July 30, 2013

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 120

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: Fairy Tale
Current Event: http://www.moonlyf.com/2013/07/the-magic-onions-2013-fairy-garden.html

"Fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already because it is in the world already. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St George to kill the dragon."

GK Chesterton

Leyla Manghirmalani wrinkled her nose at the overpowering smell of onions and called out, “Jie? What are you doing?”

Jie Busiri leaned back from his dorm room desk, holding a chopping knife and said, “What’s it look like?”

“That you’re stinking up the whole dorm floor on purpose?”

“No, not stinking up anything. I’m calling the onion fairies,” he said it like he was  a little kid.

Leyla shook her head, “Another one of your lame attempts at recreating ancient fairy magic?”

“Hey! That’s not fair! Didn’t I make it rain last week after I did that Lakota rain dance?”

She snorted, “After checking the weather report for three weeks straight and then picking a day even the weather divas all agreed had a greater than ninety percent chance of rain.” She waved her hand in front of her face and backed up, “I don’t want to weep over spilled onion juice. I’ll come back...”

“No! Wait!” Jie grabbed something from his desk and strode across the room, chopping knife in one hand.

Leyla laughed, “If I hadn’t known you since pre-school, I’d have just gone running down the hall dialing 911 and telling them a freshman U of M student had just gone crazy.”

Jie shook his head, handing her a piece of pink gum. “Chew this, it’ll keep your eyes from watering.”

“Why didn’t you just soak them in cold salty water?”

He looked at her like she was crazy and said, “They won’t be magic then, stupid.”

“Hey! Don’t call me stupid! You’re the one they’d throw in the loony bin if they asked why you were chopping onions!” She chewed and stepped into the room and her eyes didn’t tear up automatically. “Hey, it works.”

He blew a bubble and said, “Why do you think I’m doing it?”

“I thought you wanted to be struck by your onion magic?”

He sniffed in disdain and went back to his chopping board. “I’m not interested in helping myself. I’m going to place the slices of onions with a slice of mushroom on top...”

Leyla cut in, “If I get a pain hamburger from Mac’s, can I just put them on and make a Whopper?”

“Ha, ha, ha,” he said, chopping again. “Just wait and see how well our floor does on finals – then we’ll see who has the last laugh!”

They hung out the rest of the night and Leyla helped him place the mushroom and onion slices in the rooms of the people willing to go with his craziness. By the time they were done studying and onion-placing, it was past two in the morning. “I gotta get some sleep,” she said, “I have a chem final first thing.”

Jie gave her a hug, saying, “I made sure I put the biggest onion slice in your room and I piled the rest of the mushrooms on top of it.”

“Oh, thank you so much,” she dead-panned. “Thank you so, so much for your fairly wonderful generosity.”

He smirked then said, “Just you wait, Leyla Higgins, just you wait.”

She smiled at the MY FAIR LADY jab and headed for bed.

Names: ♀Iran, India, ; China, Egypt
Image: http://www.endicott-studio.com/jMA05Autumn/gfx/Onions.jpg

July 28, 2013

A Slice of PIE: The Future of Kids* In Space

 
What ABOUT books and stories with “Kids In Space” (you can do the echo effect from the old MUPPET SHOW skit, “Pigs In Space” if you’d like: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=reBzU8E_Ajk)?

NO! I do not mean the tired old argument that “What We Need Is To Reprint Robert A Heinlein!” No. We don’t. We need someone with a 21st Century sensibility who can write convincingly realist stories and novels about (shock!) kids in space. Say, like, the lead story in the January 2013 issue of CRICKET THE MAGAZINE FOR CHILDREN – it was called “The Penguin Whisperer” and it was about…Kids In Space! (http://www.cricketmagkids.com/new/january-2013) I know it well…because I wrote it. So in my future, kids live in space. They grow up there. They adapt as they have to any other environment to which they are exposed.

SF writers used to show that. Robert A. Heinlein’s “juvenile” books did it regularly (though no teen today would have any idea that HAVE SPACESUIT, WILL TRAVEL is in direct reference to the western TV show of the same name that aired from 1957-1963 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Have_Gun_%E2%80%93_Will_Travel); Andre Norton and Donald A. Wollheim did it as well. But both they and the teens they wrote for are long gone. They have little if anything to draw in 21st Century adolescents. (http://www.teenchoiceawards.com/tcnews.aspx#.UfUNnr4o5Ms) I suppose if you wrote a SF novel called SO YOU THINK YOU CAN LIVE IN SPACE...

We have the Golden Duck Award – rather than review it, I’ll just direct you to it: http://www.goldenduck.org/.

How about NEW science fiction for kids – and I’m not talking about the “fun stuff”, like STAR WARS ABCs, or THE GOLDEN COMPASS (which is, after all fantasy and does NOT take place in space, thank you very much), or even THE CITY OF EMBER (which is old...) I’m talking about new stuff, published in 2013 or 2012 and that depicts kids interacting with something off of Earth – planets, space craft, space stations, FTL, aliens, stars or other tropes of SF.

There’s the MAX THE DOG, science adventure series, by Jeffrey Bennett and Alan Akamoto .

Of course the HALO video game tie-in novels.

ENDER’S GAME and its various iterations (which, may I remind my readers, was published in the August 1977 issue of ANALOG SCIENCE FICTION AND FACT as a short story – so it’s old!) – but their rebirth is because of the upcoming movie.

JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW by Nathan Bransford.

A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP, by blockbuster space war author, David Weber.

BREAKING POINT and the entire line by Tor Teen including several of Cory Doctrow’s books, and the less-than-stellar-but-readable GALAHAD books.

It’s finally there – btw, I don’t count THE HUNGER GAMES or any other novel in which teenagers slaughter each other or are slaughtered without explanation or apology. I am of the personal opinion that teen dystopian futures are both bad for teens (http://www.sfwa.org/2012/07/guest-post-when-did-science-fiction-and-apocalypse-become-interchangeable/) and on the way out. They will still appear for a while as numerous books are in the works or were in the works when the trend started winding down. But in a relatively short time, they will be gone – and then we find out which ones have the staying power of Heinlein’s PODKAYNE OF MARS and Card’s ENDER’S GAME.

What will replace them?

I’d like to be someone who helps replace the grim futures depicted in GONE, THE UGLIES, LIFE AS WE KNOW IT and MAZE RUNNERS with futures in which teens will live and make positive contributions to a Human society that continues to mature...

*i.e., Birth To 17 years, 11 months, 31 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes, 59 seconds
 

July 23, 2013

NO POSTS ON TUESDAY OR THURSDAY!!!!


I will be reading about 9000+ words a day of Serious Writers Workshop manuscripts from my West Suburban Summer School class -- I will not be posting this Tuesday (Ideas on Tuesday) and Thursday (Free Fiction on Thursday)...

See you Sunday (or Saturday if you follow my Guy's Gotta Talk -- About Breast Cancer (http://breastcancerreaper.blogspot.com/)!

July 21, 2013

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: “October Sky” – A Message For Today and Tomorrow

“There is no success without hardship.” – Sophocles

I read lots of blogs. All kinds. I read blogs that look at the world and events from my point of view (conservative Christian); blogs that are far left of my point of view (like The Contrary Brin (http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/); I even occasionally read REALLY far out blogs and websites (http://weeklyworldnews.com/).

One I try to keep up on is Science Daily. Still, even with a science blog – which should be “politics-free” – the slant comes through. Take for example this article in which the headline reads, “Chimpanzees and Orangutans Remember Distant Past Events”. (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130718130613.htm) The article doesn’t even talk about “distant past events” – it talks about how these two species could recall four occasions of tools being hidden in a particular spot three years earlier and an even that had happened once, two weeks earlier.

Fascinating in its own right, the intent of the headline is to promote the idea that chimps, orangutans and Humans are all just animals and Human memory no big deal. While it’s very humans-descended-from-apes proper – it’s a far cry from incontrovertible evidence that we are just one more animal with internet headline writing capabilities. (Even when you factor in that an average chimp lives 40-45 years, an average orangutan lives about fifty years, and an average Human, 49 years – recalling an event three years past is hardly what anyone would call remembering “distant past” events.)

At any rate, my rant this week  is about scientism (“Unlike the use of the scientific method as only one mode of reaching knowledge, scientism claims that science alone can render truth about the world and reality.” (http://www.pbs.org/faithandreason/gengloss/sciism-body.html). The headline above serves as a simple illustration of this – and how it connects to the Human presence in space.

I recently finished watching “October Sky” for the umpteenth time. The movie is based on the book THE ROCKET BOYS by Homer Hickam, Jr. Having read the book as well and seen the differences between the two, it’s clear that Hickam romanticized (and abbreviated) the methodology and experimentation that lead up to the success of the Auk XXXI and their winning the National Science Fair.

Even so, even so...my argument is that scientism romanticizes science so far that questions, mistakes, and minor research is touted as definitive proof that whatever subject the paper addresses is How The True And Real World Is.

All of THIS is to say that there are turning points at which Human history might go in one direction or another – and it’s not until after sober evaluation and long observation that we know what those points are. Tossing around amazing revelations of science daily as if this recently discovered thing “proves” something is reckless at best, absurd at worst.

In “October Sky”, one of those turning points comes shortly after the boys are called to the office and questioned about starting a forest fire with one of their rockets (this is hyper-dramatized in the movie; in the book Quentin explains to the Troopers why the rocket couldn’t have been theirs and they accept it). The defining scene in the movie (though it’s an amalgam of several other events in the book), is right after Ike Bykovski dies in a mine accident and Homer’s dad’s eye is injured. In the book, it’s Ike’s death that precipitates Homer’s nearly giving up the rocket flights. In the movie, it’s the arrest and humiliation that drive the boys to give up rocketry. Either way, it’s a dark moment when they torch “mission control” and head off for a life of teenage debauchery and rock and roll.

After watching “October Sky”, I made this note to myself: “Progress does not come from ‘fun’ – it doesn’t just happen (as certain elements of the scientific community expect it to when we reach ‘the singularity’) – the Great Generation did not come out of plenty (the American dream reborn as the Scientism Dream) but out of want, deprivation, and sacrifice. When was the last time science has sacrificed, faced a true dilemma, or actual want – one that they couldn’t just wave away with correct [i.e.–a DFL-controlled government] legislative magic?” Going on to add that The Rocket Boys started with nothing and flew in the face of societal practicality – not by appealing to the courts, the president, each other, and rhetoric – but by doing what needed to be done, harming no one, and then accomplishing what they set out to do with a minimum of whining, appropriations, and claims that everybody is out to get them and that by solving this, that or the other problem, “science alone [will have] render[ed the only viable] truth about the world and reality” .

(In an ancillary note, often times “hard science fiction” touts this same party line with the exceptions (CASE OF CONSCIENCE, DUNE, any of the others listed at the Wikipedia site (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_religious_ideas_in_science_fiction)) proving how open and inclusive the field is to spirituality.)

Image: http://rlv.zcache.com.au/sophocles_there_is_no_success_without_har_mousepad-r31782760281e012f204900ffb0cb9003_x74vi_8byvr_512.jpg

July 18, 2013

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 44: 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  and I’m sorry, but a number of them got deleted from the blog – go to SCIENCE FICTION: Martian Holiday on the right and scroll to the bottom for the first story. If you’d like to read it from beginning to end (26,000 words as of now), drop me a line and I’ll send you the unedited version.

A woman stood doorway of Qalipu Qoffee in Opportunity City. The light from outside spilling around her, the woman wore a uniform surveyed the shop. Behind her, though outside, were shadows. She stepped into the light of the main seating area, spied Aster and father 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. She stepped forward, shook it as he said, “I am. Won’t you please join us, Honorable vo’Maddux?”

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

Aster tried to send her father a message without using words; she widened her eyes and made twitching motions with her mouth. She didn’t think jerking her chin would be subtle enough to escape the security chief’s notice. Come to think of it, what she was doing already was probably being noted by vo’Maddux and catalogued by her team outside the shop. She settled down as her father and the chief of security for the entire of Opportunity chatted about a new species of fern in the park; growing flowers under artificial sunlight; and the price of a decent cup of coffee.

Aster sat, terror and hysteria building until she wasn’t sure she could stop herself from exploding into laughter or screaming.

Abruptly her father stood up, offering his hand to Hanam. She shook it, standing up as she did. The look on her face was decidedly friendlier and the coldness that had been there when she’d walked in was miraculously gone. Jerome Theil leaned over, kissed his daughter on the head, then tucking his T-comp under his arm, sauntered out of the shop.

Hanam watched him, slightly lifting her chin as one of the shadowy figures outside glanced at her in the shop. She turned back to Aster and said, “So. Mayor Etaraxis had a thought. He was wondering if you wanted to move into the penthouse with him.” The softness Aster had seen a moment ago was gone. The smile the security chief cast her was entirely predatory this time.

Aster abruptly knew exactly where this woman was trying to back her – into a corner. Aster also knew exactly what Dad would say if she simply moved in with the Mayor. She knew what the rest of the City would say as well. She would make a dangerous enemy of this woman as well – if vo’Maddux wasn’t already – if she simply moved in as well. There was a clear sense that the security chief considered Mayor Etaraxis her personal property.
 
On the other hand, Dad had said, “You can make faiths other than the official one legal again.” Could she? How could a Mayoral Escort possibly have that much power? The last one had disappeared suddenly after a rather public stink. Would trying to advocate for a looser definition of what was sanctioned by the IntraDome Congress something an Escort would even dare to try? She pursed her lips.
 
vo’Maddux was waiting for her answer. By the smug grin, she was certain she knew how Aster would respond. She was certain Aster would have to refuse.
 
All things being equal, Aster knew she would as well. She stood up and said, “Can I get you a refill?”


The other woman glared, her jaw clenched. She managed to say, “Please. Sugar and cream, if you don’t mind.”

Aster refused to wince. The tone was perfect – the one every boss from the Oort Cloud to the Capital of Earth used when sending his or her secretary for coffee. “Great. Don’t you just love this place?”

When she returned, vo’Maddux said, “This was my first time here. I guess I’ll have to make it a regular stopping place if the coffee is always this good.” The shark-toothed smile again.

Aster sat down, stared into her coffee cup then looked up at the chief of the Mayor’s security and said, “I have only one condition, if you’d be so kind as to pass it on to the Mayor.”

The other woman blinked in surprise and said, “Of course.”

Aster opened her mouth as if to speak, then closed her mouth, shrugging. She said, “Nah. I’ll go speak with Etaraxis alone. It’s something of a personal nature. Thanks for offering to act as a go-between, though.” She scooped up her coffee cup and fled the shop, aware that vo’Maddux was more than likely trying to kill her with the intensity of her glare. Aster smiled. It was a good thing she had put up her glare shield as soon as the security chief walked in. Besides, why let a jealous woman ruin the day you were going to ask a man to marry you?

Image: http://ucgwomen.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/face-off.jpg

July 16, 2013

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 120

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: De-myth-tification (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Demythtification)


Ticha Griffith pushed her way through the crowd of well-wishers, fans, crazies and other nutcases and tumbled into the limousine. Flashes went off as the door closed. She said, “Great, now my butt will be on the cover of Sports Illustrated.” The man in sunglasses, black suit and black tie was rail thin and taller than almost anyone she’d ever known. He was taller than was natural – though Rev Nguyen had nothing whatsoever to do with nature. He didn’t say a word, staring straight ahead at the divider between the spacious limo rear and the chauffer up front. She hated silence, so she said, “Where are we going?”

“I’ve got my goddess, now it’s off to pick up my god.”

Ticha hated when he called them his “god and goddess”. She’d been raised by a charismatic-Baptist mother and a tent evangelist papa – not that she believed any of the crazy mumbo jumbo, HOOOOOly SpiRIT crap they’d fed her as a kid anymore. But still...

He’d started calling her “goddess” when she’d first been voted into the WNBA Hall of Fame and elected the Best Women’s Basketball Player On Earth two years running and he’d negotiated the highest pay and options package of any WNBA player ever. Her endorsements with the cereal company, the chicken fast food, and sports equipment giant put her annual worth at just over five million. She said, “I hate it when you call us ‘god and goddess’.”

 Rev smirked. She hated that smirk. He said, “Do you deny that your fans worship you? That they burn incense in your name? That they repeat just about anything you say as if it were Holy Writ? That they would willingly sacrifice themselves to be in your very expensive tennis shoes? That more than one would try and kill you to be in those shoes – but know that to try and kill a goddess would get them…”

“Shut up!” Ticha turned away and pursed her lips, knowing he was right. The limo pulled up to the best hotel in the city. The chauffer popped the door and O’Neal Ferdinand turned, showing his butt to her, as he waved, signed autographs, shook hands and kissed babies before ducking into the car.

Rev said, “So, how’s the godhood going, O-man?”

O’Neal had no hesitation. Flashing his trademark pearly whites – he DID have a toothpaste endorsement to keep up looks for – he peeked over his sunglasses and said, “Hallelujah, Brother. Hallelujah.”

Rev’s eyebrow twitched down. His lips thinned. Ticha scrunched into the corner of the limo’s bench seat, as far from her agent as she could get. For a moment, she thought she felt the tiny hairs on her forearms stand up as the air seemed to charge with electricity.

O’Neal glanced at her, winked then took off the glasses, saying, “Sorry, my Lord. I can’t seem to stop myself from teasing people.”

Rev said, “I’m not people. I’m your agent and your handler – godhood notwithstanding, I made you and I can unmake you just as easily.”

O’Neal snorted and pulled off the glasses. He lifted a finger as Ticha said, “So where are you taking us, Master Nguyen?”

Their agent looked at her and she might have sworn that behind the dark lenses of his glasses, there was a sudden glow – as of red hot coals – but she knew that couldn’t be. He was an agent. He had movies stars, writers, and a few other athletes in his stables. He didn’t call any of them “god and goddess” though. She frowned as he replied, “A special meeting I’ve set up with a really big-name agent.”

O’Neal said, “You’re my agent – I didn’t never say I’d be anyone else’s meal ticket!”

The cheek under Rev’s left eye twitched. He opened his mouth…

Names: (short form of Letisha) Latin, Welsh ; Irish, German

July 14, 2013

WRITING ADVICE: Bruce Bethke’s TWELVE STEP PROGRAM FOR WRITERS #12 (The Last Post of This Series)

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 does so. Bruce doesn’t write much lately except for non-fiction; he is currently executive editor of STUPEFYING STORIES, a magazine of new speculative fiction, though 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. Below is the Final Post of the series. (My apologies that I cannot find a more recent picture of Bruce Bethke. The one to the left will just have to do…)

  1. Having had a professional awakening as the result of these steps, we will guard our new knowledge jealously. Why give the up-and-coming competition a break?
I know the humor in this because I know Bruce Bethke somewhat. His BEHAVIOR is the antithesis of this statement – witness both STUPEFYING STORIES MAGAZINE (http://stupefyingstories.blogspot.com/) and the new feature, STUPEFYING STORIES SHOWCASE (http://www.stupefyingstoriesshowcase.com/index.html).
 
As well, Bruce Bethke tries to impart his writing wisdom through the blog (as well as through this “12 Step Program” article) as he did here, in this short series of articles which he updated from a previous series of articles on how to escape the Slush Pile:  http://stupefyingstories.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-slush-pile-survival-guide_23.html.
 
The sole purpose of his old blog, The Friday Challenge, (Originally posted Friday, May 25, 2012): “After what was then 25 years of being a successful, published, professional writer and two-term member of the SFWA Board of Directors, I was getting a constant stream of email from a tremendous number of people who couldn't seem to find the answer to one very simple question: How do I become a writer? Because they couldn't find this answer, these people collectively were wasting a lot of time, money, and energy on self-help books, seminars and workshops, and college-level creative writing programs, all in a desperate search for that tightly held secret...”
 
Before THAT was The Ranting Room, whose purpose was to create a forum for “Practical discussions of the craft, trade, and business of writing. No politics. No gossip. No cute cat stories.”
 
So of all the 12 Steps, this is perhaps where Bruce Bethke buries his tongue most deeply in his cheek.
 
Truth? It’s been my experience that those who are funniest are deflecting attention from themselves to what they are saying – and for the most part, what they are saying has to do with the people to whom they are speaking. The funniest writers I know avoid the word “I” unless it’s grammatically necessary. Even then, they speak not only of us and me, but the focus of their career is on others.
 
I’ve observed this in several writers: David LaRochelle is one: I have worked with him both as a summer school teacher and as a presenter. His willingness to critique my daughter’s art and provide a recommendation for a scholarship had a profound impact on both her art and her college experience. Every interaction I’ve seen him involved with, his attention is focused on helping the individual.
 
Another one I’ve seen do this is Julie Czerneda: her blog is always positive, she regularly teaches workshops for writers and without my asking, she offered to read my novel when it was done.
 
Authors whose interest is in themselves, who regularly rebuff people who ask for help, and whose favorite word is “I”...well, the fact is that those authors are just as well known. They are the ones who appear to have taken Bruce Bethke’s 12 Steps to heart and are EXACTLY the kind of writer he represented in these steps.
 
My every effort should I ever become well-published and “famous”, will be to be like LaRochelle, Czerneda, and other speculative fiction writers whose efforts are clearly to “give the up-and-coming competition a break.”
 
And when I accept my first Nebula, I will make sure that the names Bruce Bethke, Julie Czerneda, David LaRochelle, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Lynn Veihl, Nathan Bransford, Jack McDevitt, Mike Duran, and Lin Oliver are all a big part of that speech.
 
(I couldn’t find a more recent picture of Bruce Bethke, so this will have to do.)

July 12, 2013

SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH #51: July 21, 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.

 Edwina Olds, Lieutenant, WACS (ret.) drove.

Tommy Hastings and Freddie Merrill, hearts pounding slower and slower, sat next to her as endless pines rode by. The weak yellow headlights barely made enough light to see the road twenty feet ahead.

Tommy said suddenly, “What if a cow or something steps out?”

Ed laughed loud, startling Freddie, who’d managed to fall asleep leaning against the door even with the bumps. Ed said, “More likely to see a moose or a black bear on the road this far north.”

“What would you do?”

“Run it over.”

“What?” Tommy exclaimed. Freddie jerked in his sleep but didn’t wake up.

Ed snorted a very unlady-like snort and said, “I learned a long time ago – mostly from hearing tales, mind you – that a tractor trailer fully loaded with logs isn’t gonna be slowed down by a measly old moose or bear. If’n I try to turn to avoid the animal, I lose control of the tractor and next thing you know, I have logs rammed into my back and I’m a little footnote in the Highway Patrol’s statistics book. If’n I slam on the brakes – same thing. So I’m officially supposed to run down anything that gets in my way.”

Tommy felt sick for a few minutes. He told himself it was because he was hungry. He managed, “How many animals have you had to…um…run down?”

She laughed again, “I run down a squirrel once.”

“That’s all?”

“Yep. So you can relax, son.”

Oddly, Tommy did relax. He was dozing a moment later and had fallen fast asleep a moment after that.

He woke up when the truck slowed down. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothin’s wrong. We’re at the Canadian border. Gotta stop at Customs.”

“What’s that?”

We’re going into Canada. It’s a different country.”

 Freddie sat up next to Tommy and said, “Canada’s not a different country. We fought with them in the Pacific!”

Ed snorted again as she downshifted the tractor. “Nevertheless, they’re a foreign country and we have to stop and tell them what we’re bringing into their country.” She downshifted again a few more times before they pulled up alongside a white house with a wide, uncovered porch. A man dressed in black pants and a black shirt came out of the house and walked up to Ed’s side of the tractor.

Tommy heard a voice say, “You Edwina Olds?”

She said, “I am. What’s the problem, officer?”

“Would you step down out of your truck, Ma’am?”

Ed hesitated then pulled the door handle as she said, “I been through here a hundred times in the last ten months, Sir. They know me…”

“Things are changing, Ma’am. Now would you step down out of your truck?”

“Very well,” she said and as she leaned back, she said, “Down on the floor boys. As far over by the passenger’s door as you can.” The boys scrambled as she said out loud to the Canadian border guard, “Man! I’m stiff. Been driving since yesterday and hardly got out once.”

As Tommy scrambled to push himself to the far side of the truck’s cab, he glanced through the windshield. Stepping out on to the porch was the shadow of the Anoka Witch…
 

July 9, 2013

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 119

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: The Good Guys travel through time to stop a historical Bad Guy, usually Hitler

Current Event: “The Academy of Fine Arts Vienna rejected [Hitler] twice, in 1907 and 1908, because of his ‘unfitness for painting’.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_Hitler)

Johannes Klingle and Shoshanna Barbivai glared at each other across the room. She said, “Why do I have to go with him?”

The technician looked at both of them, then shrugged, “I just run the time machine. I don’t make policy.” He tweaked a control, then turned away to make adjustments to a touchscreen on the wall behind the console.

Johannes said, “Feeling’s mutual, lady.”

She snorted and said, “I’m surprised you’d even talk to me.”

Johannes – Joe – shook his head, “I’m a American Democrat. We’re trained to be inclusivist to the exclusion of all else.”

 “An American and a Jew...”

He cut in, “...walked into a bar…”

She cut him back, “I don’t drink, so the rest of the story would go, ‘and she watched as the stupid American teenager got sloshed and pissed away the opportunity to do whatever it was he was supposed to be doing.”

“I’m not a teenager.”

 “That only changed last night,” she said.

“Yeah? Well I read your dossier, too. You’re here as a last resort to save the military career of ‘Daddy’s little girl’ – oh, and I wouldn’t toss around the part about Americans getting sloshed. From what I read, apparently you didn’t need a bar to get wasted...”

They were standing face-t0-face when someone in a white lab coat walked into the room, took one look at them, pointed a wand and depressed a button.

Both Johannes and Shoshanna gasped and fell to the ground, writhing in pain. The woman in the lab coat released the button and said, “You’re a matched pair of fools. That’s why you’re here. This is the first in a series of time travel experiments and you’re both under arrest by the governments that shipped you here. Johannes – you’re here because not only did you do a DUI, you ran over a Republican Senator’s daughter. She’s still in ICU and the murder charges are pending. Shoshanna, your father said this will be the last time you embarrass him if you fail. I have in my possession papers that will remove you to,” she glanced down at a tablet computer she held in one hand, “Ravensbrück – if you don’t ‘get your act together’. You also both have a pain enhancing device clamped on to your brain stem. You’ve seen a demonstration of what it can do. While it may not work in the past, no one is entirely sure of that. So we’ll have to see.” She smiled a Reaper’s smile at both and said, “Your mission is to convince the Director of the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna to admit Adolf. The Director’s name is Gustav Wessely. You’ll be brother and sister visiting your great-grandfather on his deathbed. Adolf is your mother’s sister’s brother-in-law’s son. He’s been in trouble, but he’s a good kid. A little lazy, but he had problems with father.”

 Shoshanna stood up slowly, shook herself and glanced down at Johannes. “Who the hell are you and what am I supposed to do to make that happen? From what history says, Hitler was a mediocre artist. Even I could have painted circles around him.”

He nodded and said, “That is exactly what you are going to do. And Joe there on the floor is going to help you.”

“How’s that?”

“The future possible Führer of all of Germany is deathly afraid of beautiful women. He’d never talk to you. But he loves drinking – especially when other people are paying. Between the two of you, you’re not only going to give him watercolor lessons,” he said looking at Shoshanna. “You,” he pointed at Joe on the floor, “Get up. You look like a fool. You’re going to get him drunk and them teach him how to talk to women.”

“Him?” Shoshanna exclaimed.

 “Me?” Johannes exclaimed.

“Yep. The dynamic duo.”

“Who the hell do you think you are?” Johannes shouted.

The man in the lab coat smiled and said, “My name is Frank Adolph Hitler.”

“Who the hell would name their kid that?” said Shoshanna.

“Famous artists often name their children after themselves. Often times the next generation passes the name of an important ancestor on as well.” He bowed, sweeping on hand dramatically backward then stood up, adding, “I am one such descendant of one such ancestor – in a very, very different timeline than the one you two came from.”

Names: (Modern) Israeli ; German/Austrian

July 7, 2013

(A VERY Long) Slice of PIE: The Niña, the Pinta and the Grand Duchess Dinner Cruiser

On a Friday, not-quite a week after the arrival of my daughter’s visitor/classmate from Auckland, New Zealand; we heard that full-scale replicas of Columbus’ ships, the Niña, the Pinta would be docked and open for public viewing at a port on a nearby river.

Me, my wife, my daughter, her friend, joined at the last possible moment by my foster-daughter went to see this unusual display.

Now let me say right off that I harbor neither unrealistic images of Columbus’ grand voyage; nor do I seek to hold a 15th Century, visionary (or delusional) businessman to a 21st Century morality. What I DO is marvel that anyone could have taken to the oceans, not knowing where they were going in ships as small as the Niña and the Pinta!

The irony in this adventure was to see that replicas of two ships that supposedly introduced Spanish Europeans to the western continent they named The Americas are collectively SMALLER and can hold fewer people than the dinner cruise ship whose sole purpose is to feed people while moving on water for the entertainment of its passengers. The Grand Duchess was docked VERY nearby the two replicas of ships that were considered the absolute pinnacle of maritime engineering – and had actually made the 6000 or so mile trip in a month.

Two questions: What does this say about the values of early 21st Century Americans (I do NOT exclude myself!)? I’m NOT going to tackle this one. I’ll leave it as a personal philosophical exercise.)

The second questions interests me MORE.

If we equate the Niña, Pinta, and the Santa Maria of Christopher Columbus’ voyage from Spain to the Americas in 1492 –to the International Space Station in 2013…what might we be able to say about our view of space in 2534?

If we postulate that there is little to no change in how Humans will think in half a millennia (and the differences between how Columbus and your average entrepreneur today think seem to be more or less identical – Bill Gates would have more in common with Columbus than he would with me), then we might be able to make some predictions. This assumes that The Singularity – predicted and prepared for by a small number of technophillic writers and scientists – doesn’t happen in 2045. That might indicate that space will be become an entrepreneurial business venture more than a scientific, for-the-love-of fulfilled dream.

So let me just noodle around in that future a bit.

Using the Apollo spacecraft, the Space Shuttle, the Russian “Roskosmos…expedition crew launches by Soyuz-TMA spacecraft and resupplies the space station with Progress space transporters…” as a baseline equal to Columbus’ use of the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, we might expect the following in the year 2534:

1) Lunch aboard a nice, trendy restaurant where we can look out the window at the historically accurate ISS floating nearby. We took a tour of the thing and can’t believe that Humans actually lived aboard it! We’d have loved to see the “real” crew quarters, but that’s where the volunteers who work on the ISS stay when they’re up here.

2) The ISS, the Space Shuttle and the other standard ships of the early days of space exploration have been replaced by a mode of transportation hinted at by so 21st Century Leonardo da Vinci (who drew some of the first flying machines) – artist/inventor. Maybe like the computer illustration of Chris Badilley or even more radically using the “springer” imaginary technology of SF writer John Barnes (and others with other kinds of FTL technology), make the travel in boats like Columbus’ look ridiculous.

3) People will be BIGGER than they were then a long time ago. While there have always been giants, the males in the 15th Century were about half-a-head shorter than males today. So probably the average male of the 24th Century will be half-a-head taller than me – so six feet five inches (1.9 m) will be average, ten feet (3 m) tall will be a giant…

4) Columbus didn’t have GPS – in fact, Columbus didn’t even have a sextant yet, navigating with the “instruments of the day such as the mariner's astrolabe, the quadrant and the cross-staff.” Our future diners will likely be able to mention a destination, their communication device will connect with a skipgate and once they pat their mouths after a delicious repast, they will vanish (at least they will appear to vanish) and arrive instantaneously at their casually mentioned destination. Possibly somewhere on the opposite side of the Milky Way Galaxy.

5) If people continue as they have, in 2534, one of the activities they will perform is the “shopping spree”. Perhaps there will be a Mall of Andromeda to visit.

6) Like today, there will be “primitive peoples”; there will likely be “the poor” – certainly Jesus the Messiah mentioned the poor to his disciples around 2000 years ago (“For you always have the poor with you...” Matthew 26:11) – but as I padded around the replicas after paying my $8 for the privilege of doing so, I didn’t think of the poor. Perhaps our skipgating jaunters will consider visiting the poor; maybe serving meals at an interstellar soup kitchen...

7) Humans have been snoozing since the dawn of time, so I assume our 24th Century folks will do the same, perhaps skipgating home to Earth to take a nap before a night on the town.

8) Standard transportation in the 15th Century was by horseback, walking and some sort of boat. Standard transportation in the 21st Century is by car, jet, train, boat (from kayak (1 passenger and crew) to the MS Allure of the Seas (8700 passengers and crew)). Standard transportation in the 24th Century? Skipgate, single-multiple passenger vehicles NOT powered by fossil fuels; public forms of air, ground and water travel – possibly based on antigravity but NOT generally used. Skipgate technology allows passengers and freight to traverse short or intergalactic distances and is used for all practical transportation with people noticing it as much as we notice cars, planes, ships, trains, and semitrailers. The limiter will be power (as always) and the distance limited by resources.
 
9) Beings we would consider “not Human” – whether they are aliens or artificially altered Humans – will be as noticeable as individuals who deal with some sort of physical or mental handicap are noticed today. We see them, but don’t remark on them publically.

10) Columbus’ crew communicated via cannon, shooting off rounds to let each other know what to do; possibly shouting from ship-to-ship when they were close enough. When they reached what they called the New World, they captured enough natives so at least a couple of them would survive the return trip, and brought them back to Spain to teach them Spanish. 21st Century Humans take out their cell phones to chat with virtually anyone, anywhere on Earth in real time with little or no delay – though differences in language present a sometimes insurmountable barrier. 24th Century Humans will not have to “take out” anything. The technology will be integrated into their bodies, they will not only be able to communicate with anyone, language will no longer be a barrier. In fact it will like be unnoticeable as their devices will instantly translate from one native language to another – whether they are Human or alien. They will be able to place an order for Klingon qagh and pick it up hot/cold/live shortly thereafter.

References: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Columbus,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Gates, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_singularity, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_Federal_Space_Agency, http://www.baddileysuniverse.net/Universe4D.aspx, http://www.voxeu.org/article/reaching-new-heights-how-have-europeans-grown-so-tall, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faster-than-light
Image: http://www.baddileysuniverse.net/Images/Space-Travel.jpg

July 4, 2013

A PINE IN THE CITY, ALONE WITH A BOY 3

From where I sit on the back yard steps, I can see a pine tree we left behind after we first bought our house. There were four others, but they’d grown so close together, we had to have them cut down as they were killing each other as they competed for soil space, water and sunlight.
 
Where we live, at the intersection of Great Plains, Deciduous Forest, and Coniferous Forest, there’s a wild mix of trees and grassland. But what would happen if you went further south? What would happen if a migrating bird dropped a seed of, say, a Jack Pine in Oklahoma City? What if a little boy, from a near-destitute white family, discovered it, found out about it, nurtured it…and that’s what this is about.

The pine was the only one of its kind.
 
Where its family lived, it didn’t know.
 
But the place it lived now felt wrong.
 
It should have been colder; it should have been hotter.
 

July 2, 2013

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 118

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: Ghost Towns
Current Event: http://www.ghosttowns.com/states/mn/taconiteharbor.html

Mary Croft may have been the only certified dredge operator on the North Shore of Lake Superior – but she hadn’t expected to be the ONLY operator in the abandoned town of Taconite Harbor.

The dredge she captained was mostly operated by an “artificial intelligence idiot”, which was why she was required by Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company to actually direct the floating suction dredge boat. The harbor was a small one, the taconite loads mostly taken out by rail, and the robots inside did most of the work in the town.

Her job would take a week and the company wanted her to work as much time as possible, so they’d given her one of the floating suction dredgers with an actual bed, galley and deck. “Henry?” she said.

“Please call me Hal,” said the idiot.

She shook her head. “I’d rather not. I have an original DVD of the old movie 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.”

“You can’t,” said Henry.

“I can’t what?”

“Have an original DVD. The movie 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY was filmed in 1967 and premiered in 1968. The first true DVD was not manufactured for movies until 1995.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I do not.”

She sighed and shook her head. “Let’s call it a day and shut down operations,” she said, tapping the shutdown key on the flat screen.

“Very good, ma’am.”

Mary rolled her eyes toward the ceiling and stepped out on the deck. Henry would take it from here until the actual docking procedure which she would do in the gloaming. She loved that word, she thought, unfolding and dropping into the lawn chair she kept carefully stored until the end of the day. No one would have said anything if she’d lounged about all day, issuing orders to Henry via her cellphone, but that had never worked for her. When she did a job, she wanted to actually DO something. For the time being, however, Henry was working hard pulling in and storing the collapsible pipe they used to siphon sediment from the floor of the harbor. It was pumped to a barge where it was dried and shipped down to Duluth for further processing or shipment to central North American markets.

The sun had fallen behind the steep shoreline to her left. It was a calm evening, a choice night on the cool waters of Superior. Such a night was rare enough to make her sigh.

Farther out across the water, to her right on the lake, waves rippled like a thin band of diamonds reflecting sunset light.

What was left of the town was now invisible as was the power plant. It had once operated on coal and had had a solar conversion during the third term of America’s first black president. There was no one left living there.

When the three remaining streetlights farther up the shore, intermittently lining the stretch of road that had once been the main street of the long-abandoned town, abruptly lit, she frowned.
 
When lights on either side of the abandoned basketball court at the near end of the street, close to Taconite Harbor itself, suddenly lit, the hairs on the back of her neck stood up. She went into the boathouse and grabbed a pair of digital binoculars, took them out and scanned the shoreline.
 
The lights were gone.
 
Frowning, she lowered the binoculars and rubbed her  eyes. When she looked again, the lights were on and in the distance was the slow, faint thup-thup-thup of a basketball bouncing...
 
Names: Hebrew, English; ,

Image: http://i01.i.aliimg.com/img/pb/854/581/453/453581854_293.jpg More: http://www.flickr.com/photos/capwell/2805175118/in/photostream/; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dredging; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Lakes_Dredge_and_Dock_Company; http://www.panoramio.com/photo/84736305, PS – While I didn’t take these pictures, I was HERE three weeks ago…