April 29, 2016

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 81: Paolo At Burroughs

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.

Partially concealed by the base of an upthrust fault and aligned with a crack in a boulder resting at the base of the cliff, the man in the marsbug had a clear view of the second largest city on Mars. Burroughs Dome glittered at the center of the crater it called home. Thirty-five kilometers across, it was still dwarfed by the crater – as it was dwarfed in reputation by every other Dome on Mars. It had a bit of the reputation of an ancient Earth city called Calcutta…

It was home to one of the most notorious Humans ever to live on Mars.

Paolo Marcillon sat watching the empty air over the console. Natan Wallach, The Hero of the Faith Wars, was a powerful, charismatic man. His speech had been memorized by thousands of Martians, quoted in uncounted speeches, and made into hundreds of plaques, drinking vessels, and architectural epigraphs. It was a mesmerizing speech, powerful, and despite the fact that its spokesperson had vanished – assumed murdered by some religious zealot – was widely claimed to be the foundation of Martian civilization.

The truth was that it hadn’t been. Some underground believers – and antirevisionist historians – whispered that it had been written by Wallach’s father, a manipulative man whose embezzlement from the database of a small Dome had caused its financial collapse and eventual abandonment. The Ghost Dome was rarely visited, though the tale was often told…

Paolo’s pulse pounded in his ears. He had spent months in prayer. He had spent days in prayer. He had spent every moment he was awake on his way to this place in prayer. But the answer – the compulsion – had not lessened. He had to talk to Natan Wallach.

He had to talk to the Hero of the Faith Wars; a man who was a close to him as a brother. Because they WERE brothers and he hadn’t talked to Natan for years. Not blood-brothers, they’d been raised together from birth; Paolo’s parents had died the Blue Fever years. They’d been friends with the Wallach family and they’d taken the orphan four-year-old in. Their adolescence together had been very rocky.

Paolo took a deep breath. His brother looked to be barely twenty-five; though he was forty-six. Paolo was a year younger…and looked like he was in his late fifties. “Genetics,” he muttered. His parents hadn’t believed in gene-meddling. The mods were fine, eliminating cystic fibrosis, heart disease, near-sightedness, and the most common cancers – he’d been modified. But where that was all he’d had, Natan had had muscular enhancements, perception enhancements, and had a biological neural connect for digital data downloading, grown. A source of sore rivalry when they were kids; now a source of sadness.

 Paolo pursed his lips. He wasn’t getting any younger; his brother’s life wasn’t getting any less strange as far as he’d heard. His friends in Burroughs talked about a man calling himself Stepan…

With a sigh, Paolo suited up. He’d catch the inbound commuter lev-train from the outposts ranging along the heights of the crater ring, then try and discreetly snoop around to see what his big brother was really up to. He found himself hoping that the conversion was true.

He also found himself hoping that Natan – or Stepan, or whomever! – would also help him avoid their father…

April 27, 2016


https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/36/Cryobot.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: Isaac Asimov’s Three Kinds Of Science Fiction: “Gadget sci-fi: Man invents car, holds lecture on how it works.”

Khünbish Qureshi said, “Once we drill through the ice, we can begin extract the uranium. But we have to do it fast.” He tapped the wide pipe with his heavily armored hand. While there was no true atmosphere and the surface of the moon was exposed to the radiation sleet from Jupiter, they both wore flexible suits and had ridden to the surface on little more than a hovering plate.

“You think extracting a few metric tonnes of uranium from this moon would have any kind of effect at all?” asked Yelizavta Zaya. She bounced a few meters back after stomping her foot.

“I can’t say for sure.”

“Why not?”

“I’m a geologist...”

“You mean a Eurologist?”

“That makes me sound like a bladder specialist!”

“Well, it’s not Earth, so you can’t be a ‘geologist’.”

“There’s not a bladder in sight, either!”

Beneath their feet, the ice sang. On any other world, it would have been a quake, but here the ice vibrated, shifting, sliding along cracked edges. Immense crevasses sang bass that shook the world like a drum head; smaller ones sang faint hymns of joy; the smallest sang beyond the hearing of Humans.

Khünbish slapped the pipe again and said, “If there were living things under the surface, maybe my sucking the lifeblood from the water will make them sit up and take notice.”

“I doubt there’re sitting beings under our feet, Khun.”

He grimaced at the diminutive – Americans and Loonies made a habit of lopping parts of people’s names off willy-nilly – and said, “Whatever they’re doing, I’m hoping they notice.”

“And if there’s nothing under our feet but ice, water, uranium?”

“Then we stand to make a fortune and retire wherever we want to.” He bounced back as the ice began to sing again. As he fell to the surface, he grimaced and said, “Can you hear that?”

“Technically, I can’t hear anything. The vibrations from the ice are…”

“Literalist,” Khünbish said.

“I thought you Mongolians were literalists, but here I find you’re a pure romantic,” Yelizavta poked back. She sighed as the ice under her feet shook again.

Her partner froze in place and whispered, “I think I hear something…”

Names: ♀ Russia, Mongolian; ♂ Mongolian, Pakistan

April 24, 2016

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: How Do Writers Get Us To Slip Into An Alternate Reality? (Part 2)

https://i.ytimg.com/vi/OnWqxg34rC4/hqdefault.jpgUsing 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 #3678. The link is provided below…

Narrative Structure and Expectation

How do we enter stories? By what techniques do narratives pull us in? How do the expectations we have influence how we respond? I’ll break down some narrative techniques used in openings, and then go on to discuss how openings that match expectations can encourage us to keep reading while expectations that aren’t fulfilled can sometimes cause us to stop reading. How big a part does familiarity play in how well we can understand and adjust to a story? Finally, how do the things that we think we know but may be wrong about (as in history) make it easier or harder to be drawn into a book if our beliefs aren’t met? Kate Elliott

Author of plenty of books – though they all appear to be fantasy, which most of you know isn’t one of my favorite genres (I HAVE read the requisite classics by Lewis, Tolkien, LeGuin, Brooks, Card, Donaldson, Stroud, Clarke, Bull, Wynne Jones, and Nix)  – it’s obvious that Elliot must have a clear grasp of writing technique. In fact, looking at the questions above, I can’t imagine that she would have been able to cover more than ONE of them in the time apparently allotted for the session.

In another fact, I don’t know if you could ever definitively answer these…

As I’m approaching the end of the Sasquan Program Book, I think I’ll stretch it out a bit and jump off from each one of the questions posed by the programmers and look at what it means to me and possibly how I would answer it.

So: By what techniques do narratives pull us in?

I suppose the first one that comes to mind is point of view and/or tense that the story is written in.

First Person: “I asked Sam to help me with my Happy New Year mailing, and we somehow got the project done early during the last week of December in spite of our packed schedules. I’m quite proud of us and ended up calling the project ours instead of mine.”*

Second Person: “You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy.” (Opening lines of Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City (1984))

Third Person: “Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested”. [“He” is in the singular third-person masculine subjective case.]; “Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.” [“She” is in the singular third-person feminine subjective case.] “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” [“It” is in the singular third-person neuter subjective case.]*

There are arguments for every one of these points of view making the story seem more “immediate”. I could probably find arguments that would take down each POV as being clumsy and ineffective.

For ME however, I prefer third person. I’ll read first person, but the writer has to refrain from bending the rules. First person is SUPPOSED to be from the point of view of the narrator, so unless the narrator is on one of the moons of Saturn, they can’t know what’s going on there. This is the POV of how we live our own lives and frankly, I read to get away from this life.

Another technique is word choice – not in the sense that you have to pick the right words, that’s a “duh” statement – where the author chooses to write elaborately or simply.

Elaborate writing: “No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable.”

Simple: “The last gleaming sliver of Komarr’s true-sun melted out of sight behind the low hills on the western horizon. Lagging behind it in the vault of the heavens, the reflected fire of the solar mirror spring out in brilliant contrast to the darkening, purple-tinged blue. When Ekaterin had first viewed the hexagonal soletta-array from downside on Komarr’s surface, she’d immediately imagined it as a grand Winterfair ornament, hung in the sky like a snowflake made of stars, benign and consoling.”

Both paragraphs advance their story; both set up the world in which the story takes place.

But I’m drawn to one and *sigh* know that I “should” read the other. I even do the same with contemporary SF, one of my most recent “shoulds” begins this way: “We are barely past the orbit of Mars when Matjek figures out the truth about Narnia and helps me find Mieli’s trail.

"‘That can’t be the end!’ he says, holding up a book. It is a big, battered purple volume, with a circular window-like cover image that shows clashing armies. He has to lift it with both of his four-year-old hands. He struggles with its weight and finally slams it down onto the table in front of me.

"The Last Battle, by C.S. Lewis, I note with a sigh. That means difficult questions.

"For the past few subjective days, the tiny main vir of our ship, the Wardrobe, has been a calm place. I created it based on a dream Matjek told me about. It is an incense-scented labyrinth of high bookshelves full of haphazardly stacked books of all sizes and colours. Matjek and I usually sit at a rough wooden table in the small café area in the front, brightly lit by diffuse sunlight through the display windows.”

Aside from the fact that I tried to start the trilogy with the last book, I was instantly confused by the introduction of three characters: Matjek, Mieli, and the narrator. Then the author throws in a meaningless word without definition: “vir”.

And there I am: lost. I DID finish it, but it was as beyond the me of today, as JG Ballard’s book, VERMILLION SANDS was beyond me in 1972 when I was fourteen…

The lesson to myself:

1) Write in third person; it’s the tense I most enjoy and easiest to follow.

2) Write simply; it’s easier to follow the story line when you cut away the excess words.

3) Keep the point of view simple to begin with. I can add other POVs later, but to begin with, start with third person and a simple description.

April 21, 2016


http://cdn.c.photoshelter.com/img-get/I0000K6qGtnkwAJw/s/750/750/Delano-Terzani-Final-Art-page-08a.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.

Edwina Olds, most lately Lieutenant, WACS (ret.),  held out a hand to Tommy Hastings. They shook. She turned to Freddie Merrill and they shook.

She turned to Mr. Fairlaine, and instead of a handshake she snapped a salute. Startled, the old farmer returned it. He was breathing hard as she held her salute rigid until he dropped his hand. She dropped her. He whispered, “How did you know?”

She smiled, “I’d know an old soldier anywhere.”

His eyes widened as he said, “I was twenty-one when I got home.”

Nodding, she climbed up on the logging truck’s running board and lifted her chin to the boys. “Let’s go. We’ve got Socialists to catch before they commit a crime.”

Mr. Fairlaine said, “Thank you, ma’am.”

“Thank you, as well, Sir.” The truck rumbled, rattling as Ed gunned the engine. She slammed the door up just as a sliver of sunrise broke the horizon. She said, “Looks like it’s August the first, boys. Let’s get going.” They rolled out of the farmyard. Freddy stuck his arm out the window and waved wildly. Charlie waved back. Even Mr. Fairlaine lifted his hand in farewell.

Ed glanced at her watch. “Not quite six am yet. Three hours to the Cities. It won’t even be lunchtime.”

“But will we get there in time,” said Tommy, “to stop all those guys from hurting Mom?”

“What?” Freddie and Ed exclaimed in unison.

“The picture – the portrait thing – in the kitchen...”

Ed upshifted and the truck gathered speed. They passed through the tiny town of Glenn like it wasn’t even there. Pretty soon the road widened out, not quite two lanes either way, but not one single lane either. “Maybe it was J Edgar Hoover,” she said. Tommy looked at her, eyes bugging. But she laughed. “I’m kidding, kid!

Tommy said suddenly, “Arnie and Freddie said before though, that maybe Ma was with a man who was a socialist, and somebody took a picture of him shaking hands with a man who was a communist, right?” He looked at Freddie.
Ed leaned forward as well. “That’s still the best idea I heard about this whole thing.”

“But it don’t help my ma! If they get there first...”

“They won’t get there first,” said Ed.

“How do you know that?”

The truck roared along the road and she nodded to a smaller truck parked off to the side, its hood propped open. “Because I think that’s their truck broke down on the road!” All three of them started laughing as they roared south. Tommy stopped first. Then Ed. Finally Freddie stopped laughing. Ed said, “I just thought of something.”

“If their truck’s broke down, where were they?” said Tommy.

The cab was silent as the miles rolled by. It wasn’t long before they slowed to pass through Isle. Freddie said, “You don’t really need to slow down here.” He looked out the window at the southern shore of Mille Lacs Lake. “We were about here when the Witch of Anoka,” he glanced at Ed, “You remember her – she tried to hex you.” Ed laughed, nodding.

“Why not slow down then?”
"We seen here and some other witches here, plus there was people from the Mob here. A whole bunch of ‘em chased us out of one of the cabins!”

Ed shook her head, “Witches, mobsters, dairy farmers, me, Socialist Finns – everybody except me – chasing you from here to kingdom come! What a story this’ll be for your kids!”

“It ain’t a story!” Tommy exclaimed. “It’s all true!”

Ed shook her head, still grinning in the morning sunlight streaming through the truck window. “I know that and you know that, but when you try and tell someone about it they’ll think you’re crazy!”

“I don’t care about that! I just want to get home in time to save my mom from the Socialists!” The truck fell into silence again. Ed asked if they wanted to stop for breakfast in a little town called Page. She added, “I don’t think they’re going to be on the main road, Tommy. They don’t want to look like a mob – and they sure won’t get a ride if they all walk together! Even I wouldn’t pick them up.”

“They gotta be up to something!” he said. “Maybe they’re gonna steal a truck! Maybe they did last night and they’re already at my house, torturing Mom and Dad!”

“Tommy, calm down!” Ed said.

He sat back, scowling then finally said, “If I eat something, I’ll probably throw it up.” There was a long pause. “I just don’t want anything to happen to my mom.”

“I don’t, either,” she said.

“Why? You don’t even know her.”

Ed shrugged then let more miles pass before she said, “All I know that if she has such a great kid as you, she must be worth rescuing.”

The truck kept rolling in the bright light of day as a dark cloud descended inside the cab.

April 19, 2016


https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4a/Telomere_caps.gifEach 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. ? z Z

Current Event: “…theorize that the nuclear war destroyed the afterlife…”, “…some people...have studied and manipulated The Dark to such an extent that they've become functionally immortal…”

Functional immortality: “Research suggests that lobsters may not slow down, weaken, or lose fertility with age, and that older lobsters may be more fertile than younger lobsters. This longevity may be due to telomerase, an enzyme that repairs long repetitive sections of DNA sequences at the ends of chromosomes, referred to as telomeres. Telomerase is expressed by most vertebrates during embryonic stages but is generally absent from adult stages of life. However, unlike vertebrates, lobsters express telomerase as adults through most tissue, which has been suggested to be related to their longevity. Despite internet memes, lobsters are not immortal. Lobsters grow by molting which needs a lot of energy and the larger the shell the more energy, eventually the lobster dies from exhaustion during a molt. Older lobsters are known to stop molting which means the shell will become damaged, infected, or fall apart and they die.”

Juana de Forlán shook herself hard, took a deep breath and said, “I can feel the synthetic lobster juice in me…”

Shaking his head, Koegathe Melamu, “You can’t possibly feel a hundred milliliters of a transparent liquid  in your...”

“I know that!” Juana exclaimed. She shook her arms, “My head knows it, but my body says otherwise.” She took a deep breath, shuddering. “I feel like I’m getting younger by the moment.”

“It’s not an elixir of youth! If it worked the way we thought it should, the telomerase will let your cells keep dividing – more or less forever. But it’s not going to make you younger.”

She held out both of her hands, palms up, and said, “Might as well. I’m gonna live forever!”

Koegathe shook his head, saying, “Maybe – but we have no idea what the long-term effects of living forever as a lobster might be.” They both laughed, but after a few minutes, Koegathe reigned his mirth in when he noticed the pitch of his voice had been climbing. He took a deep breath then said, “Maybe that wasn’t as funny as it sounded.”

She shrugged, suddenly feeling light-headed.

"What's wrong?" Koegathe said, stepping toward her.

"I think I'm going to..." It seemed like the world around her rushed into a single dot of focused, bright light. Everything else was dark around her. The point of light remained steady for some time -- she wasn't sure how long because her *-sense of time was abruptly gone. Then the light moved toward her. She might have been moving toward the light. It didn't make any difference. It might have taken time. It might have happened instantaneously, she had no idea.

Once the light grew around her, she found herself standing on solid ground of pearly white. In a throne of the same pearly substance, there sat a being. She knew that it was Death. There was certainly some kind of harvest implement laying on the ground beside the throne, though it looked more like a silver weed whacker. Death didn't wear a robe, it -- he? -- wore solid work clothes, more or less like a technician in a computer manufacturing plant, though he didn't have a mask or gloves. He did have protective goggles pushed up on his head. Black, well-trimmed, wavy hair made it look like he was wearing a cap. The name badge clipped to his collar read, "Greaper".

"Cute," Juana said. "You're the Grim Reaper?" She rolled her eyes as only  a young woman who grew up in the booming first two decades of the 21st Century could.

He lifted a leg to drape it over the arm of the throne and said, "You've presented me with a problem I've never faced before, young lady."


"You're dying -- but you are functionally immortal -- and I have no idea what to do with you."

Names: Uruguay; Botswana