurture, fertilize, chemically treat, irradiate, test or stress them as you see fit. I only ask if you let me know if anything comes of them. Regarding Fantasy, this insight was startling: “I see the fantasy genre as an ever-shifting metaphor for life in this world, an innocuous medium that allows the author to examine difficult, even controversial, subjects with impunity. Honor, religion, politics, nobility, integrity, greed—we’ve an endless list of ideals to be dissected and explored. And maybe learned from.” – Melissa McPhail.

Let’s do that!

F Trope: dark lord
Current Event: “In November 2012, satellite photos revealed a half kilometer long propaganda message carved into a hillside in Ryanggang Province, reading, ‘Long Live General Kim Jong-un, the Shining Sun!’. The message, located next to an artificial lake built in 2007 to serve a hydroelectric station, is made of Korean letters measuring 15 by 20 meters, and is located approximately 9 kilometers south of Hyesan near the border with the People's Republic of China.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/nov/23/north-korea-hillside-homage-kim-jong-un)

Ardian Goodpaster tapped on his tablet-computer – t-comp – and said, “Look, you have to read this!” He held it out to her.

Noemi Zweifelhofer grunted, hunched over her own t-comp. She said, “Doar stai un minut!”

Ardian’s eyes grew wide and he whispered in German, “Ich denke nicht, dass Sie Rumänisch in diesem Augenblick sprechen sollten! Wir sind in genug Schwierigkeiten, wie es ist!”

Noemi finally looked up, her dark eyes flashing and said, “Do you think speaking in English would be all right?”

Ardian snorted, “Better than speaking Romanian. We can get in trouble for that…”

“You don’t think believing that Kim Jong-un is an incarnation of The Dark Lord will keep us out of trouble?”

“I didn’t say I believed it – just that it seems…logical given what Mom and Dad say about how he acted when he went to school here.”

“Your mom and dad were his friends! He hated my dad!”

Ardian shook his head, “I’d probably dislike your dad, too if he stuck my head in a toilet and flushed it…”

“That was a kid’s prank!”

“…fourteen, fifteen and sixteen times on ten different occasions in honor of the illustrious North Korean leader’s birthdays?”

Noemi glared at her best friend, then burst out laughing. Finally she said, “All right, it wasn’t a kid’s prank. But all of our parents agree he was creepy and mean.”

Ardian tapped the t-comp and said, “You really believe that the inscription means what they say it means?”

“‘Long Live General Kim Jong-un, the Shining Sun!’?” He stared at it then slowly shook his head. Noemi continued, “I know my Korean is adequate…” Ardian snorted, but she overrode him, “But I’ve cross-referenced this in half a dozen dictionaries.”

“So what do you think?”

She zoomed in on the image of the inscription then swung to the right, saying, “When it’s written like this, left-to-right and with the order of the characters – and given that the archaic form was used intentionally, it reads, ‘Long dominate Kim Jong-un, Darkest of the Dark Lords’.”

“And no one else in the world reads it that way?”

She held out her t-comp, “I wouldn’t say that.” Their eyes met and for a moment locked. Ardian felt the blood drain out of his face. She handed him her own t-comp. “Read it.”

He kept his eyes on hers then finally looked down. The headline was in German, from a recent edition of Die Welt. “Different Interpretation of North Korea’s Paean of Praise?” He read, looked at her.

“Scroll to the next document. Two weeks later.”

He did and read, “Interpreter Found Murdered”…

Names: ; Today, both are entirely Swiss names

March 24, 2013

WRITING ADVICE: Bruce Bethke’s TWELVE STEP PROGRAM FOR WRITERS #7

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.

7. We humbly hope our new publisher will not find out what we said about our last publisher.

 
An example of something like this happened several months ago. I posted a rather disappointed review of a writer’s SF novel for young adults that concluded:

"Worst of all, the first book The Comet's Curse is written in a less-than-stellar style…Filled with...tropes...[he] doesn’t even manage eloquent writing. Rough sentences...ancillary inclusion of cultureless Canadians, Mexicans and Swedes...But because he’s a “Celebrity”, has a slick website and a well-managed and funded marketing campaign...The people who came before him (he never once mentions reading SF as a kid or an adult) and those whose lives are spent “in the trenches” with teens will continue to work hard...without an advertising campaign.” (If you’re interested in the entire review, it’s here: http://thefridaychallenge.blogspot.com/2010/01/critical-thinking-slice-of-pie.html)

After that was posted, the most unusual thing happened. These posts appeared first:

DSRDenton – “...I've never heard of Dom Testa or Guy Stewart, but it seems like Testa has some loyal supporters who have seen his work. All of this made me interested so I googled him and found a lot of sites…I ordered his book today and will give it to some of my best readers. No offense but I don't usually go by reviews for teen books when they are written by adults…”

luv2teach70 – “...a deflection point. It's most often employed by one who otherwise has no defense. It's also, by the way, condescending. It infers to your readers that my comments are based on emotion, rather than facts and/or experience, which is insulting...”

Then Henry posted – “No, you're not wrong, topher. Both comments are from the same IP address. While I'll readily admit that I don't entirely agree with Guy's column, resorting to sockpuppetry as a response is childish in the extreme and, among readers of this blog, likely to lend credence to the position Guy has taken. At the very least, Guy has the courage to post his opinions under his own name.”

What’s this have to do with the point of the day?

Be careful what you say and to whom you say it because people know each other and talk. If I am less than professional in what I say – and I confess, I lost my cool (though I still think the books are less-than-stellar (so to speak) and that celebrity sometimes supplants skill) and should have used the tools I’d laid out in a previous essay (“Heirs of Heinlein” here: http://thefridaychallenge.blogspot.com/2009/11/ultimate-geek-fu_11.html) and kept it more clinical. I am emotional where my writing is concerned and doubly so when it comes to writing for young adults. I continue to wonder how it is some of them write for a group of people with whom they have minimal contact...

Be that as it may, I reiterate the Wisdom of the Wise when I say, “Don’t dis on people in the industry (or out of it for that matter!).” As far as I can tell, SF/F author Julie Czerneda is a stellar example of a positive attitude toward everyone. She regularly ends her posts on Face Book, “I love my life”...

And there you go.

March 21, 2013

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 40: Aster of Opportunity – Faith

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.

Aster Thiel gathered her bag and left Mayor Etaraxis’ offices a moment later, wondering how she would tell the Mayor she would be going back to the office pool below.

She took the drop tube from the ninetieth floor, the uppermost level actually poked into real Martian atmosphere, offering a sweeping view of Opportunity City from the highest point of the rim of Tyrrhena Mons Crater. Down on the street, she dodged a phalanx of twenty self-balancing two-wheeled scooters as she scurried across the street. She glanced up at the Dome and the pucker around it where the Mayor’s Pylon breached it. Then she turned back and walked down the block until she took a sharp left, following a narrower, older path barely wide enough of a pair of the scooter.

The Qalipu Qoffee shop was marked by single caribou horn imported at great expense from Earth. It stuck out of the wall over the door. She turned in and the scent of strong Martian coffee rolled over her. Bushes grown on the slopes of Mount Olympus produced a bean that had a strong iron flavor. Steeped in hot water, the brew was strong, almost brittle; Earthers disdained it as tasting “wrong”. Martians sucked it down like it was going to go extinct after half a Martian year. She sometimes thought real coffee addicts took on a rusty glow. Smiling, she pushed to her dad’s table.

“Hey, sweetie,” he said, looking up from his tablet computer – his T-comp – and said, “Have a seat.”

Shaking her head, she sat and said, “Dad, why do you insist on reading your Bible here?”

He grinned and jerked his head toward the barista’s station. “They’re all Christians here.”

“Dad! I don’t want you to get arrested!”

“Honey, we can’t be ashamed of our faith.”

“I’m not ashamed – I’m practical.”

“Practical is all right, but when push comes to shove, what will you say?”

Aster sighed. She said, “I’m leaving my position as the Mayor’s escort.”

“You can’t,” he said, eyes flashing. He glanced at the entrance leaned forward,  then repeated, “You can’t, sweetheart.”

“What? I thought you hated the idea of me being the Mayor’s Escort?”

“I do.”

“But...”

“There are things you can do there. You have the Mayor’s ear and you can make changes on Mars.”

“What kind of changes?”

“You can make faiths other than the official one legal again.”

“Dad!” Aster exclaimed. “That’s sedition!”

He opened his mouth to reply as silence dropped over the coffee house like vacuum and everyone turned to face the door.

A figure stood there. A woman in a uniform. Behind her, though outside, were shadows. She stepped into the light of the main seating area, spied Aster and broke into a wide grin, calling, “Ms. Thiel! We’ve been looking for you!” Hanam vo’Maddux stopped at the table, bending slightly at the waist, “I am Mayor Etaraxis’ personal assistant. You must be Aster’s father, Jerome Thiel.”

He stood up, offered his hand, shook it and said, “I am. Won’t you please join us, Honorable vo’Maddux?”

She grinned, and though Aster saw now joy in the eyes and certainly no peace, the woman said, “I’d be delighted to join you.”

March 19, 2013

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 104

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: genetic memories

Iker Dương flexed his bicep.

Leonie Gonzalez shook her head and rolled back over on her stomach.

“What? I thought you said you wanted to see a trick?” Iker said.

Without looking at him, she pulled up the latest Kathy Reichs Temperance Brennan book on her Kindenookpad – or knop – and got back to her reading.

“What are you mad at?”

Leonie said, “Listen Iker, I like you and all, but if you want us to be anything more than buddies, you’re going to have to actually talk to me.”

Iker sat down. The sappy sad look on his face almost made Leonie give in and feel sorry for him. Instead, she rolled over with her back to him.

He arched over her, planting his hands firmly on the ground then flipped his feet over, landing lightly. She almost grabbed him then, too. But they were almost done with their college freshman year, she wanted to get into medical school – she was aiming to be the first forensic anthropologist on Mars because now that the population there had topped three million, there were going to be MURDERS…

He flexed his bicep again and said, “I’m trying to show you something.”

She sighed.

“Not my muscle! I’m showing you what we’re doing in the lab!”

“Trying to create muscles from nothing?”

“Hey!” He pouted and she relented a bit. “I’m sorry, but the Mexicans and the Vietnamese are not known for producing Olympic weightlifting champions...”

“It’s not my muscle, it’s what’s in my muscle!”

“String beans?” She winced an instant after speaking the words but couldn’t say, “Iker, wait!” fast enough to stop him from sprint away. She also couldn’t quite stop the thought that he had a rather cute backside as well and even though he was sorta on the skinny side…”Iker, wait!” He kept going. She stopped, pondered for an instant, then put her ancestry to work and sprinted, catching him in ten long strides, grabbing his arm. She thought for an instant that the bicep wasn’t as wimpy as she’d imagined. “I’m sorry, Iker – but you’re just such a tempting target. What...”

“DNA – I have a data package in my bicep. I’ve been carrying it for the past week and we’re going to take it out tomorrow to see if…”

From the shadows of the science building, a voice said, “I don’t think you should be talking about this, folks.”

Names: Swiss German, Argentinian; Mexican, Vietnamese

March 17, 2013

Slice of PIE: HOW DRIVERLESS CARS SPARKED WWIII


Excerpt from THE HISTORY OF POST-INDUSTRIAL EARTH (pp 434 ff):

“The last bastion of the illusion of self-government was responsibility for the operation of a 900 kilogram mostly-metal missile.

“Automobiles – or cars as they were called – once reached 1.5 billion in number just prior to the advent of the rush from human operation to complete computer operation. Up to that point, governments everywhere allowed anyone who could pay the fees to operate a proven, deadly weapon without supervision and without enforceable restrictions of any kind. It made the American penchant for toting absurdly powerful firearms pale in comparison.

“The date that computers, and by design the Government, took over the last freely operated car was almost exactly four years prior to the outbreak of the Third World War, also known as the Second Atomic War, or simply WWIII.

“While fiercely debated for some years during Global Recovery, historians, economists and scientists eventually gathered enough evidence to suggest that when Government seized control of an activity humanity considered more sacred than privacy, it was the watershed event that precipitated American aggression on the Korean Peninsula and eventually spread to China, India, the Middle East, Europe and finally North and South America. The only continent to escape nuclear exchange was Australia, but the Refugee Tsunami toppled the attempt at creating a World Government there leading to the Five Decades of Anarchy…”

While I’m sure many people would find this scenario absurd, I’d direct you to the links below that detail the rise in road rage and the strange connections it has. The author of the article in the StarTribune of Minnesota has a rosy view of the future of driverless cars, but given the continued restriction of movement and the increase in government surveillance of everyone, frustrated people (read “men”) who continually lose their perceived rights must respond in some way.

Anger always finds an outlet. Always. The connection between heart disease and anger, while still debated, seems to be clear. Internalized rage – when it has no release – can only lead to more and more obscure ways of release. Some may say that total computer/governmental control of all cars will effectively stamp out road rage, my contention is that the rage that finds its release on the road (the same rage that once led to barroom brawls, spousal abuse, child abuse, and Communist intent to dominate the world) will need to find another way to explode outward once road rage is effectively prohibited by complete traffic control.

It’s my contention that when this last bastion of self-control is stripped from frustrated people, there will be only one final, spasmodic outlet: provoking thermonuclear war.


March 14, 2013

SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH #47: July 19, 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.

Two hours later and the sun was sitting on Lake Superior and Edwina Olds, Lieutenant, WACS (ret.), Tommy Hastings and Freddie Merrill were sitting at the edge of the St. John’s Catholic Cemetery.

“I ain’t Catholic,” Tommy said. “I’m Lutheran.”

Edwina puffed. “You and me both, son and thank God for that.”

Freddie scowled and said, “Aren’t the Finns Lutheran? I think there’s a Finn Lutheran Church somewhere over south.”

Both Edwina and Tommy looked at him as he bit into a peanut butter sandwich. Tommy shook his head and said, “Swedish.”

“Isn’t that the same thing?”

Edwina shrugged and added, “I don’t think the Swedes are Socialists. Least not here in the good ol’ US of A. Just them dang Finns, French, Italians, Poles, Turks and Russians. Oh, the Russians are Communists.”

No one spoke for a while, then Freddie said, “You know a lot about the world, don’t you, Mrs. Olds.”

“It’s Miss, and yeah, I do.” They ate for a while longer then she said, “I’m gonna say this with the kindest of intentions.” She paused. “You boys need to go home.”

Freddie nodded.

Tommy frowned then said, “I still don’t know why Mom and Dad got married. They both worked at the mansion and people said they knew them, but why’d they get married?”

“Did you ask?”

“Are you crazy? They want to kill us and the witch wants to curse us.”

Ed laughed, finished her sandwich and stood up. “Bring the bread and peanut butter. We’ll have a snack later. We have to get moving. It’s going to be dark by the time we make it to…” From down the highway came the rumble of a back-firing truck. “If I’m not mistaken, that’s them.” She glanced around – there’s was no one but her and them and the logging truck. “No offense, boys, but I think I’d rather a few more of my fellow truckers around when we face down your Socialist gang.” She smirked as she sprang to the truck and practically threw the boys into the cab. “I should probably get an exorcist for the witch.”

They roared away down the road, heading north as the last sliver of sun disappeared beyond the dark line of forest to the west.

They’d driven for twenty minutes when she said, “But you best not make the mistake of slipping by them again, Tommy. Clearly your Mom and Dad knew something that the Socialists didn’t want them to know.”

“What?” Tommy exclaimed. “They don’t know ‘nothin’ important!”

Grinding in the highest gear, the truck hurtled forward into the gathering night. “I beg to differ with you, son. I’m pretty sure the Socialists back there figure your Mom and Dad know something, too. Something that might be worth killing you and your friend for.”

March 13, 2013

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 103

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: the attack of the killer ALGAE

Jefferson Bentley looked up from the microscope and said, “What do you mean, ‘it looks like it’s spreading’?”

Terace Miller shook her head, “I didn’t say that. It IS spreading.” She held out her hand. A thin patina of greenish-brown made the skin on her forearm look wet.

Jefferson leaned back. “What happened?”

“I was working late – I’ve got to have the slides examined and summary prepped for Dr. Hester by tomorrow at the latest. She said she wanted it today.”

“So?”

“So, I worked until about four this morning then fell asleep at the computer.”

“How’d you get algae skin from that?”

She slugged him in the shoulder with her uninfected arm. “I dozed off – slept sideways. My back was to the microscope and my arm was against a dish with a sample of the stinging algae in it.”

“Stinging algae crawled out of the dish?” he looked at her, scowling.

“Algae can’t crawl, idiot!”

“Hey! Just because my master’s thesis is in the histology tapeworms doesn’t mean I’m ignorant about plants! I know they can't crawl!”

“It just means you’re plain ignorant,” Terace said. “Listen, for whatever reason, the algae got on my arm. I washed it off, but it grew back.”

“What?”

“It grew back in about an hour. Even after I swabbed it with alcohol and betadine.”

“You try salt water?”

“What?”

“Isn’t your algae a freshwater variety?” She blinked at him in surprise. “Hey!” he exclaimed. “I listen to what you talk about!”

“You just never…” she looked down at her arm, brushing over the slick spot. “I don’t know. I used the other things so I’m sort of afraid of trying saltwater. Besides, the same species has been found in freshwater aquariums and off the coast of California but this is some sort of weird variant. It has stinging cells -- like nettles or poison ivy.”

“Really?”

She nodded slowly, stared at the slimy patch for a moment, then said, “What if the algae has taken up a commensal relationship with epithelial cells?”

“You mean like lichen?”

She pursed her lips, looked him in the eye and nodded slowly.

March 10, 2013

MEN IN BLACK III: More Of The Same Or Exactly The Right Note?

Some time ago, The Daughter and I went to see Men In Black 3. We wrote an article together for a blog I was part of then. My wife and I watched the movie last night -- it was a Redbox pick -- and even the second time, it held up surprisingly well. Even the reviewers liked it. So I guess, in retrospect, The Daughter and I did pretty well! If you have anything to add, leave a comment or ten!


Let me just say that while my daughter and I share a voracious reading habit, our reading MATERIAL is wildly different. We’ve been known to cross over into each other’s territory, but for the most part, I read and write science fiction and she reads and writes fantasy.

Even in terms of the MIB franchise – I love it for the aliens, she loves it for Will Smith...(;-))

I’m NOT going to iterate the plot here. If you really want to know the entire movie before you see it, go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Men_in_Black_3 to get the complete lowdown.

The Daughter and I are here to review the movie and first of all I want to point out that if you’re shy of emotional issues, then this MIB is not for you. Where the others were a joyous romp all over the tropes of alien occupation, invasion and secret societies; MIB3 for the first time deals with feelings. The Daughter: And not just superficial feelings between Will Smith and an alien princess (ahem…Men in Black 2), but real, substantial feelings that resonate not just with blissful lovebirds but with the human experience at a deeper level.

Therein lies its strength.

Io9 recently posted on “trilogies”, the best and the worst – it’s worth a read! Read it here: http://io9.com/5912471/best-and-worst-movie-threequels-of-all-time. If I was writing the piece, I would now add the MIB franchise to the BEST, especially if you drop the second, painfully hideous flick (sorry Rick).

Where the first two movies were alien romps with gross beings and fantastic laser guns, and while the third one has these, there is a far deeper story here. Even more amazing, the character who is pushing for the deeper story is J, Will Smith’s character. Smart, sassy and obnoxious for the first two movies, it’s as if he grew up in the interval between MIB2 and MIB3. He is, in fact, older in this movie than in the others! Both The Daughter and I noticed that Will Smith has aged albeit gracefully The Daughter: Meanwhile Tommy Lee Jones is wizened and equipped with his usual endearing stoicism, he just sort of looks old. MIB1 was made in 1997 and MIB2 in 2002, so that means that Smith was a “kid” of 29 and is now 43. Those years, especially with children added in, can age a person, especially when he and his wife worked full time as actors as well as having a family life and everything that entails in these early years of the 21st Century.

That explains the new depth of character that Smith gives Agent J, and it seems to me that the main issue broached in the movie is one that Smith may have had to face when he was 13, and one he has likely pondered as a dad.

Another actor The Daughter and I discussed was Emma Thompson. Winner of 40 awards including Emmys, Oscars and Golden Globes whose acting credits run from Beatrice in Shakespeare’s MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING to the voice of the cat woman, Captain Amelia in the cartoon TREASURE PLANET. She has played such eccentric and varied characters as Nanny McPhee and Karen Eiffel. We could just see her agent handing her the script for MIB3 and her trying to fend it off, and crying in her distinctive British accent, “No, no, please! Not another American film! Especially about alien invasions! I refuse to be known as That British Sci-Fi Actor! Look what happened to Sigourney Weaver!”

We imagined the agent begging her and finally, exasperated, she would grab the script and begin to read. When she’s done, she would have sighed and clutched the pages to her chest, leaned back and said, “Now THIS is intelligent.”

Because above all things, MIB3 is smart, sassy and has fascinating characters – finally.

Don’t get me wrong, the gross aliens are still there: Humans in fanciful costumes, Bowling Ball Head, a gigantic fish who tries to eat J (and who just has to be related to the subway alien, Jeff), as well as the ubiquitous Worms (who are always abandoning Earth at the moment of truth) and the unsurprising revelation that Lady Gaga is an alien living on Earth. The Daughter: I KNEW IT! Also, one must note the distinctively retro angle they took on the aliens at the 1969 MIB headquarters. Garish colors; flaky pointed heads; and bulky costumes make them look oh so corny. Yet the viewer takes pleasure in this knowing that it was deliberately done and stands in contrast to the sharp sleekness of the contemporary MIB headquarters.

 But two new aliens gave us pause by their depth. Griffin, a five dimensional being who can appear any way he wants to in our three dimensions and who views time however he wants to as either spectator or participant is both winning and thought-provoking. Brilliantly played by actor Michael Stuhlbarg, we fell in love with him and his earnest, vaguely creepy comments. The way he viewed time as endlessly branching possibilities that eventually collapse into the “present” we are familiar with, made me remember the importance of seemingly small events and the possibility that they can be significant. He iterates this well when he says something like, “No one is that important to the time line.”  Agent J replies that something Griffin assumes is there – isn’t, Griffin amends, “Oh, he’s one of the ones who IS that important.”

But Boris The Animal (“My name is BORIS IT’S JUST BORIS!”) is especially...alien. In a movie full of Humans in costumes, this alien is truly creepy as only an “almost-but-not-exactly-Human-with-unsettling-differences” can be. The Daughter: the worst moment is when his weird “film canister” eyes fall out during his final scene, in order to pull back into his disgusting carcass-esque body. His biology is both bizarre and almost understandable and while his attitude is unrelentingly foul (making him a bit one-dimensional) he is the perfect villain for the MIB. There are even echoes of J’s issue in a scene between Borises – but I’ll leave it to you to figure that out. The movie is rich with allusions and metaphors and perhaps even a parable or two.

While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that MIB3 is the greatest science fiction movie of all time, I would be willing to say that it is one of the Ten Best SF Movies of All Time – and for this critic of SF movies, that’s going WAY out on a limb. 

See it. I’m pretty sure you won’t regret it. The Daughter: This is a gross, exciting sci-fi movie that’s for women, too…and not in the same way that say, TRANSFORMERS stuck in a romance in order to please the girlfriends that were dragged along to that movie. It’s just not a silly hack-and-slash/blinking lights film. It’s like…quality.

One final note, even knowing the ending, I actually wept at the end of the movie this time. While I missed it on the Big Screen, this time I saw the emotions flashing over J's face as he realized EXACTLY what K had done...and why. I think it was BRILLIANT and now elevate MIB III to the Top Five Best SF Movies of All Time. 

March 7, 2013

STEAMPUNK MONKEY #10

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!

Wet Clementine looked at the bird in her hand and let it go.

The steam monkey laughed harder and pointed at her.

A calico cat of orange, white and black, walked down the street and stopped.

Wet Clementine bent and patted the cat. A dog wagged his tail, a fish flipped in its bowl, a frog croaked out loud, and the turtle sat in the sun.

Clementine wrinkled her nose. Something tickled inside.

March 5, 2013

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 102

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: Evil de-evolution
Current Event: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devolution_(biology) (Fascinating article in which an evolutionists tap-dances around the idea that the dissemination of correct information is NOT the responsibility of scientists but of...um...Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, but ultimately Nobody and CERTAINLY not them…(http://www.corsinet.com/braincandy/hlife.html))

Ugnė Mertens flipped her pigtail back again as she stared at the image on her laptop. Muttering, she stepped sideways to the microscope and moved the slide using the X-Y translational control knobs fine adjustment. The image of the chromosome she was studying moved fractionally.

Naranbaatar Todorov picked at his thin, first beard and said, “Staring at it isn’t going to make the genes magically appear, Ug.”

“That’s what you think,” she straightened up, she smiled and added, “Baaaaa,” drawing out the stereotypical sheep sound. “Watch.” She touched a pressure toggle on an odd, goose-necked device standing beside the microscope. The computer’s screen fuzzed suddenly, then the single chromosome lit up as if it was a candy cane.

Baa started, looked at the lamp and exclaimed, “What is that thing?”

“Something I invented and you didn’t,” Ug said, sitting on the lab stool, leaning forward.

Baa swallowed hard, pursed his lips then said, “Listen, I know you don’t much like me...”

Ug reached out and typed an entry into the text box then said, “If I had a choice between dissecting three-day-old roadkill and having lunch with you...” she paused, made a face, then said, “I’m not sure which one I’d pick.”

Baa glanced at the clock on the wall. He still had four hours left of his shift. He couldn’t skip it or Dr. Harber would find out and dock him points. But he wasn’t sure he could keep his feet still and not kick Ugnė in the butt. He took a deep breath and said, “Must be an infrared to ultraviolet, rotating frequency projector.”

She shot him a look then went back to making notes on her computer. Occasionally she tapped her smartphone as well, which lay next to the laptop. “Lucky guess.”

“So that means, ‘yes’. Then you must have bathed the chromosomes in a solution that would...” Naranbaatar hooked another stool with his foot to drag it closer. Shrieking as it vibrated along the floor tiles, he winced and said, “Sorry.”

Ugnė sniffed but didn’t reply. Finally she said, “I used a mix that the older the gene, the less fluorescing compound it would pick up.”

Baa frowned then asked, “What are the chromosomes from?”

“A narn.”

“You’re kidding!” he exclaimed. Reports had been circulating for years about animals whose genes had suddenly started evolving – a quantum evolution event – from static forms to much, much more intelligent forms.

“These are chromosomes from raccoons killed in southern Minnesota.”

“We have narns here?” Baa exclaimed, backing away from the microscope.

Ug turned to look at him. “The genes aren’t contagious, idiot! This isn’t a disease – it’s animal chromosomes. Dyed and fixed at that! What are you afraid of?”

“Nothing. Nothing!” He spun around and took long strides out of the lab. He didn’t care if he lost hours – all he could see in his mind’s eye was the raccoon he’d nearly run over when he was biking on rural trails near his family’s home in an outer ring suburb of what was slowly becoming the three, four-kilometer-tall towers of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Vertical Village.
He would never forget the look on its face as it held out a mangled paw to him and said, “Help...”

Names: Lithuanian, Belgian; Mongolian, Bulgarian