October 31, 2013

LOVE IN A TIME OF ALIEN INVASION 8

The Cold War between the Kiiote and the Yown’Hoo has become a shooting war.  On Earth, there are three Triads one each in Minneapolis, Estados Unidos; Pune, India; and Harbin, China. Protected by the Triad Corporation, they intend to integrate not only the three peoples and stop the war that threatens to break loose and slaughter Humans and devastate their world.; but to stop the war that consumes Kiiote economy and Yown’Hoo moral fiber. The Yown’Hoo know about the extra-Universe Braider, aliens whose own “civil war” mirrors the Cold War. They have accidentally created a resonance wave that will destroy the Milky Way and the only way it stop it is physically – the Yown’Hoo-Kiiote-Human Triads may be their only chance of creating a solution. The merger of Human-Kiiote-Yown’Hoo into a van der Walls Society that will produce a stability capable of launching incredible expansion, creativity, longevity and wealth.

The young experimental Triads are made up of the smallest primate tribe of Humans –two; the smallest canine pack of Kiiote – six; and the smallest camelid herd of Yown’Hoo – eleven, a prime number. On nursery farms and ranches away from the TC cities, Humans have tended young Yown’Hoo and Kiiote in secret for decades, allowing the two warring people to reproduce and grow far from their home worlds. Grendl, Manitoba is one such place. No one but the Triad Company has ever heard of it and the physical plant goes by the unobtrusive name of Organic Prairie Dairy.

The Triads never hear of anything they aren’t spoon fed in their luxury worlds. surrounded by a Humanity that has degenerated into a “duck-and-cover” society as the Big Boys fight their war. They don’t care about anything but their own lives. Oblivious, cocooned, manipulated, they have no idea that their privileges are about to be violently curtailed.

“Who would dare do that?” Lan-mai-ti, a Yown’Hoo almost-male.

“Kiiote,” said Dao-hi, leader of the Yown’Hoo Herd.

“Yown’Hoo,” said Qil and Fax, the Pack seconds, in a unison that slid into a howl.

Shayla boxed the ears of both of them. It was a tribute to her toughness that Qap and Xurf didn’t interfere. The pups, Towt and Doj cowered away from their Pack while the seconds decided what to do.

For once, I kept my mouth shut. Even Dao-hi restrained the immature Por-go, Zei-go, Seg-go, Ail-go, and Eel-go members of her Herd with a well-timed fart seething with dominance pheromones. It was so thick, even I could smell it. I caught myself before I could cringe. It wouldn’t do the Triad any good if we let rank and order mixed up now. Shayla on the other hand, hoof, or paw; was right. The firsts knew it.

The Twenty would have to stand together or, I glanced back toward the Old Dome, we might just die alone. Qil and Fax flopped over on their backs a moment later. Shayla tweaked their muzzles. Then next thing she knew, the seconds were rubbing against her shins. She endured it, then said, “We have to move.”

Even I got the alert on my stickiphone. I’d only felt that peculiar vibration once. We found out later that an unknown force had tried to take out one of the Humans in the Harbin Triad. It was a signal to lay low. For us it meant to hides in the Catacombs.

I looked up at Qap, Xurf and Dao-Hi, and said, “We’re going to have to find new Catacombs.”

“A new place to hide? During an insurrection?” said Dao-hi.

Shayla shook her head, “This isn’t an insurrection.”

“How do you know?”

“An insurrection is a uprising against an authority. This can’t be that.”

“What makes you say that?” Qap asked.

I was only barely following the conversation. I was planning our route out of the Cities. The Old Dome was closer to the north side of town than the south. The population north of the Cities was less dense. See, Shayla’s the brains of our Tribe. I’m the strategist…you weren’t expecting me to say ‘the brawn’, were you? I’m like a twig next to Shayla! Pale skin, red hair, and wire-for-muscle. She’d have been a Viking if she wasn’t black and sharp as an obsidian knife.

Me? I was the best skulker ever born. I can out-skulk Towt. She’s the runt of her litter, pelt mottled like a hyena’s and paws bigger than both my hands. When we’re in natural light and it’s sunset to sunrise – you can’t see her.

But I could slip, slide and pad my way through anything. I even snuck up on Towt once when she was making in the deepest part of the Catacombs. She’s sorta weirdly private about that stuff. Anyway, when I found her, I literally scared the crap out of her!

Shayla slugged me good and hard this time. I deserve it, but I wasn’t about to let her know I knew I did. Instead I said, “The riot was random. Not directed against anything or anyone.” I resisted sticking my tongue out at her.

Dao-hi growled deep in her throat. “You just said the riot was a diversion!”

I stared at her then stepped up, spreading my arms wide; an intimidation gesture in the Herd. “I didn’t say that. Why would you imply that I said that?”

Her tentacles slid from their sheaths with a wet, slurping noise. The tentacles were usually for manipulation, though each held a pair of poison spines that snapped out – like a stingray spine – when a Yown’Hoo got angry. That’s pretty often, actually. All of them are typically short-tempered. They usually butt heads to settle differences. They can also fight to the death. She snarled, “You are accusing me of collusion with these kidnappers?”

I stepped backwards. Yown’Hoo venom isn’t usually deadly to Humans. But it can make us swell up like marshmallows if we get stung. That gave most of us one heck of a headache. I said, “How do you know our Tribe mates were trying to kidnap us?”

Dao-hi snapped the tip of her tentacles, a movement I’d learned meant nervousness. “I do not know. I am – what do Humans call it – a guess?”

I was stunned. Yown’Hoo are mathematicians. It’s why they reached space long, long ago and discovered how to travel it outside of the dimensions we know about. The Kiiote warped real space, bending it to their will and leaping over huge distances by creating ultramasses and dropping them on the fabric of space-time, gliding from one edge of the wrinkle to another. Humans were nowhere near either technology. We’d discovered how to reach light-speed instantaneously only thirty years ago. That was how we came to the attention of the Yown’Hoo and the Kiiote and their centuries-long conflict. “You don’t guess – you calculate!”

“We have learned the wisdom of the occasional guess. It is outside of calculating, though you might call it a calculation of the heart and our calculations of the heart suggest that we are to be pawns in some sort of game.” In the distance I heard the whine of an ancient anti-gravity device nearly drowned out by the thuttering roar of helicopters. She said, “The game continues.”
Image: http://us.123rf.com/400wm/400/400/ragsac/ragsac1011/ragsac101100050/8270032-love-calculation-sketch-of-heart-and-formulas-for-the-heart-shape-calculation.jpg

October 29, 2013

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 133


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 Chronocops travel in time to catch a Bad Guy who escaped into some other era.”


Bolormaa Teuku scowled at her physics partner, “What do you mean when you ask, ‘Could we travel so fast that we’d start to slide back in time?’”

“We’re supposed to brainstorm, not beat up every idea someone throws out,” said Rayyan Batkhuyag. “The point is to ask questions that may not have immediate answers.”

“Yeah, but the questions have to make sense!”

Rayyan used the vernier jets on his EVA suit to gently turn until he faced the Sun. It loomed giant in space. In the previous century, he would never have been able to do anything like this. But his suit was unlike anything else in the Solar System – except for the rest of the team on the Gravity Well Mission. “You think floating around in mirror suits less than sixty million kilometers from the sun makes any sense?”

Bolormaa grunted as she turned in the same direction. “I see your point.”

“So then – my question: could acceleration reach a point where we would actually go back in time?”

“That’s so very…STAR TREK of you.”

“Right, right, I know. I don’t mean we fly some tiny tin can into the well then yank it out.”

“What do you mean?”

Gravitational redshift follows on from the equivalence principle that underlies general relativity. The downward force felt by someone in a lift could be equally due to an upward acceleration of the lift or to gravity. Pulses of light sent upwards from a clock on the lift floor will be Doppler shifted, or redshifted, when the lift is accelerating upwards, meaning that this clock will appear to tick more slowly when its flashes are compared at the ceiling of the lift to another clock. Because there is no way to tell gravity and acceleration apart, the same will hold true in a gravitational field; in other words the greater the gravitational pull experienced by a clock, or the closer it is to a massive body, the more slowly it will tick.”

“So?”

“The Doppler effect goes both ways. We’ve been stuck on the red-shift end of the EM spectrum – the effect that stretches out time making it appear to slow down to everyone around it. But we’ve never really looked at time and gravity the other way...”

Bolormaa turned to face Rayyan even though they couldn’t see each other. She finally said, “When an ambulance with a blaring horn is coming toward you, the wavelengths are shortened and we hear a higher pitch – with light it means that the waves are shorter, which means they’re blue.”

“They move faster. So – if we move slow enough, will be go back in time?”

They had continued to roll in space and as they turned to face away from the Sun, there was a brilliant flash of blue light. An instant later, two silvered bubbles floated toward them from the center of the flash…

Names: ♀ Mongolia, Malaysia; Malaysia, Mongolia

October 27, 2013

WRITING ADVICE: Julie Czerneda’s Writing Workshop! #5 – The Expert Witness



In 2005, whilst perusing the shelves at the Hennepin County Public Library, I stumbled across CHANGING VISION by Julie Czerneda (say it: chur-nay-dah), an author I'd never heard of, and was intrigued by the aliens on the cover by artist Luis Royo. It didn’t matter that the book was the second in a series, the cover entranced me and so I read. The book was spectacular, I read others, and fell entirely in love with another series of hers called SPECIES IMPERATIVE for its fascinating aliens and superior characterization. A teacher deeply at heart, Julie Czerneda shares ideas and methodology wherever she goes. On her website, http://www.czerneda.com/classroom/classroom.html she shares ideas for writers. I want to share what kind of impact her ideas have had on my own writing.  They are used with the author’s permission.

“The expert witness is someone who understands and expresses the science ideas. It

could be the narrator, the protagonist, or anyone. But the reader should find the

information source credible.”

This is a concept I’d never heard of before reading Julie Czerneda’s advice – and yet it’s someone I’d included in every story I’ve ever written. Unlike character building, finding an expert witness has worked out well for me.

In my only real ANALOG story, “A Pig Tale” (you can read it here: http://theworkandworksheetsofguystewart.blogspot.com/2013/04/a-pig-tale-june-2000-analog-science.html), my main character serves as both the protagonist and the expert witness. She’s the one taking action to meet her needs in the story, but she’s also the expert on the Alzheimer’s drug she uses to change her father’s memories, deflecting them away from his attempted suicide.

In another story of mine, the job of expert witness is split between two characters. If you would like to read the story before I comment, you can see “Invoking Fire” here: http://www.perihelionsf.com/1306/fiction_6.htm before continuing on. By the way, that’s what they call a “spoiler alert”!

At any rate, the main character is Na’Rodney, a young adult growing up in a post-petroleum, NON-apocalyptic, NON-teenager-hating future. His great-uncle has just passed away, and authorities have come to claim his cousin, Payne. Payne is a victim of Childhood Disintegrative Disorder and is kidnapped. Na’Rodney reluctantly enlists the help of the “housemaid”, Angelique – who forms the second half of the expert witness.

To Na’Rodney’s dismay, it turns out that his great-uncle, former president of InterPol (which is a very different organization in this future than it is in our present), has been involved with the lives of several young adults. Think of him as a “non-psychic Professor Xavier”. He and Angelique – and eventually reunited with Payne – are on a sort of quest…only in reverse.

They will never again see Na’Rodney’s great-uncle as his body was immolated in the burning of their home and immense paper book library, but between the two of them, they form “the expert witness” in this story.

In another published example, my most recent “kid’s SF” story, “The Penguin Whisperer” (CRICKET Magazine, January 2013), I again employ the technique of creating a two-part expert witness.  A snarky girl and a shy boy join their two areas of expertise to survive an accident aboard a space station (An aside regarding character. I seem to have a fondness for snarky characters. I know I’m not snarky – I wonder where I get that fondness comes from? It’s certainly the type of character in the stories I’ve had published…)

Julie Czerneda utilizes the “doubled characters equals expert witness” technique in at least two of her series. In SPECIES IMPERATIVE, Mackenzie Connor is the heart of the story as well as an expert in salmon migration. But it’s the acerbic and mysterious Emily who completes Mac’s expertise.

She does something similar in THE TRADE PACT set. Sira is the heart of the story and has a very specific skill set. Morgan has another, wider set. Together, they form a powerful expert witness.

Fascinating – my best work appears to be set up this way. A quick dash through my file of dead stories reveals that the ones that didn’t work had a single expert witness. Of course, the single expert witness as the main character translates into exactly one thing  and that is a violation of one of the rules of character I’ve been learning: “The character has to be normal in the sense that they make mistakes, they make smart decisions, and they wonder if what they did was a mistake or a smart decision.”

Putting all the expertise into one character makes them a smarty-pants, and I can’t begin to tell you how much a loathe smarty-pants people in real life.

OK – lesson learned. No more combining viewpoint character with the expert witness. When I do that I make someone I’d hate as well as making someone that editors apparently hate, too!

October 25, 2013

A PINE IN THE CITY, ALONE WITH A BOY 7

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.

Then upon another time, not long from now,
The pine was sad.
Its needles grew brown and it bent to the ground.
It felt like it was going to die.

October 22, 2013

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 132

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: Spiders


Nanami Ng stared down at the steering wheel of her Driver’s Training car and said, “I heard like, all of these cars got recalled.”

The driver’s trainer, Marcus, looked up from his tablet computer and said, “What?”

Lan Cai leaned forward from the back seat, sticking his head between them. “Wasn’t it spiders or something?”

“What?” Marcus exclaimed.

Lan turned to Nanami and said, “Yeah. They were like sucking all the gasoline out of some car – like wasn’t it a BMW or something?”

Nanami said, “Mazda, and they didn’t drink gasoline. That would be stupid.”

“What would you know about stupid? You can’t even pass the bio test without writing the answers on your hand.”

Nanami blushed deeply, though mostly just her ears turned red. Marcus said, “Get driving! We don’t have time to waste on stupid Halloween stories.”

“It wasn’t a Halloween story! It was real?”

Lan turned to look at Marcus and said, “Hey, Nanami might not be able to test herself out of a paper bag, but...”

Both of them pushed him back into the back seat and Marcus said, “Your opinion stinks as bad as your breath.”

Nanami laughed as she pulled with jerky pedal pumping out from in front of the school. Marcus said, “You haven’t spent much time practicing, have you Nanami?”

“My dad won’t drive with me! Our car was in the garage! The battery was dead! I was so busy with school!”

From the back seat, Lan sat with his arms crossed over his chest. He muttered, “More like you were too busy lip-locked with the bf.”

“You’re just jealous!” Nanami shot over her shoulder. The car screeched to a stop just before she ran over four ninth grade girls. “I didn’t hit the brakes!” she shouted.

“Good thing I was watching, then, wasn’t it?” Marcus said, making a mark on his clipboard. “That’s the second time this week I had to use the brake. One more time and you’ll have to take a two week break and then start all over again.”

“That’s not fair!” Nanami and Lan exclaimed together.

Marcus looked back over the seat at Lan, then across at Nanami. He said, “I don’t make the rules. I just enforce them. If you two want to file a grievance, start talking to the camera.” He gestured to a spot just above the read-view mirror. A red dot glowed there, recording their words and actions.

Scowling, Nanami edged ahead slowly as a car behind them laid on their horn. She got out to the side road and drove to the stop sign, rolling slowly to a halt. The car behind them honked again. She opened her mouth to comment, then closed it, rolling forward. She was driving past the playground, suddenly tense as a couple of little kids playing on the swings jumped off and started chasing each other. The kids ran toward the houses, away from the road and she was so busy watching them that she didn’t see the car stop at the light. Marcus slammed on the car’s brakes. “That’s it,” he said. “Let’s go back.”

Nanami looked at him and despite the car behind them that started honking. She stuck her fist out the window, flipped them off and then stomped on the brake, then kept stomping on it as she shouted, “Just practicing! Practicing stopping! See! I’m practicing.” She stomped harder and harder, screaming. “Practice! Practice! Practice!”

“Calm down!” Marcus said. A sizzling sound came from the dashboard, like something was on fire.

“Sounds like squirrels are in the engine,” Nanami said.

All three of them were staring at the dashboard when the ashtray popped  open and a dozen red spiders came out, followed by more and more and...

Names: ♀Japan, Singapore; Vietnam, Taiwan
Image: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-k0Tlahch4fE/T78eRkazGKI/AAAAAAAACW4/iHZICk7Xnuo/s1600/WWWSpider.jpg

October 20, 2013

Slice of PIE: Beyond the Pull of GRAVITY


I am sure that most of the people reading this know about Sandra Bullock, George Clooney and the (literal) smash hit, GRAVITY. If you don’t, then either go and see the movie or read a half dozen of the reviews.

You’ll find that it will most likely be one of the contenders to beat in the 2013 movie awards. I’d love to add my raves, but I’m going to restrain myself and talk about something else that occurred to me.

The accident, as anyone reading this will know, takes out a space shuttle in the middle of a mission, the Hubble Telescope, the International Space Station, and the Chinese Space Lab, Tiangong 1. As well, it clears out most telecommunication satellites, cell phone relay satellites, weather satellites, spy satellites...and just about any other satellite you care to name.

So let’s go beyond GRAVITY. Beyond the spectacular ending and the subtle and not-so-subtle symbolism Alfonso and Jonás Cua­rón imbue this movie with, a thought leaped into my head after some reflection.

Is this what Humanity needs? I have a resounding answer as well: YES!

How so?

First of all, let me share the idea on which the movie GRAVITY is predicated. Called the Kessler Syndrome, it is named after the NASA scientist who first proposed it in 1978. Because every launch of every satellite creates “junk” in Earth’s orbit, this space garbage has been accumulating since October of 1957, when the old Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite. How does that number tote up today? “Currently, about 19,000 pieces of debris larger than 5 cm (2.0 in) are tracked, with another 300,000 pieces smaller than 1 cm below 2000 km altitude.”[1] A Kessler event clears much of the space near Earth of operational satellites, crippling...well, just about everyone who uses a cell phone or any other form of communication on the planet.

At one point in the movie, astronaut doctor Ryan Stone is drifting in silence and stumbles across a radio broadcast – in AM. That’s all that’s left after the catastrophic Kessler event. From here I'll jump to the very, very end of the movie, where Humanity in the form of Sandra Bullock crawls out of the primordial ooze. I will note that the location of said crawl out is not only significant, but is the key to what happens next.

At this point in the fictional movie’s history, rescue is not imminent. Despite queries to indicate that at least some of Earth’s satellites are still active, no one is really going to be able to figure out who was landing and where they landed. Presumably the Chinese have some idea as they were the ones who programmed the landing protocol of the Shenzhou reentry craft, though I don’t recall any Chinese radio chatter…

Now what?

Dr. Stone is in the middle of nowhere. She has to walk to get where she’s going.

Such a Kessler event might so badly disable the Human psyche regarding our presence in space that we never again send people there. Space exploration becomes a robotic endeavor leading to ever more complex machines flying into space as Humanity pulls ever more into itself until we no longer care about space except as a medium through which to call each other long-distance, text about our bowel movements, find ourselves when we take a wrong turn to grandma’s house, or want to know whether or not to water the lawn tonight. This is certainly a possibility and we’ve shown ourselves capable of such a reaction time and time again – turning back from the future with our tail between our legs. This certainly happened after Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Who knows – such may have been the Neanderthal’s reaction to the discovery of fire.

Or a Kessler event may precipitate a renaissance. With the orbital slate swept clean, we might cooperate and send up a laser sweeper to finish the job chance started. Once that clears the way – and the world is cowed by the catastrophic loss of texting, bowel reports, grandmother visits, and lawn care – real money may fuel a race back into space to not only reclaim what was lost, but make sure it never happens again.

An international space station more along the lines of the one in 2001: A Space Odyssey might grow quickly to oversee the orbital cleanup, provide a long-term monitoring solution to the buildup of space debris, create a true home of Humans in space, and create a new platform for interplanetary exploration. An explosion of technology like this occurred after WWII – why not in the wake of an Earth orbit tragedy?

It could do either – and I’m pretty sure anyone reading this can guess which one I favor. Anyone else have a thought?



 

October 17, 2013

LOVE IN A TIME OF ALIEN INVASION 7

The Cold War between the Kiiote and the Yown’Hoo has become a shooting war.  On Earth, there are three Triads one each in Minneapolis, Estados Unidos; Pune, India; and Harbin, China. Protected by the Triad Corporation, they intend to integrate not only the three peoples and stop the war that threatens to break loose and slaughter Humans and devastate their world.; but to stop the war that consumes Kiiote economy and Yown’Hoo moral fiber. The Yown’Hoo know about the extra-Universe aliens whose own “civil war” mirrors the Cold War. They have accidentally created a resonance wave that will destroy the Milky Way and the only way it stop it is physically – the Yown’Hoo-Kiiote-Human Triad may be their only chance of creating a solution. The merger of Human-Kiiote-Yown’Hoo into a Congenic Society that will produce a stability capable of launching incredible expansion, creativity, longevity and wealth.

The young experimental Triads are made up of the smallest primate tribe of Humans –two; the smallest canine pack of Kiiote – six; and the smallest camelid herd of Yown’Hoo – eleven, a prime number. On nursery farms and ranches away from the TC cities, Humans have tended young Yown’Hoo and Kiiote in secret for decades, allowing the two warring people to reproduce and grow far from their home worlds. Grendl, Manitoba is one such place. No one but the Triad Company has ever heard of it and the physical plant goes by the unobtrusive name of Organic Prairie Dairy.

The Triads never hear of anything they aren’t spoon fed in their luxury worlds. surrounded by a Humanity that has degenerated into a “duck-and-cover” society as the Big Boys fight their war. They don’t care about anything but their own lives. Oblivious, cocooned, manipulated, they have no idea that their privileges are about to be violently curtailed.

I hung on as tight as I could and shouted, “We have to turn back!”

Shayla shouted, “We can’t, there’s a mob back there waiting to kill us!”

Dao-hi, the Yown’Hoo herd mother shouted in Spandaringlish, “The only way out is through!”

I thought that was a great alien aphorism, but didn’t see how it could apply here. It seemed like the creek ran of forever. I shouted, “What if we fall...” Qap, the Kiiote I was clinging to, suddenly dropped beneath me, dunking us both in cold water. The others suffered the same fate and came up like us, sputtering helplessly. I figured the Tribal flyer would be hovering over us, pumping lead into our rapidly cooling bodies as whatever opposition group it represented claimed victory over our alien oppressors.
We saw the red back lights of the flyer downstream from us, rushing along as the nineteen of us swam to safety on the shore of Minnehaha Creek.

Doj, one of the neuter Kiiote pack members spluttered, “Good thing you forced us to take your stupid swimming lesson!”

Dao-hi snarled and slapped him upside the head and said, “This is a water world, idiot! Only someone stupider than yourself would have ignored that and never taught us how to swim!”

Xurf, the Pack’s lead female nipped Doj then snarled at Dao-hi, “Keep your discipline to your herd! I’ll take care of my...”

Shayla bit Xurf on the shoulder. The female yipped, then shook herself wildly. Shayla had already slipped off and was in a low crouch. I dropped off of Qap’s back, stuck both fingers in my mouth and whistled. Herd, Pack, and Tribe gave me their full attention as I said, “We have to move now! In Hoonish, I said, “Beh! Rah! Fu!” meaning, “Speed! Flee! Now!” Everyone understood, but I had long ago been cast in the role of peace-maker. I was the most patient of the Triad.

Yeah. Right.

Shayla poked me with her fist and I said, “We have to reach the edge of Minneapolis.”

“Why?” Xurf asked.

“Something’s gone wrong. The bus doesn’t stop that far from the Dome unless we have an escort. Tonight, we thought we could make it because we could see it. But there was a riot. What causes the Tribe to riot?” I shot my question to Nah-hi, the male leader of the Herd. They were having the hardest time understanding Human behavior and they were under orders from Triad to work hardest. That was because the Yown’Hoo had a tech edge over the Kiiote. Kiiote had numbers.

Humans had nothing but a world where both aliens could breed and raise their young to replace soldiers lost in battle. Earth was an ideal nursery for all three , it’s just that Humans owned it and if either the Kiiote or the Yown’Hoo tried to take it from the other…it wouldn’t be a place to raise anyone. So they sniped at each other, mostly ignored Humans and kept coming back to get their replacements. They picked them up in Minneapolis; Pune, India; and Harbin, China – from wherever they were raised.

That was a secret few living things knew.

Unfortunately, I’d found out one of the location of one of the nurseries. I said, “Maybe they’re hoping to drive us to one of the nurseries so the Tribe can take it hostage.”

All six Kiiote dropped to all fours and growled at me. All eleven Yown’Hoo reared on their hind legs, pawing the air with their wide, heavy, camel-like feet. I always thought it was strange that such alien things mimicked the way an animal from Earth reacted when it was scared. Shayla shouted, “You idiot!” and tried to punch me.

I was ready for all of their reactions and I was flat on the ground on my back so that herr swing passed well over me. The Kiiote groaned as they readjusted their anatomy for two-legged walking. There was a wet, sucking sound as the Yown’Hoo pulled their manipulating tentacles free of the mucus-lined pouch they usually lay in. After counting to thirty, I rolled over on my belly and shoved myself into the air, clapped my hands, caught myself on the way down then shoved myself to my feet, leaped and did a backflip and landed on my feet.

Shayla’s arms were crossed over her chest and she was glaring at me in the shadowy light, but I could see she was smirking. I was smart and a smartass – but I was also a gymnast and it was that rather than strength that had given me a rank in the Triad. They were listening. I said, “We have to get out of here. We know someone, somewhere has managed to take us out of the Dome...”

Qap said, “Why not just return?”

Shayla nodded and pushed up her sleeve and tapped the stickiphone. The real smarts were embedded in her brain, but we all still needed something to interact with. If she wanted to, she could pull off the stickiphone, tap it and make it a hardphone. For now, she left it where it was and tapped away. She held her arm out, “Look.” A 3D projection jumped up in front of all of us.

The Old Metrodome, our home, was burning.

October 16, 2013

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 131

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: “When wizards are immortal, they don’t need to train successors, and my not be able to…”
Current Event: http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/2013/07/pipeline-knowledge-lost-time-gained

Sidaji the Immortal pursed his lips, glaring down at the bucket of swamp water, tapping the edge. His fingers strayed to the runic marks inscribed on the sides. He stared for some time before looking up and saying, “You are Luca Růžička.”

Luca sighed and tugged on his soaking wet jeans. His black Converses squelched on his feet and he scratched at a mosquito bite on his forehead.

Ranghild Peeters, the beautiful and incredibly annoying second apprentice said, “You’re not supposed to pick at pimples. I’ve got a skin cleanser...” She stepped a bit away from him as the smell of Okefenokee swamp drifted up from the water leaking from Luca’s tennis shoes and dribbling on the Persian rug.

Luca snapped, “It’s a mosquito bite.”

“Yeah, right,” said Ranghild.

“You try sloshing around in a swamp to get a bucket of ‘water clear of duckweed, water clear of waste’ and see how long you can keep the mosquitoes from eating you alive!”

Sidaji looked at her and said, “You are Ranghild Peeters.”

She blew her startlingly raven black bangs up her forehead and said, “Yes, Immortal One. Now, can we get on with the transformation. I’ve got things I have to do today.”

Luca muttered, “Like flirt with every guy in Minneapolis?”

Ranghild shook her head, “We’re broken up. Get over it.”

“I didn’t break anything up. You dumped me.”

“Only because you’re being such a...”

Sidaji the Immortal straightened up, lifted his arms and thundered, “Silence!” The thunder was literal as the windows of the mansion they were living in on Mt. Curve Avenue overlooking Lowry Park shook in their frames. Only Luca and Ranghild’s unity spells kept them from shattering. Across the street in the park, an autumn flock of common egrets took wing, rising up in a cloud of white stark against the golds, reds, oranges, and browns of the pond.

The wizard looked down on them, having swelled to twice his usual height. The floor beneath him creaked as he stepped toward them, saying, “þearf sy  forþsetennes héafodcwide manian gescaep lifiendee!”*

They looked at each other, shrugged, and Ranghild said, “Your Immortal Greatness, we are currently in the early part of the 21st Century. I’m not sure shouting in Old English will accomplish anything. Especially as neither one of us can understand it. You enchanted us with this century’s English vocabulary.”

Sidaji stared at her, blinked, then said, “I seem to be having some trouble remembering things today.” The wizard’s apprentices both stepped back in unison, finding that the grand piano behind them blocked their retreat. Sidaji laughed, rattling the chandelier in the entryway.

“You’re immortal!” Luca exclaimed.

“What do you mean you’re having trouble remembering?” Ranghild exclaimed.

Sidaji pushed his sleeves up to his elbows, exposing heavily tattooed forearms. His hands were blunt – the hands of a farmhand rather than a dandified city boy – and his nails, while clean and trimmed, the nails of a man who had worked for his livelihood. He looked at his hands, studying them for a moment. Then he looked at his apprentices. He smiled and said,
 
“My body is immortal, child. There was never any guarantee that my memories would be immortal as well.”

They looked at each other and Sidaji laughed again. “What are you laughing at?” Luca said.

“The two of you are acting like you’re in a movie. Are you really that much in love that you can’t think independently?”

Both of them, temporarily frozen in age as teenagers and prone to forget that they had actually been born in 11th Century Denmark and the Kingdom of Bohemia, were neither teenagers nor Americans and effectively his slaves – blushed furiously. Sidaji waved them away, remembering at the last moment to disempower the gesture, said, “That doesn’t seem to help me remember how to turn this swamp water into botulism infected water.” He looked at them and added, “Why are we going to poison the water supply of Minneapolis?”

Names: Denmark, Belgium ; Austria, Czechoslovakian
Translation: (From Old English – http://www.oldenglishtranslator.co.uk/) “There is far more of import here than your mortal sex lives!”
Image:
http://us.cdn1.123rf.com/168nwm/geniebird/geniebird1207/geniebird120700028/14546291-teen-girl-and-boy-dressed-formally-for-a-prom-look-at-each-other-with-pleased-expressions-vertical-i.jpg

October 13, 2013

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: World-Building By Accident – Part 1

Apparently some people believe that world-building in science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction is unnecessary:

“Every moment of a science fiction story must represent the triumph of writing over world-building.

“World-building is dull. World-building literalises the urge to invent. World-building gives an unnecessary permission for acts of writing (indeed, for acts of reading). World-building numbs the reader’s ability to fulfill their part of the bargain, because it believes that it has to do everything around here if anything is going to get done.

“Above all, world-building is not technically necessary. It is the great clomping foot of nerdism. It is the attempt to exhaustively survey a place that isn’t there. A good writer would never try to do that, even with a place that is there. It isn’t possible, and if it was the results wouldn’t be readable: they would constitute not a book but the biggest library ever built, a hallowed place of dedication and lifelong study. This gives us a clue to the psychological type of the world-builder & the world-builder’s victim, and makes us very afraid.” – M. John Harrison

Honestly? This makes me shake my head because of his vehement lambasting of authors he doesn’t bother to name but who would likely include Frank Herbert (a New Waver himself), JRR Tolkien, Allen Steele, Hal Clement, Susanna Clarke, David Weber, Peter F. Hamilton, Lois McMaster Bujold, Mary Robinette Kowal, Gene Wolfe, and countless others who ply their trade in the SF/F/SpecFic field and who have obviously and sometimes explicitly built their worlds. When you read even a simple biography on Wikipedia, it’s clear why M. John Harrison would both say that it is “not technically necessary” and why others would bother quoting him.

First of course is that he is British and as we all know, ALL serious literature/authors are British and are ultimately quotable. He writes “literature” and only sometimes slums the SF sewers. By implication, he is erudite and quotable. He’s won AWARDS like the James Tiptree, Jr. Award (2002), Tähtivaeltaja [Finnish SF] Award (2005), Arthur C. Clarke Award and Phillip K. Dick Award (2007) and all Winners Of Awards are quotable. Last of all, he was once a towering figure of the New Wave Of Science Fiction (beginning in the ‘60s – though the History of SF article in Wikipedia doesn’t even mention him…), though it doesn’t mention that like all waves, it disappeared when it ran out of angst...er energy and “By the early 1980s, the New Wave had faded out…” and he had pretty much disappeared from the SF scene from the early 1980s until the dawn of the 21st Century.

Coincidence? No idea. You be the judge.

While I’d never heard of him before he was quoted as An Authority by a commentator on the io9 article noted below, I have requested the first book of his Kefahuchi Tract trilogy (though I confess that I thought it must take place in Florida among the Okeefenokee or in Minnesota at Tettegouche…) and I’ll read at least the first book. I’m afraid though that it will be either unreadable (the hallmark of Great Literature) or incoherent and of course, because it is either unreadable or incoherent it will automatically be Great because a small mind like mine can’t possibly understand Great Literature and ipso facto, the literature a genre reader like me can’t understand MUST be Great Literature.

Anyway, this post is supposed to be about world-building by accident and I have strayed far afield. Though some people will find my digression irritating, I’ve laid a foundation for this discussion on world-building and will summarize thus: I believe that world-building is essential to SF/F/SpecFic. At least to a large and passionate part of the readership world-building is important.

More on this will have to be reserved for part 2 of this article. See you in a few weeks!

Image: http://blogs.kcls.org/booktalk/encyclopedia_new_wave.jpg

October 10, 2013

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 47: Stepan In the HOD

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

When he finally caught his breath and his vision cleared, he was looking into the faces of six people. A grizzled old man said, “Who are you? And if you don’t give me the right answer, you’re both dead.”

Stepan Izmaylova said, “Stepan...”

One of the women staring down at him – old, wrinkled, leathery-skinned-but-not-haggard, more with a face that was a roadmap. Her road appeared to have led to heartbreak and sorrow. Obviously she’d spent years on the surface, living in a space suit. He squinted, thinking that for some reason, he recognized her. But she said abruptly, “That’s not his name.”

For an instant panic seized him. In that instant, she said, “His name is Natan Wallach and he’s the Hero of the Faith Wars!”

Immediately the circle opened up. Hands that had been prepared to beat him, lifted him instead. Someone even helped Quinn dust himself off where he’d been thrown to the ground.

“What are you doing here, Mr. Wallach?” an older man said. Stepan heard the implied, “With this blue urchin...” Stepan considered. Was this a congregation of unbelievers who would be offended – and possibly turn murderous if he mentioned his conversion? Would they beat him blood or toss him out an airlock? He wasn’t worried about that. He was ready to die for his belief. But what about Quinn? They’d kill him for certain because he might not be as young a man as he looked. Artificial Humans were manufactured of blue flesh and blood. Their neither grew nor aged, they wore out. Quinn might have been an AH who lynched a dozen Human farmers in Heinlein Station, hanging them from a microwave relay tower to blow in the thin winds of Mars.

Stepan said, “I’m doing charity work on the Rim.” He lowered his voice, adding, “Give a Rimmer a guinea and he’ll have a snack; teach to breed the guineas and sell half a dozen for a hammock.” He hated the slur.

Quinn hated it as well, judging from his flash of anger. But the HODfolk laughed, surrounded him and ushered him out of the trash pick-up shelter he and Quinn had come up in. The streets outside were paved with cushions of CHEAPALIN for maglev transportation, lined on either side with sidewalks and elaborate, xerographic landscaping. Pink adobe homes in the fashion of the ancient American West pueblo spaced regularly along the street were surrounded by blooming cacti and desert plants. The temperature was a balmy, dry 27C. Sunlight streamed through a dust-free patch of the Dome and he realized he was sweating. The first time ever since arriving on Mars and defecting from the Unified Faith In Humanity.

The group called out to their friends, explaining whom they’d found in their garbage bins and it became more elaborate in the retelling. They flooded into a park, a perfectly landscaped wonderland. Someone finally managed to bellow out, “What in the name of George HW Bush are you doing in the Home Owner’s District?”

Stepan straightened his tunic and pants and said, “Like I said, I’m starting a rooftop garden to help feed the hungry on the Rim. I’ve been directed to come and see OM Gillard to borrow an antigrav plate to move equipment up to my roof.”

From the back of the light-hearted mob that had grown abruptly silent came a heavy, gravelly, dark voice, “Who takes my name in vain?”

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 130

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: Absolute xenophobes
Current Event: http://io9.com/what-will-human-cultures-be-like-in-100-years-453934475

Diandra Ngobogo and Guychel Kolchak walked side-by-side in the Mall of America. The Mall was crowded – more so than it had been in decades. The entire building had been renovated and vertical banners proclaiming, “Fifty Years Of Quality Shopping” floated from antigrav advert-eyezers, brushing shoppers with trailers of brilliantly colored silk.

It was just as effective as elaborate signage had been in the last century. Most of the people ignored them. While it was true people ducked into and out of shops, the majority simply walked, talking.

To themselves.

Even so, it was quieter. The near silence was broken only by the squeak of tennis shoes and murmuring voices, as if someone had stumbled into a Buddhist temple filled with saffron-robed monks doing their morning prayers.

Diandra said, “What could you possibly want with that?”

Guychel said, “Where would she go with someone like him?” He squeezed Diandra’s hand so hard, she yelped, yanking her hand away from his.

He didn’t notice even when she glanced at him. He did notice when she shoved him hard enough to stumble into a column that rose up all seven stories to support a semi-transparent roof panel. He said, “I’ll talk to you in a minute,” tapped his phone and glared at Diandra and exclaimed, “What was that for?” He tapped his phone again and muttered, “No, not you! I’m talking to Diandra.” He paused. “She’s my girlfriend.” Paused again then said, “Why would you think that?” and hung up on the caller. He finally looked at Diandra and said, “What?”

Balled fists on her hips, she jerked her head sideways once, calling Guychel. She murmured, “We haven’t said a word to each other since we got here.”

“We’re talking now,” he murmured back.

“You didn’t even notice when I stopped holding your hand!” she said.

He looked stupid at the offending member then at her, murmuring, “So?”

“Why do we even go to the trouble of getting together if we’re just going to walk alongside each other and still talk to the rest of the world?”

He stared at her then swallowed hard. He hung up and said to her directly, “Are you breaking up with me?”

She hung up as well and said out loud, “I like you a lot. Why would I break up with you?”

“You’re not talking to me, though,” Guychel said.

“I’m talking to you.”

He gestured angrily, “You know what I mean! We’re not on the same circuit!”

Diandra stared at him for several seconds before he looked away. She said, “I skipped fifteen times from Jakarta to here just to be with you. Do you see any more couples here?”

Guychel looked. He frowned. Then he turned in a circle and finally said, “None that I can see. They’re all here by themselves for whatever reason, but they’re with their real friends, too. What’s wrong with that?”

She’d done the same thing, tracking various Mall walkers. She finally said, “I ain’t a genius…”

“You are, too. That’s what the datafile says. It’s why I texted you.”

She blinked in surprise then smiled, “You flirted me because I was smart?”

He grinned lopsidedly, “That and you’re a sexbag.”

She sniffed and slugged him on the shoulder and said, “You’re no outtrash yourself.”

He blushed under his pink dyed blond hair. The two colors clashed remarkably. He said, “So, what you’re saying is that we should like, really talk to each other?”

Diandra shrugged, “Could be new.”

Guychel grinned then looked up. Way up. He frowned. “What?” Diandra asked.

He jerked his chin up. “Someone was watching us.”

She touched her headset then said, “I ran it back. You’re right. Who was that?”

Names: Indonesia, Central African Republic; ♂ Democratic Republic of Congo, Russia (Siberia)
Image: http://image.shutterstock.com/display_pic_with_logo/6732/6732,1122898581,4/stock-photo-two-teens-with-sunglasses-on-looking-cool-456894.jpg

October 6, 2013

WRITING ADVICE: Julie Czerneda’s Writing Workshop! #4 – The Character

In 2005, whilst perusing the shelves at the Hennepin County Public Library, I stumbled across CHANGING VISION by Julie Czerneda (say it: chur-nay-dah), an author I'd never heard of, and was intrigued by the aliens on the cover by artist Luis Royo. It didn’t matter that the book was the second in a series, the cover entranced me and so I read. The book was spectacular, I read others, and fell entirely in love with another series of hers called SPECIES IMPERATIVE for its fascinating aliens and superior characterization. A teacher deeply at heart, Julie Czerneda shares ideas and methodology wherever she goes. On her website, http://www.czerneda.com/classroom/classroom.html she shares ideas for writers. I want to share what kind of impact her ideas have had on my own writing.  They are used with the author’s permission.

“Viewpoint character (protagonist) There should be a good reason the ‘what if ...’
matters to this character.)”

Of everything I do in writing, character is my weak point.

Hmmm. This could explain an awful lot. I have been praised for my ideas, plot, dialogue, imagination, and mood. No one has ever praised me about how real my characters are. In fact, ‘characterization’ is something I struggle with constantly.

It’s not that I don’t know a realistic character when I see one – I do! I know that Lessa of Pern is real; I know that Mackenzie of the Interspecies Union is real; I know Jen Nalynn is real; Miles Vorkosigan is real; Paul Muad’dib is real; Toshio, Tom, and Takkata Jim are real. I read slush for STUPEFYING STORIES (http://stupefyingstories.blogspot.com/) and reject stories all the time when I can’t see the main character!

So why are they real? What makes these imaginary characters real?

Taking clues from Julie Czerneda’s books as well as from the others I mentioned above, I’ve compiled the following guidelines I have used in my most recent works-in-progress, CARNIVORE’S DEBT as well in a couple of short stories I’m working on:

1)      The character has to be like me in some aspect.

2)     They have to love someone, long for someone, or be leaving someone that they love or long for behind.

3)     They character has to be normal in the sense that they make mistakes, they make smart decisions, and they wonder if what they did was a mistake or a smart decision.

4)     They have to be ABnormal in the sense that there is no going to the bathroom, a little sleeping, a bit of eating, lots of getting hurt several times in the course of a few hours or days, and only doing things that move the story forward.

5)     A character has to have a history implied by everything a reader reads – but without describing that history anywhere in the story.

6)     When illustrating characters in the story, you have to fall back to a poetic description – not a poem, but a paucity of words that only great poets really understand (and by poets I include not only Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Shakespeare, but Usher and Madonna).

There you go. This is the new meter stick by which I have begun to measure my work. I have been able to go back with a few stories and reengineer them to this meter stick and I’ve SOLD some. My most recent work, listed to the right here, has been written using the meter stick.

There aren’t any novels there yet, but now that I’ve started to have some facility with it – and I’ve analyzed the characters I listed above, I think I’m on my way to getting one published!