August 30, 2015

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Future Pharma – How will biotechnology and genome research revolutionize pharmaceuticals? the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Spokane, August 2015, I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. This is event #2153. The link is provided below…

Future Pharma – How will biotechnology and genome research revolutionize pharmaceuticals? How can biotech be better integrated into fiction? This panel will help provide an understanding of the diversity of contemporary and theoretical pharmaceuticals and how biotechnological breakthroughs can help move a plot along. Heather Rose Jones (m), Peter Charron, Barry Gold

My first ever “published” science fiction story dealt with just this subject, back when I was a 9th grader in 1971. I remember my incredible success with this story because a girl in my Journalism class got really excited as I described my story, about a man-on-the-run from the Galactic Drug Corporation. As I read, the character commented that the company provided the purest form of any drug you could want.

She looked up at me and said, “Where are they?”

As I recall, I just gave her a blank a ninth grader I was about as “uncool” as you could possibly be: plaid, high-water slacks, bowl cut hair, hated blue jeans and pizza, read all the time...I had no idea what I was writing about, but I had somehow picked up on the prevailing culture enough to write the piece.

Since then, everyone I know has benefitted from biopharmacology: my wife takes human insulin produced by bacteria; my brother and father have stents in their hearts that had been coated with a substance that prevented the rejection of the foreign object; my brother-in-law who was born a hemophiliac, took freeze-dried Factor XIII in order to increase the clotting ability of his blood; I could go on, but there’s no reason to. The science fictional possibilities of pharmacology, biology, and biotech is undeniable.

I have a world where I’m exploring the possibilities right now. In my future, there are no aliens. There are also very few habitable planets (ever read the book, HABITABLE PLANETS FOR MAN? If you haven’t, here you go: This book not only inspired me, it lit a fire under me that hasn’t ever gone out. I LOVE alien worlds, aliens, and everything else about SF!)

In my future, Humans are modified to fit environments and Humanity has split into two factions – the Empire of Man and the Confluence of Humanity. The Empire refuses to admit that anyone who is less than 65% Original Human DNA is Human. The Confluence embraces the modification of the Human genome to whatever lengths it takes to serve the rest of Humanity.

Obviously there will be conflict, and my focal point is in the clouds of the super-Jovian, puffy-Jupiter, named River. I’ve had two stories published in this world, “The Baptism of Johnny Ferocious”, “The Prince of Blood and Spit”, plus the as-yet-unscheduled, “Into The Deaths”. I imagine I’ll collect them altogether someday.

But back to the point of this essay, we will continue to expand our use of “manufactured” biotech products and will continually be faced with the problem of limits. At what point do we draw back?

Case to point is the refusal by parents of technology that would allow a deaf child to hear. The argument is that “deafness is not a handicap or a disease”. Deaf Australia puts it this way: “...a [cochlear] implant ‘implies that deaf people are ill or incomplete individuals, are lonely and unhappy, cannot communicate effectively with others and are all desperately searching for a cure for their condition. [This] demeans deaf people, belittles their culture and language and makes no acknowledgment of the diversity of lives deaf people lead, or their many achievements.’”

If this is already an issue, what does the future hold?


August 27, 2015

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 72: Aster of Opportunity

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.

Aster Theil, former general secretary and assistant for the City of Opportunity, now Consort of the Mayor-for-Life, Etaraxis Ginunga-Gap, said, “The problem with the Orphan’s Ball is that it’s always excludes the people who have less power and low status – the people that orphans end up becoming. If the intent is to help the kids we all created, then shouldn’t we all be responsible to lift them up and help them meet the people they need to meet in order to grow up empowered?”

“But they aren’t even Human!” FardusAH exclaimed. “Some of the little freaks look like furless kangaroos!” She felt her face darken to black when she realized what she’d said. She leaned back in her chair. Aster fixed her with a look, though it wasn’t judgmental. It was compassionate, patient, and even worse, faintly challenging. FarduAH rushed through all of the things she might say to excuse herself and finally arrived at, “If Etaraxis lets you go – or worse – he should retire for a complete brain reboot.” Shaking her head, she added, “I can see exactly what you want to do.” Leaning forward, she fixed Aster with a gaze that could only be called voracious and said, “Where do I sign up?”

Aster leaned back a bit. The intensity of FardusAH’s response wasn’t what she’d expected. “What do you think I’m planning?”

FardusAH cleared her throat, leaned back and said, “Sorry about that.” She paused, made a face then said, “You’re planning to force a paradigm shift onto this whole sorry society we have here on Mars.”

Aster sat back, unconsciously mirroring FardusAH’s pose. Finally she said, “You’re right, of course. If we invite the orphans themselves to the gala, then they become the focus rather than the benevolence of the givers.” She recalled a scene from an ancient movie her father had watched over and over again. In it, the main character had said something similar: “If...he…really wants to help...why doesn't he give the money per plate to the inner-city schools and eat a little bit lighter that night..?” She could accomplish both goals at the same time.

FardusAH was nodding. “That would mean we need to get the press involved as well as the foster families.”

Aster nodded slowly, “Most of the foster families live out in Last Ring, don’t they?”

 “Ouch. I see your point…”

Aster grinned and said, “No, I don’t think you do.” FardusAH caught Aster’s gaze, held it, then grinned in response. Finally she said, “Oh, my.”

“Exactly. We’re going to mix classes; mix orphans and natural-borns; rich and poor; management and service...” They laughed abruptly together, neither one of them noticing the small man. His name was Shafter, and his eyes grew wide as he ducked back into the office. He’d just delivered a pile of encrypted, “Physical Transfer Only” chips to the Mayor’s desk – FardusAH had nodded him in with her typical, haughty demeanor – and he was on his way out when he heard the Consort and FardusAH talking. He loathed the Artificial Human – she acted like she was better than him! He was Human – he lived on the Rim, true, but that was just a matter of geography! He deserved better than some blue b...He listened, eyes growing wider until he couldn’t listen any more. He knew exactly where he had to go and exactly who he had to see. He straightened, tugged down the shirt of the penguin suit the Mayor insisted he wear and strode out past the woman and the inti. He also knew what the Mayor would do if he spoke the crude epithet out loud, but it was true! It was even a scientific word – it just meant the filthy inti had had all their introns removed – the non-coding sections of their Human DNA and were way less than pure Human. They couldn’t even reproduce without real Humans doing the hard work!

He’d just go see how much this little bit of intel would buy him at the source with Security Director vo’Maddux!

August 25, 2015

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 220 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: Back to school!

Asmunder Helguson stopped at the edge of the school ground.

Rynhildur Eggertsdóttir shoved him, “Oh, come on, you big baby.”

Asmunder swallowed hard and said, “Maybe I shouldn’t have watched those last five movies of the 30 Scariest School Movies of all time.”

She shouldered him, laughed, and said, “You think? Maybe you should listen to your best friend sometimes.”

Asmunder glanced at her. She looked away. He whispered, “I would if that Greenland shark hadn’t eaten him.” Rynhildur growled and shoved past him, ramming him into a garbage can. He called, “Ryn! Wait! I wasn’t thinking...”

She turned as she walked, saying, “Try thinking before you say mean things, Ass.” She kept turning and disappeared into Reykjavik High School. He cussed in one of the obscure languages – Basque – and took a step toward the school. He stopped and stepped back. People who didn’t know him couldn’t figure out why he refused to go into the school. Even the people who knew him accepted that he couldn’t go in, but still didn’t understand why he wouldn’t do it. “Can’t do it,” he muttered. He looked up at the third floor, the wide dormer with three windows. Even as he looked, he saw a faint, ghostly shadow pass into the school.

He was certain the Greenland shark that had murdered his best friend haunted his school. That it waited for him.

That it might be waiting for something else. Suddenly, high overhead, the head of the shark came out of the building, paused, looked down at him, then turned and re-entered the school, disappearing. Asmunder staggered backward, certain that the creature – the ghost – had truly horrible things in store for the students. He was quite sure there was one, special student the shark would be visiting...

Names: Iceland; Iceland

August 23, 2015

WRITING ADVICE: What Went RIGHT With “Invoking Fire” (Perihelion, November 2013) Guy Stewart #22

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!

This is a story I loved! (Not that I don’t love everything I write…) But this one was special for a few reasons. It didn’t make it into one of my “first tier” markets. Initially I wrote it for the anthology “Futuredaze”, though after it was reviewed as being most “meh”, I’m glad I didn’t.

The story allowed me to access a few of those “write what you know” things. It also allowed me to explore an area of my fiction where I’m REALLY unsure of the reaction I will bet when my second novel comes out this Fall.

I’ll start with the area I’m nervous about: I wrote a black, young adult male character.  Na’Rodney Jones Castillo-Vargas Daylight Hatshepsut (as should be obvious), has been strangely named. What no one ever asked was WHY he was named this way. So I’ll tell you here: a created American black name, standard “white” last name, Mexican mother-father last name, Native American name, Egyptian last name. I wanted him to NOT be “black” or “white” or “Mexican” or whatever. I wanted him to show the ethnic diversity several of my students show. I wanted him to be a new paradigm.

As it is, no one really cared, so my daring experiment went unnoticed. (My Autumn novel may not be so invisible – the main character is biracial and the IRRESPONSIBLE one is a white dude who left his son in the care of his black mom. “How can you get into the head of a black kid? Only black writers can possibly do that!!!!!!” Yeah, well, the black, high school, male reader who read it and commented extensively didn’t object – and offered comments that helped clarify THAT character…anyways, that’s the subject of an Advice column in the future…)

Na’Rodney lives up on the Iron Range, the Vermillion Range to be precise. In my version of the future a couple of things are happening that I’m concerned about. Again, the ideas went unremarked, anywhere. The first is that I have concerns about electronic books – a couple of concerns, actually. The first is that I wonder about the…shall we say… “external influences on manuscript fluidity”…the question being, what’s to stop electronic books being tampered with so that the text reflects the current political, sociological, psychological, or ideological “atmosphere”. I use a passage from Stephen King’s CARRIE as a prime example. The beginning of the book shows a bullying scene. In order to protect young minds from such horrific images, there are (I DO NOT DOUBT) those who would just as soon edit the scene. This would make paper, which is much harder to edit post-printing, the only externally verifiable source of a manuscript’s unchangeability.

Na’Rodney’s great-uncle was a proponent of storing works, as unchanged as possible, in a safe, distant place. In this case, the Erg of Bilma in Sahara. He sends his great-nephew on a quest, financed by contacts who will pay big credits for the original paper versions of books in a backpack Na’Rodney has to carry from northern Minnesota…in the company of his autistic brother and a REALLY annoying, genius young lady whom his great-uncle was also tutoring.

In case you were wondering, this is supposed to be the first chapter of a novel.

The second part of the story was that it took place in an atmosphere of profound change. Humans have finally decided to clean up the planet. They have the technology to build immense Vertical Villages, four kilometers tall and housing a million or so people apiece. On the Iron Range, where contemporary American society is already disassembling villages, townships, towns, and small cities – though in our current state of mind, we’re just abandoning them rather than recycling them...

So – Perihelion editor Sam Belatto (after “Futuredaze”, ANALOG, and ASIMOV’s passed on it) loved it, bought it, and published it.

Based on my meanderings above, you can probably figure out what when right here:
1) I love writing YA science fiction.
2) I covered several areas of concern: the “whiteness” of SF, the changeability of electronic documents, and (unstated) my concern that with the advent of ebooks, there will no longer be a steady source of paper books being sent to developing countries.
3) I kept submitting the story until someone bought it.

I’m going to write this novel someday. It’s just a matter of time. But I want to find a bigger market than that publishing my first novel (this coming Friday!!!!) I have ideas. I have concerns, but I need to keep Heinlein’s admonition firmly in mind: “If a writer does not entertain his readers, all he is producing is paper dirty on one side. I must always bear in mind that my prospective reader could spend his recreation money on beer rather than on my stories; I have to be aware every minute that I am competing for beer money - and that the customer does not have to buy.”

How am I doing so far?

August 21, 2015

JOURNEY TO THE PORTRAIT’S SECRET #75: July 30, 1946 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 was still staring at Freddie Merrill as the other boy nodded, not looking up from the place where Nils Wangenstein struggled to breathe. He was kneeling as Freddie patted his back then lifted the other boy’s arm, put it over his shoulders and stood. The two of them walked slowly past Tommy. He watched as they went into the cabin then followed after them.

Nil’s mom was on the phone. She said abruptly, “If you wait ‘til morning, they’ll be gone.” She listened, made a disgusted face then said, “Keeping your back side safe’s always what you were good at, Walter.” She hung the phone up hard, muttering, “That’ll give the gossips something to do tomorrow.” She looked over at the boys, “Go to bed. Walter’ll be out to pick you boys up at daybreak, so you’d best be ready to go.” She stomped across the kitchen, into another room and slammed the door.

Nils said, “Walter always makes her crazy.”

Tommy and Freddie nodded. Freddie said, “My dad drives me mom crazy, too.” The boys drifted into the bed room and when Nils turned out the light, dropped into the bed. All three of them were snoring a few minutes later.

They were woken up by pounding on the door. “Let’s go, boys! Breakfast in five minutes, then Walter’ll be here at five thirty!”

Somehow, they’d ended up in a heap, tangled arms, legs, and torsos. Rolling out of bed, they each ran to the bathroom, used it, and ran out. Sixty seconds later, they were in the kitchen. Three plates stacked with flapjacks, bacon, and sausages steamed on the table. “Eat fast, ‘cause when Walter gets here, you’ll be flying out like bats outta you know where.”

By the time they were done stuffing their faces, a sheriff’s squad car had pulled up. A large, red-faced man rolled out. Looking up at the brightening sky, shading the sun, he shouted, “Let’s go! Day’s gettin’ on!”

The boys scrambled to their feet, but Nils’ mother waved them down. “I’ll take care of our sheriff.” Wiping on her apron, she headed out the door. Tommy and Freddie stared. Nils grabbed the shoulders of their shirts and pulled them to their feet and backward to the room. When they were there, he said, “Get your stuff packed and get going.”

“What?” said Freddie.

“Mom and Walter’s gonna talk forever. If you don’t get on the road early, them crazies from Duluth is gonna catch you.” The boys nodded. “Just keep the clothes. Ma won’t mind. I got too much stuff anyway.” He looked at Freddie, nodded, then slugged Tommy in the shoulder. “Get goin’.”

Tommy started out the door. Freddie stayed a minute longer, slugged Nils in the shoulder then said, “Who knows. Maybe I’ll come back up next summer.”

Nils nodded, then said, “Hurry up. I’ll tell Ma you left. She’ll be OK with that.” He walked out of the room.

Freddie said, “Too bad he doesn’t living in the city.”

“He’d have been one of us.”

“Yep,” said Freddie. “Let’s go before the Communists wake up.”

“They’re Socialists.”

“Same thing,” said Freddie. The boys walked through the house. “She cooks good, too.”

“Better than my sister,” said Tommy.

Freddie laughed and said, “That’s not hard to do.” Tommy slugged him, feeling better. They slipped out the back door. “Which way do you suppose the road is?”

Tommy stopped. Freddie stopped beside him. The sun was up, slanting through a grove of widely spaced pine trees from their left. “That’s east,” Tommy said.


“So we go straight, keeping the sun on our left.” He started walking. Soon they reached a blacktop road going east-west. He turned and they walked into the sun until they reach a wider blacktop.
Freddie shaded his eyes, looked left, then right, “Sign says it’s fifty-six.” There were no cars. “Middle of the week, ain’t gonna be no one going nowhere.

“Sounds right.” He started walking. “We wait until someone that don’t speak Finnish stops to give us a ride.”

“Right.” They’d walked a mile or so when Freddie added, “Sorta gonna miss Nils.”

They kept walking on the silent road as the summer sun climbed slowly into the sky.