January 30, 2014

SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH #56: July 24, 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 clips, click on the label to the right, scroll down to and click OLDER ENTRIES seven or eight times. The FIRST entry is on the bottom of the last page.

Startled, the man stumbled backwards.

The sound of his head hitting a rock was loud enough to make Tommy Hastings wince and Freddie Merrill squeak in surprise.

It wasn’t enough to slow them down. They ran deeper into the woods. Two of the five Finns stopped. From the back of the pack, the shrill scream of Bonnie – of former Bonnie and Clyde fame – cried out, “They’re getting away!”

A figure rose up from the shade under the white pines. Wearing a dark dress and a wide-brimmed hat, a guitar strapped to her back, the Witch of Anoka shouted, “ON THIS NIGHT OF THE FULL MOON, I HEX THEE BOYS FROM THIS DAY FORTH, I HEX THEE WITH BROKEN BONES AND SHATTERED SKULLS! ON THIS NIGHT, ON THIS NEW MOON I INVOKE MY WILL TO BE DONE, TO ONLY BE UNDONE OF MINE OWN DESIRE AND WILL!”

Tommy ran nearly ran her over and shouted, “Jesus H. Christ!”

Freddie leaped over her, knocking her down. The Witch of Anoka screamed and she hit her head against a rock and stopped moving. He shouted, “I killed her!”

Behind them, Bonnie and Clyde stopped and helped the other woman sit up.

Tommy shot a look over his shoulder and shouted, “You didn’t kill her! Run!”

With six down and only two left behind them, the boys ran faster than ever. Freddie shouted, “We’re losing them!” They ran until there were no more sounds of pursuit; there were no more sounds of humanity; then they collapsed on the ground, chests heaving, staring into the bright afternoon sky.

“We made it,” Tommy gasped.

“They’ll find us,” Freddie gasped back.

“How they gonna find us?”

“A airplane.”

“You think a bunch of gardeners and mansion workers know how to find an airplane – let along fly one?”

As he spoke those words, a low, rumbling drone rattled the needles on the trees and the air around their heads.

 “It’s an airplane!” Freddie shouted, struggling to his feet. He started to run. Tommy tackled him with a hook of his arm and Freddie went down with a thud an explosion of air from his lungs.

Tommy shouted, “If you run, whoever’s flying that thing can see you! We have to get under a tree!” He started crawling toward the lowest, widest branches he could see. Freddie did move. Tommy shouted, “Move, you idiot!”

“What if they see me?”

“They’ll see your white T-shirt if you don’t get under this tree right now!”

Freddie sat up, looked down at his shirt, then with his rear end in the air, scrambled across the ground until he huddled next to Tommy.

A moment later, a Canadian Air Force Hawker Hurricane, marked with the yellow-blue-white-red nested circles of the CAF, thundered overhead then past them. The sound faded into a distant drone, then a faint buzz until if you asked them, neither boy would have been able to tell the airplane from the cicadas shrilling in the trees.

Most likely neither one of them would have answered because both were sound asleep on the soft floor of fallen pine needles. Tommy’s belly rose up and down – and Freddie’s head did the same, comfortably resting on the belly of his best friend.

That would have been how the Witch of Anoka found them…
Image: http://i.huffpost.com/gen/503293/thumbs/r-DEREK-ALLEN-WWII-FLYING-ACE-large570.jpg

January 28, 2014

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 146






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.

Change of pace for a bit – I’m going to look at elements of EXTREMELY popular SF, F, and H; break them apart and use each element as a jumping of point for a story idea…

Popular Horror Story/Series: Goosebumps Books: “scary books that are also funny.”

H Trope: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goosebumps; middle class kid, remote location…


Carlos Rodriguez Cruz shook his head and said, “I can’t stay here anymore.”

Austin Ventura grabbed Carlos’ backpack and pulled it, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Carlos turned, hiked the pack up and said, “Listen, my family is undocumented. I’m undocumented. Nothing’s gonna change that. I can’t afford college and I’m gonna be cleaning toilets and vacuuming carpets for the rest of my life if I don’t do something.” Austin had no idea what to say. All he could do was stare until finally Carlos turned away, saying, “I was right. You can’t understand.”

“You can teach me!” he called after Carlos’ back. His friend shook his head once, then ran at the school’s exit doors and plunged out into the wintry cold. Austin finally moved and followed him outside, but Carlos was already disappearing over the hill. “Come back,” Austin said. The warning bell for the beginning of last period rang. Austin took out his cellphone and speed-dialed Carlos but got no answer. He hung up and texted, “Talk to me.” He sent it and dashed to class. With only a semester of their senior year left, he had no intention of not passing. His college career was set; finances were lining up; he was ready for the next step in his life.

He’d thought for years that that step would include his best friend Carlos. But there had been problems and the more Austin talked about college, the less Carlos paid attention.

He’d been avoiding Austin since winter break had ended. Now he knew what had been bugging Carlos. As he came around the corner and into the English Hallway, Mr. Zoroastrian – his real name was Mr. Sebastian, but he was an advocate for synthetic religions and had had them all practice Zoroastrianism for two weeks – said, “Eighteen weeks and sixty seconds, Mr. Ventura!”

Austin laughed and temporarily forgot about Carlos.

###

Until his text message note chimed at 2:30 the next morning. Bleary-eyed, he patted his bedside table until he slapped his cell. At first he couldn’t read the message because the light was too bright. Then he didn’t understand, “Carlos there?”

He grunted as he rolled onto his side and texted back, “Who is this?”

“Carlos’ sister. He there?”

“No.”

“He’s gone.”

“What?”

“Later…”

“Where did he go?”

Austin waited until the screen light faded, then repeated his text. There was still no response and he swung his legs over the side of his bed. The floor was freezing. His room was freezing. He looked at the text messages again – they were from Carlos’ phone. Which meant that he’d left it somewhere that his sister could find it – like his bedroom. Austin knew Carlos didn’t exactly have a private life at home. He shared a room with two little brothers. The first time they had a sleepover in sixth grade, he couldn’t believe that Austin had his own room.

Austin pulled on a pair of sweatpants, a sweatshirt and poked his feet into his green Converses. He stopped shivering, thought about it for a moment, then texted, “Pauline, right?”

He waited until the screen went dark. Suddenly it lit, “Yes.”

“When did he leave?”

“I said good night to him at 10:30.”

Austin shook his head. Four hours. His best friend could be anywhere…

Names: Mexico, Mexico; Minnesota, Italy (= “baby in the woods”, “foundling”)
Image: http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3290/3068239625_e031b6cf39_z.jpg


January 26, 2014

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: All Aliens MUST Be Invisible!

In August of 2013, at DIVERSICON (http://www.diversicon.org/guests.html), I had the opportunity to listen to one of my favorite science fiction writers, Jack McDevitt. Three months later, after pondering the his comments (November 7, 2013), I tweeted a statement made by McDevitt:

“GleanedWritAdv: ‘Aliens are mysterious, romantic, compelling…only as long as they remain distant.’ McDevitt”

 I understand what he’s saying, and when you read his novels, it’s clear that he would have no trouble bringing his aliens on stage. They would be well-constructed, strangely motivated, and they would be living, breathing characters. Even so, some reviewers see this as a fault, “One problem to acknowledge up-front: those familiar with McDevitt's work will probably realize that aliens are not his strong point. It's questionable whether any human writer can really imagine a non-human intelligence, but McDevitt's aliens tend to be more human than most.” (http://www.eyrie.org/~eagle/reviews/books/0-441-01210-8.html) Most of them don’t realize that to McDevitt, having his aliens on stage, front-and-center, is NOT the way he prefers to do things.

Other author’s take different tacks, for example, CJ Cherryh’s Atevi are humanoid in shape and most of their behaviors – with one exception: the Atevi are hard-wired to form associations, not to love. This single difference is what Cherryh explores in every one of her books.

I just finished a reread of Ursula K. LeGuin’s THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS. In that novel, her “aliens” are genetically modified Humans whose single difference forms the entire basis of the novel: they are sexually potent and their bodies become either male or female during an event called kemmer, which happens roughly once a month.

Anne McCaffrey’s novels are predicated on a war with an alien civilization that has never once come into any one of her books, and is not ever named. In her novels, Humans become alien.

The novels of David Brin, Julie Czerneda, and countless others use intelligent alien life to explore Humanity, and for me, this is the strength of science fiction. To look at who we are and how we act.

Even McDevitt, who argues powerfully for the invisible alien, has gone to the center of the galaxy of his Omega Cloud books and eventually explains where and why they do what they do in CAULDRON. The book was generally reviewed badly: “the galaxy-spanning mystery was still magnificent and seemed to only grow deeper and richer the more we learned. When at last, Hutch offers her theory for the mystery's origin -- objects d'art from a hyper-advanced race -- I was blown away. I loved this idea and it had my imagination buzzing for weeks…[Then in CAULDRON] what happened to the sense of awe and wonder? I got the sense that Mr. McDevitt just couldn't care less about this book, and that is devastating to me. Why put love into a pointless knock-off like CHINDI and leave just a handful of pages here for resolving one of the great mysteries in the last few decades of speculative fiction?”

What happened was that somewhere, someone (most likely his publisher) told him he couldn’t leave the series with ODYSSEY. Maybe they wanted more money? Maybe they thought that SF readers everywhere wanted to have a sense of completion? Whatever the reason, CHINDI onward took McDevitt to places he didn’t actually believe he should go – they created a violation of his “mission statement”. The statement above: “Aliens are mysterious, romantic, compelling…only as long as they remain distant.”

My lesson from this? When you have a philosophy that is logical and firmly established, don’t throw it out the window!

January 23, 2014

A PINE IN THE CITY, ALONE WITH A BOY 10


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 could not move, had no arms to hold,

But the thin needles and twigs made shade.

Though the boy was man, and the pine a tree,

For one minute they were together, not alone.

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 145



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.

Change of pace for a bit – I’m going to look at elements of EXTREMELY popular SF, F, and H; break them apart and use each element as a jumping off point for a story idea…

Popular Science Fiction Story/Series: Dune

SF Trope: complex planetary ecology


Logan Andrist frowned and said, “What do you mean they’re going to dump iron into the lake?”

Nkokoyanga Pomodimo, far from her land-locked home in the Central African Republic held tight to the railing of the re-purposed iron ore freighter – a laker – as it dipped down into the swells of Lake Superior. She said, speaking loudly over the rushing wind around them, “The iron will cause algae to grow wildly. As they grow they need more carbon dioxide. As they suck up the CO2, they store the resulting carbon-rich sugars and then keep it when they die and sink to the bottom of Superior...”

“I know what carbon sequestering is! I’m a limnology major...”

She shook her head in the wild winds and shouted, “This is glorious! Feeling Gaia beneath your feet is the most...”

“Wouldn’t that technically be Poseidon? Besides, who gave them permission to do this?”

She turned to catch his gaze and he recognized her crazy, angry look as she cried back, “Who gave all you rich white colonialists the right to pollute and rape our world?”

He didn’t want to shout. What he really wanted to do was kiss her right then and there in the cold spray from the Lake – but he didn’t want a broken face, so he shouted, “I didn’t do any of that! Why are you yelling at me?”

“I’m not yelling at you,” she shouted. “I’m yelling TO you!”

“What’s that,” the nose of the laker dove deep, nearly flooding the deck and driving a mountain of spray over them. The water was frigid despite the hot August sun burning down on them through breaks in the scudding clouds. He wiped his face clear of water and finished, “Supposed to mean?”

“You’re not to blame, old friend, but you are responsible! That’s why the captain of this tub is an old white man!”

“Professor Buddlorem’s driving the ship? We have to go save all of our lives!” Logan let go of the railing; Nkokoyanga grabbed him and pulled him tight.

“The computer is doing most of  the driving! He’s just playing captain!”

Logan eyed her warily the said, “How are we supposed to get all this iron into Lake Superior?”

‘Ko’ grinned and shouted, “Now that’s the tricky part!”

Names: ♀ Central African Republic, Gbaya; Minnesota, Minnesota
Image:http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_uQJlFoekK9A/SvnLU5fIF8I/AAAAAAAACuI/Ii-dyWvYP-g/s400/edmund-fitzgerald1.jpg

LACK OF POST TUESDAYS and MAYBE NO POST TODAY...


First week of a new Semester at school...
Coupled with brutal cold...
Add in a son, daughter-in-law, with 2 under-five grandkids preparing to sell the house (without the son being there)...
Toss in 3 story rejections in three days...
=
No time nor will to write...

January 19, 2014

WRITING ADVICE: Julie Czerneda’s Writing Workshop! #9 – What Happens At THE END?




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.

“Consequence: The answer this particular story provides to your ‘what if’ speculation.”

I am at the very beginning of a story I have waited a long time to write and I can’t get get it right...

I realized yesterday that the reason I can’t get the beginning right is that I’m not sure what the consequences of the “what if” is.

The scenario: In a universe without intelligent aliens – at least as far as we can tell – Humanity has created its own aliens through genetically engineering itself for multiple and extreme environments.

We have done this to such an extent that a segment of Humanity cried “foul!” and broke off, forming its own Empire far from this creation of alien life forms. The Empire forbids this extreme engineering and has come to “grade” Humans based on the amount of engineering they were created with. If you are 65% “unaltered base Human genome as compared to the 20th Century Human Genome Project parameters”, then you are Human. If you are only 64% unmodified, you are NOT Human and are exiled or terminated.

The story takes place in this Confluence & Empire universe, on a border world settled by the most cold-hardy souls from Old Earth.

An ambassador and his wife had their son gengineered to be a Human translating construct. He wanted nothing to do with it and became a musician instead, plying his trade on the superhabitable world Yuán, orbiting Alpha Centauri B. Dad’s career is going down the tubes, and so he “kidnaps” his son to try to force this cold world to choose entry in the Confluence.

Success in this would do nothing to hurt his lapsed reputation, and the presence of a unique life-extending substance found there would perhaps seal for him a place of honor in the Confluence. It might also heal their estrangement and allow the man to return to his wife, who separated from him when he would not release his son to his own career.

His son is murdered.

Now what?

I seem to have reached the climax without ever starting the story. But I don’t want this to be a “simple” palace intrigue story with a sad ending. I want to know what this man will do, sitting on a windswept, frozen plateau, waiting to be picked up with the body of his son. What will his ex-wife do? What will his friends do? What will he do when his pathetic career ends abruptly with this tragedy?

Should he just kill himself? He has a knife and he understands what he could do. He is sitting outside on deathwatch over the body. He could simply take off his hotsuit and let the cold take him – a slow death of increasing numbness followed by a permanent sleep.

But there is a third person. An elderly Inuit-Norwegian woman; silent on her ice block stool, she just watched him. Who is she? Why is she here?

Our “hero” has no idea. They do not speak the same language – she uses the patois of English, Norwegian, and Russian with a smattering of French, Urgul, Quechua, Spanish, and Chinese words thrown in for good measure. That’s why he brought his son. He can say simple phrases.

So there’s the set up. Julie Czerneda asks me to determine the CONSEQUENCE of this “what if” I’ve set up. I know that the consequence is complex. That’s why I resisted writing this story until I thought I was skilled enough to handle it. It’s also not going to be a “standard” science fiction story. It leans in the direction of literary stories. To that end, I’m currently rereading Ursula K. LeGuin’s THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS. It’s science fiction, for sure. It’s characters, while “alien” are a Human variant that has returned to what we might call a primitive state of sexuality – in order to mate, they must be “in heat” like a dog or a cat or a horse. Of course, she stirs the pot more thoroughly by adding that these Humans can change gender when they go into heat (kemmer, she calls it). She spends the book exploring the CONSEQUENCES of such a world and did such a good job, she won both the Hugo and the Nebula – and a place on the “assigned reading” list of countless colleges.

So – consequences of the “what if”...

I am still pondering – but the truth is that writing this essay has given me some ideas and it has clarified what I am about! So, if you’ll excuse me, I have a story to work on!

January 16, 2014

LOVE IN A TIME OF ALIEN INVASION 11


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 United; 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. The Braiders accidentally created a resonance wave that will destroy the Milky Way and the only way to stop it is to physically construct a sort of membrane. The Braiders don’t DO physical stuff on that scale – 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 may produce a stability capable of launching incredible expansion, creativity, longevity and wealth – and building the Membrane to stop the wave.

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 – a prime eleven. 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 and have heard only rumors of the farms and ranches. 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 and all of their biology ransacked for the correct Membrane pattern.


“Why north?” Lieutenant Commander Patrick Bakhsh, retired asked.

I shook my head, “I’m not entirely sure, but a long time ago, my teacher had me memorize a map on a tablet computer. I pissed and moaned and asked why. He just told me to memorize because someday, Humans might not have access to computers and I might want to go somewhere.”

“You didn’t think to ask any more questions?”

“I was ten years old. Not having computer access was all that caught my attention.”

Patrick snorted and said, “I can see why that you’d notice that . Must have scared you.”

“Scared me? I laughed out loud – like I did when I was four and a different teacher told me the ‘Why did the chicken cross the road?’ joke. The idea of being cut off from the Web was a joke.”

“You ain’t laughin’ now, kid.”

I nodded, “I ain’t ‘kid’, either, I’m Car.”

“Like ‘beep beep’?”

“No, that’s Road Runner.”

Lieutenant Commander Patrick Bakhsh, retired, guffawed, clapped me on the shoulder and said, “Perfect! I’ll call you Road Runner from now on!” He jostled me into the house, closing and locking the door behind us. He went to a keyboard and small screen mounted near the door and tapped in a long string of numbers and letters. The screen glowed a baleful red.

“You have security here?”

“I used to be in the Marines. I retired six months before they were vaporized in the Yucatan Action.”

I nodded. I’d even heard of that. Humans sided with the Kiiote in an attempt to stop a major Yown’Hoo landing – they were going to establish a beachhead on Earth to attack Kiiote drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico.

Together with the Kiiote, Humans stopped them, driving them back into orbit.

Then the Kiiote withdrew from the peninsula suddenly, leaving their erstwhile allies behind. The Yown’Hoo used a massive weapon they’d never used before. The crater that remained after the KT Event in Chicxulub, Mexico – you know the one that pushed the extinction of the dinosaurs into high gear? – was now on the Island of Yucatan... The ancestors of my Herd Mother, Dao-Hi had disintegrated an area that was a hundred klicks across, centered exactly on Parque Nacional de Laguna del Tigre – and happened to include two battalions of Marines and Army.

“Oh,” I replied. “Sorry.”

“You weren’t born yet, Road Runner.”

We entered the living room just as Shayla came clomping up the stairs, shaking her head. She looked at the retired Marine strangely and said, “Did you used to have a kennel down there?”

“Yeah. Raised mixed-blood Golden Retrievers.”

“Aren’t you supposed to raise pure-bred dogs?”

He shrugged as he racked the shotgun he’d been carrying. “I raised dogs for hunting, not show. Purebreds tend to be too skittish and prone to hereditary problems. I mix compatible breeds – other purebreds, usually – to give me strong ‘Mutts’.”

The Herd Mother whistled a query and asked, “Define ‘mutts’.”

Patrick laughed, shook his head and sat down, “Time for fluff later. We have to figure out how to get you out of town.”

Shayla glared at him, crossed her arms over her chest and said, “You aren’t the boss of us!”

The light-heartedness vanished. “You want me to just put you back out on the street?”

“We can take care of ourselves,” she began.

Patrick made a hand motion and one of the walls – the whole freakin’ thing! – lit up with a scene from outside our home. He boosted the volume as a reported spoke and BBC America scrolled across the bottom, “This is Cyprian Ashimolowo reporting to you live from in front of the former Minneapolis Vikidome Sports Complex and Entertainment Center. It has just been reported that Human terrorists exploded a bomb inside the Hubert H. Humphrey Replica Metrodome. Casualty reports are uncertain at this time, but local wechat twitter is reporting that two Human teens as well as several Yown’Hoo and Kiiote tourists were killed inside. North American Criminal Apprehension Bureau authorities are on the scene investigating and we will bring  you the latest breaking news. Now back to your regularly scheduled LiveFeed.”

Lieutenant Commander Patrick Bakhsh, retired look at me and Shayla, then over at the eleven in the Yown’Hoo her as they settled in an open corner away from the windows. He looked at Shay and said, “So, Missy, you plannin’ on holding your own funerals then?” He held up a finger, “Oh, and how will you be explaining the loss of a hoof of Yown’Hoo, a paw of Kiiote, and a passle of young’uns like you and your boyfriend?”

Shay opened her mouth, then closed it.

I have to comment here that that is the first time I have ever seen her speechless. I should also mention that in seeing that, I was terrified.

January 14, 2014

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 144



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.



Yarelis Smits held up her tablet computer and shouted to the mass of people, “My foster brother has been missing since yesterday! He’s autistic and he can’t speak! A friend of his from school saw him in this neighborhood late yesterday,” she stopped shouting as the crowd had quieted. “Please remember that even though he can’t speak, Ray Cantú can hear us.”

A girl from school, a year older than Ray, who was in ninth grade, said, “This is a really bad neighborhood. What if we can’t find him?”

Yarelis’ heart felt as if it had stopped in her chest. She looked around the crowd, hoping to see Dorian. The high school police liaison officer had showed up after most of the volunteers had arrived, hanging back, supposedly separated from them all, but still part of them. No one else had noticed him yet.

She was also pretty sure no one had noticed that he was an android. The only reason Yarelis knew was because her Mom was a detective with the local peakers – peace keepers and Yarelis had stumbled across a stray text message that hinted at it. When she’d asked Mom, who never lied outside of work, she’d admitted it.

So to find her missing brother, she had a bunch of people she went to school with, and a robot cop. All she was really missing was her best friend, the mysterious, supposed reincarnation of the late Turkish singer, Selda Bağcan.

Warm breath brushed her ear as a voice mimicking a Turkish accent said, “What, you think I was going to leave you all alone with these insane muggles?”

Yarelis rolled her eyes, the whole HP phenom was so four decades ago. Jane Eyre – which was her real, actual name – was the only one Yarelis knew who still read the things. Except for her, but Yarelis only read them because Jane was her best friend. That’s what she told everyone, anyway.

The girl shouted again, “Isn’t it dangerous here?”

“Dangerous for who?” called a low, bass voice. Yarelis didn’t recognize it and stood on her tiptoes, scanning the crowd. On the edge opposite Darius, there was movement as people who had actually heard the voice turned, then parted between the speaker and Yarelis.

“You’re not from school,” she said, scowling.

“No, I’m from the neighborhood.”

“What are you doing here?”

“You might call me a vigilante.”

“What? My brother’s harmless – he’s autistic, mute. He’d never say anything to anyone!”

The man, who wore a faded, black cowboy hat, pushed up the rim then looked at her intently from under it. He said, “They say it’s the silent one’s is the most dangerous.”

“He’d never hurt anyone!”

“Then how do you explain this?” the man said and pulled his hat off. The blood mixed with his gray hair had been concealed by the back rim of the hat. “I was on my way here and he attacked me with a broken board. He...”

“You must have done something to frighten him, then!” Yarelis cried.

“He ain’t the one scared here, missy. I am.”

Names: ♀Puerto Rican, Dutch, ; ♂ Mexican

January 12, 2014

Slice of PIE: Chatting With Aliens -- Part 1



Humans often times have trouble talking to each other.

Take for example a room of 20-somethings, at a party. At any one time, half of them will be checking their text messages – and be totally checked out from the “real” world of their fellow party-goers.

I was talking to an same-generation colleague the other day and together we bemoaned the world of snapchat, text messages, tweets, wechat, and all the other technology that young adults on Earth engage in. We wondered about the impact of such “distance friendship” on how they interacted with people here-and-now, talking about how things weren’t that way when we were kids.

I paused then commented, “So, you never spent three hours on the telephone talking to your boyfriend when you were sixteen?”

She looked at me and shook her head, “No, I never did that.”

I harrumphed and said, “Well I did. Uh…to my girlfriend…”

We laughed and she said, “Well, that was different. There was another person at the other end of the telephone line, and we weren’t sending...”

Our conversation ended, but it left me wondering. HOW was it different? WAS it different? To my parents, who’d grown up in the era of swing dancing and rock and roll, and were the very first generation for whom the “car” was a serious adjunct to social interactions; talking for hours on a “telephone” was a strange concept. Separating people and talking to an ephemeral voice located in a person anywhere from next door to hundreds of miles away, was the telephone of the 70s any different than the tweets of the TwentyTeens?

What does all this have to do with aliens?

All of the technology above was built to enable communication. The space age was ushered in NOT because of some obscure need to “explore”, rather it was ushered in by our very, very real need to TALK.

The first two satellites in 1957 were Sputnik 1 (we all know THAT story!) and Sputnik 2 (carried the poor dog Laika, who died in space); the third, Explorer 1 discovered the van Allen radiation belt around the Earth. The fourth, on December 18, 1958, ushered in the REAL purpose of space “exploration” – communication. The Signal Communication by Orbiting Relay Equipment (SCORE) satellite’s recorded message from the president of the United States, relayed a “Christmas greeting from President Dwight Eisenhower. ‘Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men.’”

After that, we were hooked. Satellites poured into space until we had the spectre of a frightening end result. W e flocked to theaters to see a film that jumped off from that spectre – the movie GRAVITY. (Nominated for 14 Golden Globe Awards, as well as receiving 66 other awards and 69 more nominations – in four more days, we’ll know how many Academy Awards it will be nominated for…)

Predicated on the fact that we’ve got so much space junk, a Kessler Event has a good possibility of eventually happening. Most of that junk comes from our discarded communications satellites and THAT has happened because we can’t get enough of talking among ourselves. Did you know that “by 2014…there will be more in-use cell phones than there are people on the planet right now.”

Above all things, the Human compulsion is to communicate.

The culmination of this compulsion happened in 1974 when Humanity broadcast a message announcing ourselves to the entire UNIVERSE. With the blaring of the Arecibo Message, we let the ENTIRE UNIVERSE know that “we are here”. Sort of like the Dr. Seuss story, HORTON HEARS A WHO, in which the Whoniverse gives a shout out to all of Horton’s friends – who are ready to string him up because there is no way an entire universe could exist on a mote of dust.

Some time after we sent the message – actually about seventy years – some wisenheimers freaked out and panicked, loudly trumpeting that “We Shouldn’t Have Done That!!!!!!!!!!!!! Cuz Them Aleens Might Git Us!” (David Brin: http://www.davidbrin.com/shouldsetitransmit.html, Stephen Hawking: http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1004/30/lkl.01.html).

Of course their hero and even MORE popular physicist and science fiction writer was diametrically opposed to them and participated in an event that sent a: “bunch of ones and zeroes. This message originated in 1974, when it was broadcast from the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico to commemorate the facility's renovation. The authors of the message, Carl Sagan and SETI founder Frank Drake, hoped that any aliens who happened to receive it might notice that 1,679 is the product of two prime numbers, 23 and 73, and if you arrange all the zeroes and ones in a grid of 23 columns and 73 rows, you get a series of simple, ASCII-like pictures, including a double helix and a crude image of a person. Whether or not an alien civilization could crack the code, they would at least notice something funny about these FM signals. They're 10 million times stronger than the background noise from our sun.”

So whether Brin and Hawking like it or not, the message is there. We asked ET to text us a long, long time ago – November 16, 1974 and for exactly 3 minutes – though we haven’t gotten a message back.

The vast majority of Earth’s population neither knows about nor cares about that text message, but you can expect some sort of ceremony this year as we continue to wait for a text back...




January 10, 2014

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 50: DaneelAH At Station Vogel

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, go to SCIENCE FICTION: Martian Holiday on the right and scroll to the bottom for the first story.


The Dalai Lama held out the crystal and said, “This is a Bible I brought from Earth. It contains the complete Book of Daniel – as well as the rest of the complete Bible.”


MishAH scowled. She’d remained silent as usual. Agricultural secretaries didn’t have much intrigue to deal with on an average day in a Dome. She said, “We don’t have complete Bible’s here?”


He shook his head. “No one on Mars has ANY complete holy book. The Koran here has been tampered with as have the Analects, the Aqdas, the Kojiki, the Tao Te Ching, the Torah, the Tripiṭaka, and the Vedas. Others less well known but just as important to their adherents have also been tampered with.” He held up the crystal, “I’ve come to Mars with a holy library. I’ve come to bring you your words.”


DaneelAH held out his hand. The Dalai Lama curled his finger around the Bible crystal, plucked the complete holy library from his other hand and reached to drop it in DaneelAH’s hand. He pulled his
hand back. “I don’t think I should carry the entire library.”


“Why not?”


“To be perfectly honest with you, I wouldn’t need it particularly, as I am a…a…Christian.”


The Dalai Lama’s eyebrows rose. He said, “I didn’t know the Christian faith had reached the point of accepting artificial Humans into fellowship.”


DaneelAH frowned, stepping back, and said, “Why would you say something like that? Why wouldn’t you simply hand over the copy and let me discover my faith on my own?”


The Dalai Lama face went still and he didn’t move for some moments. Finally he pressed his hands together at his chest, bowed and said, “You shame me, young Human.”


“I’m neither young nor Human, Dalai Lama.”


He smiled faintly then said, “You may not be young, but you are Human as far as I am concerned – it is I who is inhuman. I allowed my prejudice to assume that as an Artificial Human you have no soul. Please accept my deepest apologies.”


DaneelAH’s mouth opened, but no words came out. He looked back at his vatmates, AzAH, MishAH, and HanAH – but they watched the lama intently. He said, “I accept your apology, sir – but I don’t know how this will change anything.”


“It won’t change anything at this moment, but who knows what will happen in the future?” He went back to the suspension vault where the other crystals lay. He reached to the very back of the vault and pulled a black crystal from it. He held it out, “This is a very old book, my friends.”


“It’s another holy book?”


“I don’t think so. It’s old, though younger than the Torah, it’s older than the Daodejing. But not a holy book. Typically it’s been ascribed to an individual whose scientific credentials are suspect.”

“This is a book of pseudoscience?”


“It wasn’t until we began to colonize Mars that a book that appeared to be pseudoscience began to become a science.”


“What book is that?”


Verumi Mawort.”


“‘True Mars’?”


“In the book, there are copies of rubbings made of incomprehensible etchings. They aren’t related to
any language known on Earth.”


“What do you mean?”


“While Earth was the only world we knew, we are here now,” the Dalai Lama said. “There are markings on surfaces of this planet that may be similar to these. But no one has investigated this possibility yet.”


“Why?” asked AzAH. As a biological translator, the challenge of language was the only thing that made her heart race. It was as irresistible as food to a starving man.


“Because the Five Councils have forbidden it.”




January 7, 2014

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 143

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: Comic Fantasy – “…literature that is parodic, lighthearted, wacky, snarky, or just plain buffoonish.”


ADVENTURES OF THE ONLY GUM TREE WIZARD ON EARTH

Dural Jungkarara stopped on a ridge, and shading his eyes from the early-morning sun’s glare, looked down into the valley. He said, “This is it. The oldest gum trees in the world. I can’t miss.” He started down the trail. Bushwalking for days in the forest, talking to other walkers he’d meet and surreptitiously on the lookout for the Tarkine’s oldest sites, it had taken him three years and working some of the worst jobs he’d imagined to get here.

A reddish mountain dragon – (He’d once commented, “You sure don’t look like any dragon I’ve ever imagined”) – Oolah Wadjari, clung to a thick, quilted pad on his shoulder. She said, “To get an idea of exactly how much we can miss, may I remind you of The Great Canberra Disaster?”

He just grunted and headed down the trail. Twenty minutes later, he said, “The only thing that can activate my powers is ‘a tea from the leaves of prehistoric trees’.”

“So says an elderly woman who couldn’t even speak English,” said Oolah.

“Hey! That’s my nanna you’re talking about!”

Oolah replied, “No insult intended, Boy. I was her familiar for sixty years before I came into your service!”

“Yeah, but I never heard you talk to her like you…”

“Oh, I did, Boy! I did! Ask her about the time she and I crossed the Great Desert when she was fourteen! Two years younger than you and she had wild visions of changing the world...”

Dural turned abruptly and dropped to his backside, sliding down the embankment between the switchback trails.

“Hey! You’re not supposed to do that, Boy! It’s lurk! You could get a fine!”

“Maybe they’ll confiscate my pet,” he said, stopping only two trails downhill.

“I’m not your pet – we’re partners.”

“Partners in what?”

The lizard snorted and a puff of smoke popped from each nostril. “How easily your forget.”

“I didn’t forget.”

“Then why not say it?”

“Bonza, then, gecko. Where's  my nanna?"

"You sound like a four-year-old when you say it that way," said the lizard.

 Dural ignored the reptile, saying, "...and how? That’s what I’m here for.”

“What about me?”

“I don’t know why you’re here. Maybe to see the country? You sure haven’t been much help to me so far.”

“What about...,” the lizard began.

“Not that again! More to the point, what about Canberra? I certainly didn’t make that big of a mess all by myself! If you’d kept your fire-breathing abilities a little more carefully under wraps...”

“My abilities! What about you? What made you think you could use an invisibility spell like it was…like it was…”

“Like it was a magnification incantation?” The dragon blushed orange in embarrassment as a silence fell over the Tarkine wood as the boy and his dragon continued down the side of the hill. Oolah gripped the shoulder pad tighter and Dural rubbed first one eye, then the other. “I’m not crying,” he said when the lizard stirred on his shoulder. “I just need to figure out what will make the powers she told me I had manifest in a way I can use to find her.”

“And when you do find her? What then? What if she disappeared because she wanted to? What if she left this world because it was her time to leave – her choice to leave?”

“Did she tell you she was ready?” Dural shot at the lizard. He knew the answer. They’d discussed it months ago. They’d discussed it in the juvenile detention center in Hervey Bay, just before they broke out of there. They’d discussed it endlessly since leaving Kununarra in Western Australia and hitching and walking and working south until they finally reached the largest piece of Gondwanan Rainforest on the planet. “The answer?” Dural snarled.

Oolah sighed a puff of smoke and finally said, “The answer is that she was not ready. Nowhere near ready.”

“Then that’s why we’re here. We need to find her and help her. Save her life like she saved mine.”

Names: ♀ Australian Aboriginal (= red lizard), Tribe name (Western Australia) ; Australian Aboriginal (= hollow tree that is on fire), Tribe name (Queensland)


January 5, 2014

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Aliens, God, Love, AGW and Belief

Given my recent blogs, a question at the top of my thoughts list is, “Why do we believe that there HAS to be intelligent alien life?”

The next question I have to ask then is, “Why do we believe that there HAS to be a loving God?”

A third question however, occurred to me recently, “Why do we believe that there HAS to be love?”

A fourth question will irritate lots of people, but that’s OK, because what kind of essay would this be if it didn’t irritate? “Why do we believe that Humans HAVE to have changed the climate of Earth?”

Aren’t the answers to all of these obvious?

Hmmm. Maybe I need some definitions here. Let’s start with:

Believe: verb (used without object); 1. to have confidence in the truth, the existence, or the reliability of something, although without absolute proof that one is right in doing so.  verb (used with object) 2. to have confidence or faith in the truth of (a positive assertion, story, etc.); give credence to. 3. to have confidence in the assertions of (a person). 4. to have a conviction that (a person or thing) is, has been, or will be engaged in a given action or involved in a given situation. 5. to suppose or assume; understand (usually followed by a noun clause).

Obvious: adjective; 1. easily seen, recognized, or understood; open to view or knowledge; evident: an obvious advantage. 2. lacking in subtlety. Origin: 1580–90; Latin  obvius  in the way, lying in the path, equivalent to.

Regarding aliens, this has been said, “Second, there is in the fable no step unique to our Solar System or to our planet. There are 250 billion suns in our Milky Way Galaxy, and billions of other galaxies in the heavens. Perhaps half of these stars have planets at biologically appropriate distances from the local sun. The initial chemical constituents for the origin of life are the most abundant molecules in the universe. Something like the processes that on Earth led to man must have happened billions of other times in

the history of our Galaxy. There must be other starfolk.” Carl Sagan (from http://www.e-reading.co.uk/bookreader.php/148581/Sagan_-_The_Cosmic_Connection___An_Extraterrestrial_Perspective.pdf

To Carl Sagan (1934-1996), who was in some ways, a guru of belief in intelligent life, it’s obvious that there are “other starfolk” like us.

Regarding belief Allan Sandage (1926-2010), a world-renowned astronomer and contemporary of Sagan’s startled the scientific community: “Though he never stopped working, from the late 1960s Sandage largely disappeared from public view and stopped attending scientific conferences until 1983, when he staged a surprise appearance at a meeting in Vancouver. During his absence, he became a born-again Christian, reasoning that ‘I could not live a life full of cynicism. I chose to believe, and a peace of mind came over me.’”

Clearly, it was obvious to Sandage that God exists and that he chose to have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Let me place here, the definition of love: noun; 1. a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person. 2. a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend. 3. sexual passion or desire. 4. a person toward whom love is felt; beloved person; sweetheart. 5. used in direct address as a term of endearment, affection, or the like)

What is the logic of love? Why do we love? Why do we believe in love? No idea – yet the majority of us do believe in love, even if we are scientists.

I could add that those who believe that Humans have changed the climate of Earth through action or inaction are searching for something bigger than themselves. It appears to me that they want a “god” who is not personal, requires nothing of us but certain political, scientific, and sociological deeds and certainly has no claim on our thoughts, behaviors (outside, of course, behaviors that will “save the planet”), and is little more than a reflection of Humanity supercharged with the power to change the long-term climate of an entire planet.

This supercharged power to change the climate of a world has been granted to a force which masses 3 quadrillion kilograms. An immense amount, to be sure! But the mass of all Humanity is nothing compared to the mass of even our tiny planet, which weighs 6 septillion kilograms (quadrillion à quintillion à sextillion à septillion). How could something so lightweight have an effect on something so massive?

Humanity is as nothing compared to the Earth, even if we all squashed together in one spot, we wouldn’t make any difference to Earth’s orbit or spin or wobble. “Scientists” (as in some scientists) believe that the power of Anthropogenic Global Warming has been given to beings who are invisible from orbit; in fact beings whose greatest technological constructs are invisible from beyond its Moon.

*sigh*

The point of today’s essay is to point out to myself and anyone else who might be interested, that the part of us that “believes” something – even when there is a lack of evidence – is in all of us and that part seems to have sparked some of our most puzzling behaviors.

January 2, 2014

SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH #55: July 24, 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 clips, click on the label to the right, scroll down to and click OLDER ENTRIES seven or eight times. The FIRST entry is on the bottom of the last page.

Tommy Hastings and Freddie Merrill kept walking as the sun passed high noon. Freddie’s initial stride had faded to plodding and he moaned, saying, “Can’t we take a break soon?”

Tommy slugged his best friend, noticing for the first time that either he was imagining it or Freddie’s upper arm was bigger than he remembered. Freddie half-heartedly shoved him back. Tommy thought that push was a heckuva lot harder than it had ever been. He said, “I think your muscles are bigger.”

“What?”

“Your muscles. I think they’re bigger. You kinda look like Earl.”

The weary look on his face vanished as he said, “Really?”

“Yeah. That’s what I think.”

“Wow,” he said, turning back to look at Thunder Bay. He made a muscle and Tommy rolled his eyes. What was he thinking telling Freddie something stupid like that? Freddie said, “Do you think we should go back and see if Edwina needs to be rescued?” He squinted into the distance then pointed, saying, “Who’s that?”

Tommy spun around, squinted  and shouted, “It’s them!”

The boys sprinted back into the woods as the truck roared down the road toward them. With a shriek of brakes – or the Witch of Anoka – the truck stopped and five people dribbled out of the truck as if they were old men. They didn’t act like that very long, especially when the one who’d nearly strangled Freddie – Ilmari – pointed after them and shouted directions to the others. Scrambling up the slope into the woods, they called out after the boys in Finnish, “Pysähdy missä olet!

The boys ran as low to the ground as they could, but they’d been born and raised in the Cities. The only time they ran through forest was when they ran through the tree break in Loring Park and played hide-and-seek around Lake Calhoun. Canadian wilderness was something else entirely.

Heavy underbrush gave no clear view through the trees, and the uncounted white pines cast a thick shade on the ground. Where it was darkest, the brush was thinnest and at first they avoided the open spaces. Once they’d run into enough saplings, they started moving through the thinner brush. Massive boulders jutted from the rocky ground as well. Tommy nearly broke his ankle once, going down on one knee. He stayed down until Freddie yanked him to his feet again and they limped in a circle around a rock pile until they found a place they could slip in.

They crouched near an immense glacial boulder, panting. Tommy whispered, “What if they catch us?”

Freddie stared at him then said, “Now you’re sounding like me.”

Tommy stared back and finally said, “Yep.” More shouts from the woods toward the road made both of them hunch down. “Maybe we head back to the road.”

“The Anoka Witch can cast a spell on us then!”

“She’s not a witch,” Tommy spat.

“How do you know? How many witches you seen?”

More shouts closed their mouths. Tommy whispered, “Now we can’t run. We gotta stay here.”

It was past noon and hot, but both of them hunkered down as heavy tramping came toward them then passed them by. Freddie whispered back, “We can just stay here until the sun goes down.”

“Then what?” said Tommy.

“We’ll start walking back to Duluth,” said Freddie.

“That’s like a million miles! We drove and drove and drove – like for month or something.” Tommy snorted, “I guess it was five days – but still. How can we walk that far?” Beside him, Freddie shivered. “Don’t worry. We’ll hitchhike again.”

“What if these guys catch us on the road again?”

“You think they’re gonna drive up and down...” One of the Finns shouted nearby and both boys crouched lower to the ground, leaning together and closing their eyes. Tommy opened his but couldn’t see anyone. Even so, he could hear someone push their way through the brush somewhere near the pile of rocks.

There was a long silence when suddenly a man lurched into the clear around the rocks, pointed at them and shouted, “They’re here! They’re here!”

Tommy and Freddie launched themselves from their hiding place, charging the Finn, Ilmari...