June 30, 2015


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: good vs evil If you’ve never read THE DARK IS RISING series by Susan Cooper – you should!
Current Event: http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/12/politics/ukraine-russia-sanctions-us-eu/

But this is just an idea day, so read the article above about the possibility of Vladimir Putin reassembling the old USSR out of its original annexed nations.

What if he was training a group of teens and then lost control of them to the demon Blud, who sows disorientation – chaos – wherever he goes… and a group of them met at an abandoned “reeducation camp” east of Moscow…to discover they were avatars of Perun, Morana, Triglav, and Belobog…and didn’t particularly WANT the Union to pull back together? What if they set out to stop Vladimir Putin, who, by all accounts is a devout Christian (http://hollowverse.com/vladimir-putin/)...

Names: All Russian or Polish... 

June 28, 2015


Using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in London, August 2014, I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. The link is provided below…The Music of the Spheres: Panelists discuss how music and our understanding of the universe

have developed, hand in hand. From historical concepts such as ‘Musica universalis’ and celestial spheres, through Kepler’s ‘Harmonici Mundi’ to modern harmonics and String Theory. With: Rachel Erickson (M), Joseph Norman, Catja Pafort, Isabella van Elferen, Hannu Rajaniemi...

I had a thought the other day...

Hmmm...I need to back up here before I launch into this essay.

Thesis: Every Human on Earth has grown up with music. “Music is found in every known culture, past and present, varying widely between times and places. Since all people of the world, including the most isolated tribal groups, have a form of music, it may be concluded that music is likely to have been present in the ancestral population prior to the dispersal of humans around the world. Consequently music may have been in existence for at least 55,000 years and the first music may have been invented in Africa and then evolved to become a fundamental constituent of human life.” (The Origins of Music, Nils Lennart Wallin, Björn Merker, Steven Brown (eds)).

Seeming non-sequitur: The school district I work for originally banned the use of headsets, cellphones, ipods, and any other electronic device during the school day. Battle was joined and eventually the district retreated. The thing is that it wasn’t only he students who fought on the side of music access. It was the young teachers as well. They wanted to be able to use their playlist whenever they wanted to...This revolution was virtually universal, championed by students with learning disabilities and no interest in school through students who scored perfectly on the ACT test and got straight As in all honors classes...

Seeming non-sequitur: I  had accordion lessons at an early age, switched to coronet for a very BRIEF sojourn, then discovered that vocal music was my forte (pardon the music pun). Not long after that, I discovered the guitar, and have in my possession an 11-string, Yamaha FG230 that is (at LEAST) 45 years old, in a case given to me by an ex-girlfriend then repaired by my brother, and travelled some million or so miles with me to various and sundry concerts. I have been in choirs since I can remember; in my case, from seventh grade onward (though it was probably before that!). I sang in a choir all the way through my second year of college, then in small groups for another decade, traveling not just in the US but in Canada, Nigeria, Cameroun, and Liberia – as well as Hawaii and Haiti – where I was privileged to hear music from very different traditions.  I am, as it were, no stranger to music.

Seeming non-sequitur: That said, I pose the following question: what if star-roving intelligence REQUIRED the admittedly off fusion of music and mathematics? Did anyone ask this question – it seems like a logical extension from “Panelists discuss how music and our understanding of the universe have developed, hand in hand.”

Posit: What if the development of music was a necessary component in the development of orbital mechanics, Titus-Bode Laws, and for taking advantage of  competing gravitational tugs...which create a vast network of passageways by which a spacecraft can travel over large distances while expending very little energy, “Grasping [Newton’s inverse-square] law, we can further derive equations which describe the motion of the sun, the planets and the Voyager spacecraft flying between them.” ?

Seeming non-sequitur: In his book, The New Music (Oxford University Press, 1987, pp 42-3), Reginald Smith Brindle says, “...mathematics is ‘the basis of sound’ and sound itself ‘in its musical aspects... exhibits a remarkable array of number properties’, simply because nature itself ‘is amazingly mathematical’.”

Conclusion: What if we are alone in the Universe because no one else has ever developed the fraternal twin fields of music and math?

June 23, 2015


http://public.media.smithsonianmag.com/legacy_blog/borg.jpgEach 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: inside a computer system

Amelia Qasoori curled her lower lip, tucking it under her teeth then tapped them as she stared at the Apple 27 inch Cinema Display screen. She tapped another key on her computer.

Artem Torres tossed his backpack on the lab table, peeked over her shoulder then went to his own computer and booted it up. His screen was much smaller however and there were multiple images. All of the images were of rats.

Amelia glanced over at him and wrinkled her nose and said, “I don’t know how you can stare at those ugly things all day long.”

He smirked at her and said, “I can open the cages and play with them if you’d like.”

“You’re both obscene and disgusting at the very same instant,” she said, leaning closer to her screen and tapping a section of an image. The screen was covered with tiny squares.

“What’s even more disgusting and obscene is that we’re trying to do the same thing with organic and inorganic matter.”

Amelia nodded slowly as she tapped another square then made an entry on an old-fashioned yellow notepad with an even older-fashioned pencil. She made a few more notes, then typed for several minutes. The images on the screen whirled wildly and when they were done, Artem leaned back on his lab stool, looked at the image and said, “I don’t see any difference.”

Amelia made a raspberry. “That’s because you’re a wetwareologist. You people couldn’t feel your way off a kindergartner’s graphing calculator.”

“That’s not true! I use computer modeling all the time!” He waved at his smaller computer screen. “Just because everything I do is reality instead of virtuality doesn’t mean it’s not important.”

“I’m not talking about ‘importance’ here, Art! I’m talking about relevance. What I do is relevant. What you do is...cute in a sort of old-fashioned way.”

From behind them, a stentorian voice spoke, “My two favorite high school geniuses continue to banter mindlessly, ignoring my strict instructions to MELD the techniques and technology to form something new.”

Artem and Amelia jumped to their feet, spinning around. In unison they said, “Hello, Dr. Willard.”

He nodded to them and passed between them. He was tall. Unusually tall, well over two meters tall. He patted both of them on their heads. “So, my tremendous twins, what do you have for me today?”

“Look, Dr. Willard, I can make a fine rat robot for you! There’s no need for...”

“Dr. Willard, if you get me some really great tech who won’t talk back every time I ask for something, I could have a ‘borg rat ready for you in two shakes of a…a...”

“A rat’s tail, Mr. Torres? There’s no need for me to have a biological brain, Ms. Qasoori?” He stood back and studied her screen. Then he stepped sideways and leaned forward to study Artem’s screen. Straightening, he said, “What I need, dear pupils, is a seamlessly integrated part organic-part inorganic creature to do a very, very interesting job.” He favored each one with a cold glare, then left the lab, adding without turning around, “A word from me can get you into the most select graduate study programs in the world.” He stopped in the doorway, and still without turning around, said, “A word form me can get you barred from the most pathetic study programs in the world.”

Names: ♀ Australian (NSW), Pakistan; Russian, Spanish

June 21, 2015

WRITING ADVICE: What Went RIGHT With “When Did ‘Science Fiction’ and ‘Apocalypse’ Become Interchangeable?” (SFWA Blog, July 11, 2012) Guy Stewart #19

In September of 2007, I started this blog with a bit of writing advice. A little over a year later, I discovered how little I knew about writing after hearing children’s writer, Lin Oliver speak at a convention hosted by the Minnesota Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Since then, I have shared (with their permission) and applied the writing wisdom of Lin Oliver, Jack McDevitt, Nathan Bransford, Mike Duran, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SL Veihl, Bruce Bethke, and Julie Czerneda. Together they write in genres broad and deep, and have acted as agents, editors, publishers, columnists, and teachers. Since then, I figured I’ve got enough publications now that I can share some of the things I did “right” and I’m busy sharing that with you.

While I don’t write full-time, nor do I make enough money with my writing to live off of it...neither do all of the professional writers above...someone pays for and publishes ten percent of what I write. When I started this blog, that was NOT true, so I may have reached a point where my own advice is reasonably good. We shall see! Hemingway’s quote above will now remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales! As always, your comments are welcome!

You’ll see the link to this one just below my banner above, so if you want to read it in its entirety, do it before you read what I did RIGHT to get it published.

First of all, I joined the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America about eleven years ago, right after my third major publication (http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2014/12/writing-advice-what-went-right-with-pig.html), this gave me a certain legitimacy that I couldn’t have gotten any other way. While I’ve variously regretted and reveled in having the membership, in the long run I’ve been honored to be part of this organization. Membership gave me access to all of its publications, including the blog, which is a SFWA-qualifying, paying market.

Secondly, I am passionate about young adults and the science fiction they read. I grew up on the hopeful futures of Robert A. Heinlein, Andre Norton, and Madeleine L’Engle and was dismayed by the number of doom-and-gloom books being published. Though I wondered if I was being just a crotchety old man, I was somewhat worried.

Third was that I regularly present at an annual local event called the Young Author’s Conference – that typically hosts three to four thousand young people over a period of four days on a university campus. Spectacular in every way, I give the Science Fiction & Fantasy presentation every year. The year I wrote the article, I asked my “kids” to shoot our words that meant “science fiction” to them. Of course there were the regulars, like robots, spaceships, aliens, Star Wars, and dozens of others, but after four days of three-sessions-a-day interaction, I discovered that in EVERY SINGLE GROUP, there was a consensus that science fiction meant apocalypse.

Worse than disheartening, I thought that this was a disaster for the future of the young readers in the class – because these young readers were going to be the young scientists, politicians, soldiers, and citizens of the future. Instead of growing up with visions of Gene Rodenberry’s UNITED FEDERATION OF PLANETS in their heads, they were growing up with visions of Suzanne Collins’ Panem as the template on which to build their own futures.

I wrote a short essay on it and sent it off to the SFWA blog – because if anyone could change that future, it was the writers represented by the organization. Twenty people responded to it – and about half of them grinned at my concern, saying (among other things): “I would be more worried about the apocalyptic trend if there wasn’t also a vampire trend. I don’t believe young people are really worried about vampires, so I’m not sure why I’d believe they are more worried than usual about the apocalypse.”

Valid point, but far too hopeful for my taste.

 So – what did I do right?

  • Joined “the club” (SFWA).
  • Had a passionate response to a subject.
  • Wrote an article.
Pretty simple this time, but there you go!

June 18, 2015


http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7427/12328323284_9247f7b3a9_b.jpgThis 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 looked at Freddie Merrill and bulged his eyes. Freddie said, “Sounds good. We’ll stay. But can we be in town before sun up?”

“No problem. Ma gets up early – makes me get up early, too. To take care of the place,” said Nilson Wangenstein.

“What place?” Freddie asked.

“We run an resort – the Thousand Lakes Inn.”

Tommy and Freddie looked at each other. Tommy said, “Is there anyone staying here?”

“It’s usually pretty quiet during the week and it’s still OK here – but a resort a mile back has a crazy group of guys stayin’ there. They talk funny, but Ma says it’s Finnish.”

“They’re Finnish!” Freddie said.

“I guess. They came here first, but we didn’t have enough room for all of them.”

“How many are there?”

Nilson shrugged, “I think Ma said too many to put all of ‘em in one cabin. She thinks that stuff like that is odd.”

“Stuff like what?” Freddie asked.

"When crowds of men travel together. Wasn’t like that during the war. Hardly anyone came up here to vacation. Mostly just families without dads and the really rich.” He shrugged, “Sometimes I like it when there are other guys here, though. Ma’s great, but I don’t have no brothers and most of the other guys my age are workin’ in town or on their farms in the summer. Sometimes someone shows up like you two did, but usually it’s pretty quiet.”

They reached the house and Nilson called through the screen door before he opened it, “Ma! I met a couple other guys who was fishin’, but their boat sank so I had to rescue ‘em. Can they stay the night then hitchhike back to their cabin in the morning?”

Once they were inside, a short, strong-looking woman walked out from a room in the back, wiping her hands on a towel. She glared at Tommy and Freddie, scowled and said, “Messing about with your boat, I’ll gather. Maybe too much beer as well.” She huffed then said, “I’ll have no boys drinkin’ beer in my home, and no carousing and loud noises. I’ve got paying customers tonight, and I need for them to tell their friends Thousand Lakes is the best place to stay on Mille Lacs.” If it would have been possible, her scowl would have beaten up both boys. They looked to Nilson, who shook his head a tiny bit.

Freddie said, “We can work for our bread, Mrs. Wangenstein. We can help.”

She pursed her lips, grunted, then looked at Nilson and said, “You need more friends like these boys. Offering to help to pay for your room and board is what’s proper. Not like those other friends of yours, coming in a expecting to be waited on hand and foot.” She sniffed. “Get changed and come on into the kitchen. I can feed you and you can all sleep in Nilson’s room for the night. Giant bed used to belong to me and the husband before he left me.” She turned and left them.

Nilson grunted, staring after her. “I always thought she wanted me and my friends to stay outta her hair.”

“I thought you didn’t have friends.”

Nilson shrugged, “No real ones, just summer ones. They rent a cabin here or at one of the other resorts on our part of Mille Lacs, we run into each other fishing or swimming. But they don’t stay long. In the end, they go back home and I’m still here.” He paused for a long time, then said, “When Kjel was here, we were each other’s best friends.” He jerked his head toward a door and said, “Come on. I’ll show you my dresser and you can pick out what you need. I don’t have anything fancy, but I figure neither of you have much that’s fancy, either.”

Nilson stayed with them as they changed, then said, “We should go. Mom’s got dinner up for us almost for sure. I’ll run out and get the fish on my stringer.” He disappeared and they heard the screen door slam shut a moment later. Tommy said, “Geez, I don’t know how I’d have made it to Canada and back without a friend.”

Freddie nodded. “I’d’a died of fright by now like a hundred times if I’d had to go there alone.”

They both nodded and went back out to the room. Nilson’s mom walked out and said, “Where’s Nils?” They all turned to the door when they heard a harsh scream...

June 16, 2015


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.

Tasmin Campbell cleared her ereader screen, turning it off. She said, “I wish something exciting would happen.”

Resolved Byram looked up from his iPad and said, “Finals not exciting enough for you?”

Tasmin rolled her eyes toward the blue sky of mid-spring Oxford University, “Of course it is, stupid. I just wish I could skip the drudgery and get right to the Far Side Observatory.”

Reso, as he was known to everyone but his mother, said, “You’re not hoping that one of the NEO’s smack us just before the exam, are you?”

She laughed, “Now THAT would be interesting!”

Reso shook his head. “Interesting, but not particularly helpful to either of our careers.”

“Point taken,” she said. “What if one of the NEOs wasn’t an asteroid but something else?”

He sat up from the blanket they shared. He’d leaned back, face to the sun and looked to be dozing off. He was abruptly awake. “What might they be --  in your twisted mind?”She tapped her reader. “What about eggs.”

“I’d love some!” he stood up. “Let’s go and you can fry them up in your cute little English way.”

“Not chicken eggs, you ninny. Cosmic eggs.”

“The Cosmic Ygg?”

She sighed in mock exasperation, adding, “I hate your American pretense of ignorance in certain subjects and actual ignorance in others!”

He laughed, “All right, I’ll bite. What eggs are you talking about?”

“Cthulhu eggs.”

He frowned. “Like HP Lovecraft?”

“And August Derleth, yes. What if the asteroids were eggs of Cthulhu and if one of them dropped on us, it broke open, releasing an eldritch abomination.”

Reso laughed. “I can’t believe you actually used the phrase, ‘eldritch abomination’ in a real conversation!”

Tasmin scowled, looking up to the sky. “We know that space holds mysteries. What if one of the mysteries we find there is that the mythos was true and Cthulhu was about to return?”

Even though the sun was shining hard and bright, when Reso looked up, he shivered.

Names: Contemporary England ; ♂ 17th Century New England  
Image: https://4316bd223ebdc131e650-eb3b436d25971e5860b39e72b0600342.ssl.cf1.rackcdn.com/images/hPMD92Ny

June 14, 2015

Slice of PIE: The “Waves” of Science Fiction

Using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in London this past August, I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. The link is provided below…

“Digital vigilante groups like Anonymous sprang to prominence a few years ago, but what have they achieved in that time? Scientology is still running, and banks are still being banks, while governments and companies are coming up with more and harsher laws to restrict digital rights. How do digital activists work around these restrictions? Do they have a future, and is it one that’s good for them, computing and the rest of us? Kin-Ming Looi (M), Cory Doctorow, Lilian Edwards, David Dingwall, Neil McKellar (PAGE 57)

Science fiction cycles...

As much as we (science fiction readers and writers) would LOVE to say we eschew cycles like the vampires, werewolves, paranormal romance, et al; we DO in fact have our own cute little set of cycles.

Take for example the Hugo Award kerfuffle. In a nutshell, it’s conservatives versus liberals, every bit as acrimonious as the current Congresses; Council, Parliament, and Court; Congresso Nacional; 内閣;on the rest of the planet. One side wants science fiction to be pure fun, the other wants it to be a tool for sociological change. I don’t have a problem with us doing both – but that’s a different issue.

I started reading SF just as the New Wave was breaking over the SF world. JG Ballard was one of my favorites, though I read Samuel R. Delaney, John Brunner, and Harlan Ellison as well. Supposedly, these authors pushed the limits of the general reading public and managed to puncture it, allowing science fiction into the “Literary World” with works like FARENHEIT 451, SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE, and THE LEFT HAND O F DARKNESS.

After the Wave passed over fandom, cyberpunk swelled right behind it. Named by Bruce Bethke in his short story of the same name, it examined the effect of the personal computer/personal access to computers had on society. Though his name got buried, it was because the present wave of science fiction was even then beginning far out to sea. More people associate Cyberpunk with Bruce Sterling, William Gibbs, and Pat Cadigan than any others, and it still has some influence today. An undercurrent of Cyberpunk might be Transhumanism, a cluster of stories and novels exploring what happens “next” in the evolution of Humanity once computers become intelligent and they are implanted into our bodies.

Last of all – at least as I see it – is the newest Wave, which appears to be one of Relevance. Science fiction has often marginalized those who are outside of the “white, male, wealthy” demographic.  Heroes of the stories I grew up with were almost exclusively guys. Heinlein didn’t have any black kids in his juvenile novels, nor did the “hidden female” writer, Andre Norton – and her novels had no girls in them as main characters. Anne McCaffrey allowed for some, but they were “conveniently” attached to some dominating male or other. The influential books of my nativity as a science fiction reader all let me view the future through the eyes of the demographic to which I belonged – wealthy, white, male.

Today, the backlash against my demographic is fierce – and ironically often championed by those very wealthy, white, male members of the First Demographic who are protecting the downtrodden and underrepresented readers of SF...and the loudest cry in the Hugo mess is that the challengers didn’t promote a diverse platform.

In essence, I think this Diversity Drive is good. It’s just being promoted the wrong way. The people who should be crying out loudest are young adults from diverse backgrounds. Yet I don’t see them flocking to read Alaya Dawn Johnson’s THE SUMMER PRINCE, which I loudly recommended for SFWA’s Andre Norton Award because the STORY was good and the color and sexual orientation of the main characters weren’t the raison d'être of the book – and I thought it would appeal to the students of the high school I work at. Despite the recommendations of the committee, SFWA voted to skip the recommendations of the Norton Committee and bestow the Award on Nalo Hopkinson for SISTER MINE. Don’t get me wrong, I love Hopkinson’s writing starting with her first novel, BROWN GIRL IN THE RING, but where there’s an abundance of urban fantasy with diverse POV characters; and there is a DROUGHT of science fiction with diverse POV characters.

This is the battle being fought now; the Wave attempting to rise. This is one of the main reasons the Hugo disaster has occurred...and ultimately, I think the real losers are going to be the young adults and new readers who will see the infighting as just another extension of the current angry, vituperative, and divisive politics of Left vs Right that has the world in its sharp and taloned grip.

Ultimately this is the saddest thing I’ve ever seen.