December 31, 2017

WRITING ADVICE: Can This Story Be SAVED? #19 BIZARRO FAMILY PROJECT (Submitted 8+ Times Since 2005, Revised Twice)

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 a famous children’s writer. In April of 2014, I figured I’d gotten enough publications that I could share some of the things I did “right”. I’ll keep that up, but I’m running out of pro-published stories. I don’t write full-time, nor do I make enough money with my writing to live off of it, but someone pays for and publishes ten percent of what I write. Hemingway’s quote above will remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales, but I’m adding this new series of posts because I want to carefully look at what I’ve done WRONG and see if I can fix it. As always, your comments are welcome!

ANALOG Tag Line:
Serena Lane is an eighth grader who has to do a "family project" for her social studies teacher, but when her grandmother dies unexpectedly in the middle of it, Serena is forced to discover if the people left behind are really the family they thought they were and documents it in THE BIZARRO FAMILY PROJECT.

Elevator Pitch (What Did I Think I Was Trying To Say?)
Are people with the same last name a family? Are people living under one roof a family? Are people who are related by blood always family? What if you’re sure of the answers one day and the next day, someone changed the questions?

Opening Line:
“Serena Lane sighed as she read what she’d just typed on her laptop.”

Onward:
Serena Lane sighed as she read what she’d just typed on her laptop. The first paragraph of the introduction of the Bizarro family was for Mr. Ledo, her eighth grade social studies teacher.
            “How do I explain me and Grandma and William and Matt and Canon Jane Owens to anyone?” she asked. The lime green sheet of tag board lying on her unmade bed said nothing. She sighed. Looking at it made her head hurt, but last night it was the only color The Grocery Warehouse had left.
            “This,” she said, turning her attention to the silk wall hanging of Samurai Deeper Kyo, “is a decent start to a bad project. I’d actually rather pull toenails out of my feet with a tweezers than do it but if I don’t, I’ll fail eighth grade.” Everyone at Carter Middle School said that failing the Family Project was a permanent daily trip to the counselor’s office and possible placement in the Secondary Academy for Lifetime Occupations. Teachers called it The Academy. Students called it the Special Academy for LOsers.
            For Serena, they’d probably drop her back a grade level, where she belonged despite the fact that her parents had petitioned to have her move up in third grade before they were both killed in a car accident. As far as that went, she had “adjusted well” according to Mr. Capan, her fourth and fifth grade teacher. Sixth grade had been a breeze. Serena picked up her seventh grade picture. “Ugh,” she grunted. Not a good year.

What Was I Trying To Say?
Today, for good or evil, “family” is whatever we say it is.

The Rest of the Story:
“No one who lives in the Forbusch Mansion Bed & Breakfast has the same last name. If the cops ever find out, we’ll all go to prison. My grandmother’s a former terrorist, her boyfriend is related to Jesse James, my cousin is a drunk driver and our live-in mystery writer was an FBI agent who only writes about bugs and how they are used to kill people. Me? I’m a juvenile delinquent. Ask anybody. We (drum roll please) are the Bizarro Family and this is our Project.

Grandma Esther, her boyfriend William Faulkner DeVries (though I never put the words ‘boyfriend’ and ‘grandma’ together until I moved in with them), me, Serena Lane, my frequently drunk cousin, Matt Jones, and the famous mystery writer, Canon Jane Owens are a weirdly mutated version of a regular family. I confess I like it this way, but it has its down side, too: none of us have to stay around. We’re all free to go or to be taken away at any time. It was the taking away part that freaked me out and made a mess of this poster. See, while I was doing the Project, Grandma Esther died. She was the one who held the rest of us together so I’m not sure, as of the writing of this paper, whether the Bizarro Family is still a real family…”

End Analysis:
In the end, they stay together, though not exactly as you’d expect…in fact, unless I go down and dig up the actual, paper novel downstairs, I’m not sure exactly how they all stayed together – just that they did.

Can This Story Be Saved?
I wrote the original story around the idea that one person could hold multiple people together into a cohesive unit and that once removed, the unit typically falls apart. It’s a “sort of” law of physics illustrated by what would happen to our Solar System if the Sun suddenly vanished. They planets would all fly off into space to eke out the rest of their meager lives.

Earth, of course would freeze solid and all life on it vanish (though there might be some simple forms that would exist near volcanic vents for a while. But complex life as we know it? Nope.

At any rate, my Wife and I have been binge-watching various TV shows and movie series. We currently started CHUCK; we’ll finish THE HOBBIT and the LORD OF THE RINGS movies tonight; we’re eagerly awaiting the premier of OCEANS EIGHT (an offshoot of OCEANS 11, 12, and 13); I have read Lois McMasters Bujold’s VORKOSIGAN books dozens of times; I’ve always been a fan of the M*A*S*H TV series (who wasn’t?); we’ve fallen for THE ORVILLE…I could go on, but the purpose of this brief review is to point to the importance of the “ensemble cast”.

I can vaguely remember hundreds of television series that started off with a cool premise and then flopped because the actors playing the characters didn’t gel. I can name at least one television series that started with an absurd premise, but because there was “something” about the ensemble cast, it worked – SCORPION.

There are plenty of YA books that worked only because the ENSEMBLE did – HUNGER GAMES springs to mind, as do the HARRY POTTER books. The idea for both series is neither new nor particularly amazing. It’s the people that pulled off the series. In HP, both the written characters AND the acting ensemble melded to form unforgettable adventures to which people have returned countless times.

So, my question for BIZARRO FAMILY PROJECT is “Why didn’t the characters as I wrote them ten years ago gel?”

Among the answers to that question is the one most important: I wasn’t a good enough writer to pull it off. Am I now? I don’t know, but I MIGHT try. I’ve got lots of irons in the fire; I’ve got lots of ideas to try and put together for a story. Do I want to go back in time and see what I can do with the series. I can tell you ONE thing I won’t do – pander to whatever social wind is wafting through the country at this point. Social winds typically lose their power unless the writer makes a current issue timeless. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is one such book. Wikipedia says of it, “The novel is renowned for its warmth and humor, despite dealing with the serious issues of rape and racial inequality. The narrator's father, Atticus Finch, has served as a moral hero for many readers and as a model of integrity for lawyers.”

Positives – the novel emphasized POSITIVES despite its horrific theme. Morals…I’m pretty sure we don’t talk about THOSE in 21st Century Western Society any more...are another theme. Despite the fact that race relations have changed since the novel was written (btw – “No, they haven’t gotten better. Different.”) yet the novel persists, despite the hit it took upon the publication of GO SET A WATCHMAN which was (as far as I can tell) widely panned as a first draft of MOCKINGBIRD.

How could I make something important out of BIZARRO FAMILY PROJECT? Do authors set out to make hit TV series, create fabulous ensemble casts, or write profound novels? No idea. Maybe they just try to do the best they can to tell the story that strikes them deeply – and if that’s the case, maybe I CAN rewrite this.

December 28, 2017

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 117: Paolo In 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. If you’d like to read it from beginning to end (70,000+ words as of now), drop me a line and I’ll send you the unedited version.


Judas said, “So some of these extraterrestrials wrote in metal on satellites and some wrote on stones – like the Ten Commandments? That doesn’t make any sense!”

Paolo nodded slowly. “I thought of one way it might.”

Judas frowned, clearly trying to parse what Paolo was certain of. “I don’t see it.”

Paolo hesitated. He was going to have to speak up sometime. Saying it out loud to one man would only risk a bloody nose rather than speaking to a group and risking a lynching. He said, “The satellite came first, probably scanning Mars for landing sites and that kind of thing, some sort of survey. Likely communication, the same way we use them; maybe surveillance of Phobos and Deimos. Maybe Earth – though there were likely only dinosaurs there at the time. They were most likely spying on Venus.”

“Venus? What was on Venus?”

“Another intelligence. You remember the Solar Explorer’s twelve year mission? They returned with evidence supporting that there was some sort of war that happened here between a civilization on Venus – that released a weapon or had a weapon released against it.”

He shook his head, scowling. “That’s a subject for a much longer discussion. Why would they turn around and write on rocks?”

“Because it was all they had left after they were marooned here, doomed to die.”

“Why would they be marooned on a dead planet?”

“Because Mars hasn’t always been dead. The Northern Hemisphere held Oceanus Borealis, the Paleo Ocean. It covered a third of the surface. There’s also strong evidence that Mars had a warm, dense atmosphere. Leaving behind a contingent of observers wouldn’t have appeared to be a problem. In fact, for a long time, it wasn’t. Then something huge nearly collided with Mars, stripping its atmosphere away and letting the oceans boil away into space. It wouldn’t have happened overnight, so the survivors would have fallen into panic, despair, and finally barbarism. The rest of the Solar system would have been in turmoil as well. If it happened sixty-five million years ago, it would explain the acceleration of dinosaur extinction on Earth. There’s even a chance that the something might have struck the moon of Venus, propelling it into a new Solar orbit, and laid on the planet a cataclysmic impact so destructive, it reversed the planet’s rotation…”

Judas hadn’t said a word and Paolo could see that for an instant, he’d grasped the vision. He suddenly shook his head violently, “Sheer speculation! I’d have used another ‘s’ word, but I gave up cussing for Lent.” He snorted, adding, “A pretty picture, I must say. But pure fantasy…”

Paolo added before he could nod in self-satisfaction, “Which happens to explain a whole lot of things. Including the Solar Explorer mission.”

Judas scowled. “We have more immediate problems – outside of recent history and ancient history. The mind police will be looking for you and they’ve already marked some of our Church members. They’ll be tagged again and some brought in for questioning.” He paused, adding, “They don’t question Burroughs citizens like they question citizens of Opportunity. Here, they use lead pipes.”

Paolo shuddered. “I’m sorry. There’s really only one thing to do, then.”

“What’s that?”

He walked down the corridor and popped the hatch again, saying, “I turn myself in.”


December 26, 2017

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 336

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. Regarding Fantasy, this insight was startling: “I see the fantasy genre as an ever-shifting metaphor for life in this world, an innocuous medium that allows the author to examine difficult, even controversial, subjects with impunity. Honor, religion, politics, nobility, integrity, greed—we’ve an endless list of ideals to be dissected and explored. And maybe learned from.” – Melissa McPhail.

Fantasy Trope: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Clarke’s Third Law (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ClarkesThirdLaw)
Current Event: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/magical-technologies-just-over-the-horizon/ “Real tech magic is simplicity plus awe.”
Jerusalem: “One of the oldest cities in the world, Jerusalem is considered one of the holiest cities as well. Its many museums and important artifacts bring tourists from all over the world, as well as the deep religious significance it holds. Jerusalem has been completely destroyed twice, attacked 52 times, and captured 44 times.”

Yosef Halabi, youngest captain of the revived Palestinian Liberation Army, stared at the whirling vortex even though it made him feel like he was going to throw up. The elders, every one a general or higher ranking, stared on in unconcealed anger. The most honored among their members had tried the vortex – and every one had died, writhing on the floor of the lab. Their shame was so great that their compatriots had simply shot them in the head.

The scientist – the lone survivor – had told them that only the young had the plastic brain engrams necessary to allow time travel into the past. He resisted flipping off his elders, instead, jumping feet first into the maelstrom. It was time to end the stalemate. The plan was to land a hundred years in the past, but his secret questioning of the survivor had let him know that it might in fact be a century, though it might be more, maybe less. Frankly, he found that he didn’t care. He jumped a flipped them off anyway, shouting…well, he’d wanted to shout, “Alahu akbar!” – because the crazy old men funding the project clearly only one God – Power – in their hearts. He would shout it “because it would strike fear in the hearts of the non-believers.” But the whirlwind cleared his lungs with a solar plexus kick.

Noa Avital sighed. Among the volunteers, she’d drawn the long straw. She was supposed to feel honored to leap blindly into the time vortex and happily agree to be thrown a hundred years into the past; possibly more, maybe less. She didn’t know and frankly, after fruitless negotiations with the leadership, she didn’t care. She jumped and as she did, began to shout, “F….” but the whirlwind cleared her lungs with a solar plexus kick.

Noa and Yosef materialized together, dropping thirty centimeters to land on their feet, then stagger ahead. Both of them also threw up immediately, though managed to remain standing.

Noa was first to recover. She looked at the young man standing across the room from her and said in sequence Hebrew, Arabic, French, English, and Spanish.

He looked up and said, “English will do.”

She nodded and said, “Palestinian?”

He took a breath to calm his roiling innards, admiring her iron constitution if she felt as crappy as he did, and said, “Yes. Israeli?”

“Of course. You’re here to kill me?”

“Not you specifically, but something like that.”

“The same, though I also happen to be a temporal scientist.”

He nodded and sighed. Of course. Every woman who had intrigued him in the least small way was bound to be a hundred times smarter than he was. He cursed, “Allah sayukhti min aldhy yardi…”

Noa added, “…waman hu biliasith 'anah sawf yadae fi altariq alsahih, Swarat 6:39.” – “Allah will lead into error whom he pleaseth, and whom He pleaseth He will put in the right way” (Sura 6:39)

He said, “You know Koran?”

She shrugged, “I know a lot of things.” She looked around, “What I don’t know is where we are.”

“In the past…” he began, but gulped back a surge from his stomach. He noticed she was adjusting better than he was. Fine then, smart woman, iron constitution – and Jewish as well.

“Obviously. But how far?”

“You’re the scientist.”

“Didn’t your scientists send you back?”

“‘Scientist.’ Singular. They shot all the rest.” She used very vulgar Hebrew, which he understood quite well. He couldn’t help but smile.

“What are you laughing at?”

“Nothing. I’m trying not to throw up on your feet.”

He saw the twitch on her lips before she said, “You’re awfully…not radical…for a time-traveling terrorist.”

He shook his head and countered, “You’re awfully not radical for a time-traveling terrorist, too.”

She paused for a long time, took a quick look around the room and said, “There’s nothing here I’d recognize as coming from the 21st Century.”

He did the same survey and frowned. “There should at least be a gun or knives – maybe a radio. This is supposed to be somewhere around 1948 or 1949.”

She nodded, pursed her lips, then went to a window and said something vulgar in all of the languages she’d tried on him to begin with. He held his breath to move as smoothly as he could to keep from jostling his queasy innards. He echoed her when he looked out the window – though he noticed for the first time that there was no glass involved here. It was cut from the stone or bricks and had no covering but a curtain pushed to one side.

They were in a city, that much was clear. But there were no antennae, and, his gaze flicked upward to confirm that there were arrow-straight contrails. It was silent below them and with a glance, he could see that there were no cars, bicycles, or scooters. Certainly no jets, motorcycles, automated mobiles, hoverboards, or gMod disks. “Where the hell are we?”

Pressure in the room seemed to peak abruptly, as if there’d been an explosion. When they both spun around, a bluish being floated above the ground. It said, “I have summoned you from the future – a future which has none of the problems of this cursed place!”

This time Yosef was the first to speak, “Where are we?”

“The same place you started from.”

“Not…”

The djinn, for that was clearly what it was, down to the ancient lamp sitting on the roughly carved floor, laughed and said, “It is possible; but this reality diverged from the one you are used to shortly after Creation. In this reality, science is a poor and suspect cousin of magic.” Abruptly, he djinn swelled and grew darker as the light in the room seemed to be sucked into it, “And in this reality, you have been condemned to death for your heretical beliefs in science…”

Names: ♀ Hebrew-Israeli ; Arab-Israeli

December 24, 2017

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” – An Easter Parable With a Science Fiction Connection…

NOT using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Helsinki, Finland in August 2017 (to which I be unable to go (until I retire from education)), I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. But not today. This explanation is reserved for when I dash “off topic”, sometimes reviewing movies, sometimes reviewing books, and other times taking up the spirit of a blog an old friend of mine used to keep called THE RANTING ROOM…

“The red light on my portaphone blinked not quite in time with the few Christmas lights I’d strung to decorate my spare apartment.”

This is how Jeff Kooistra’s story – “Easter Egg Hunt: A Christmas Story” (ANALOG SCIENCE FICTION & FACT, December 1997) begins. I’ve read this story at least 20 times since it was first published because, for some strange reason, it evokes in me the “true meaning” of Christmas.

No – not a wimpy secular attempt to re-write the meaning of God sending his only Son to Earth to redeem Humans from their sins. [(WARNING: Possibly Irritating (brief) Essay: I’m weary of repeated attempts to accuse Christianity of stealing various and sundry holy days, celebrations, symbols, and traditions. Humans constantly co-opt and adopt concepts from other cultures. Simple example is that hamburgers, a quintessential American food, originated in Germany. Macaroni and cheese was born here, in the US. We’ve coopted fajitas from the Mexican cattle ranges. The California Roll was adapted from sushi rolls in a Japanese restaurant in LA; fortune cookies as well. Most of the people in my part of the US don’t speak Spanish – but have no problem talking about their favorite taco, burrito, and tequila. A personal favorite of this family is popcorn – how much more American can you get than that? Probably not much more, though the land didn’t have that name when the Cochise tribe – or possibly the Aztecs – were using it regularly. We like to steal stuff. All of us. Atheists love to think that atheism is an outgrowth of Modern Scientific Thought, but it’s not. Even Wikipedia confirms its ancient (aka as “dumb savage”) origins…]

The true meaning it evokes is sacrifice – the main character, while he doesn’t make a sacrifice until the end of the story, eventually gives up the grim past he’s held onto since childhood. The anger and apathy has protected the yearning heart, which finally leads him to go out into a blizzard to save a place he originally had a very low opinion of.

A movie version of “A Christmas Carol” [(David Hugh Jones (as David Jones) David Hugh Jones (as David Jones); Writers: Peter Barnes (written for television by), Charles Dickens (novel)] is a classic story of an old man who has…um…walled his heart off with anger and apathy – in his case directed at Christmas. In the end, he…um sacrifices the packed anger because he realizes that it will lead only one place. But even more, his pain and anger and rejection of the sacrifice the Christ made at Christmas would lead not only to his own literal, grim, and friendless death; but to the death of a child. The child wouldn’t have the chance to even MAKE a choice to reject the true meaning of Christmas.

The second…well, the connection may seem tenuous at best until I tell you something about it…The actor who portrays Ebenezer Scrooge is Sir Patrick Stewart, known to science fiction fans the world over as Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise D from STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION.

So Ebenezer Scrooge [does anyone out there know what the word “Ebenezer” means? “The place Eben-Ezer, being the name of a stone raised by Samuel to commemorate a victory over the Philistines at Mizpeh (1 Sam. 7:12), from Hebrew een ezar, "stone of help," from een "stone" + ezer "help"...” There are lots of theories about where Ebenezer’s last name came from, but suffice it to say that in the English language, it has become synonymous with “miser” and “mean”], after conversations with time traveling specters, chooses a future more in line a man he once was.

His affliction was an ancient one that the Bible warns against: “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (I Timothy 6:10). Unlike the rest of us, he gets a second chance to alter one of the futures we saw.

He sacrificed; as Jake Morgan in “Easter Egg Hunt…” sacrificed – both men sacrificed their anger (which, I can tell you, is a comfortingly solid thing to hold onto) in order to make a positive change in their world. Ebenezer to save both himself and the life of an innocent; Jake to save both himself and the lives of many innocents. Ultimately, Jesus came to Earth to offer himself as a ransom; to save the lives of all Humanity.

And THAT is both a Christmas and an Easter message for this holiday season.


December 21, 2017

LOVE IN A TIME OF ALIEN INVASION 77: The Trials of Group One

On Earth, there are three Triads intending 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. All three intelligences hover on the edge of extinction. The merger of Human-Kiiote-Yown’Hoo into a van der Walls Society might not only save all three – but become something not even they could predict. Something entirely new...

The young experimental Triads are made up of the smallest primate tribe of Humans – Oscar and Xiomara; the smallest canine pack of Kiiote – six, pack leaders Qap and Xurf; and the smallest camelid herd of Yown’Hoo – a prime eleven, Dao-hi the Herd mother. 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.

“We had nearly fallen into stagnation when we encountered the Kiiote.”
“And we into internecine war when we encountered the Yown’Hoo.”
 “Yown’Hoo and Kiiote have been defending themselves for a thousand revolutions of our Sun.”
 “Together, we might do something none of us alone might have done…a destiny that included Yown’Hoo, Kiiote, and Human.” (2/19/2015)

Everyone looked to Commander Baksh expectantly. They figured he’d laugh and take over. What he did was even more chilling. He said, “Risking your life for the rest of us is the most mature thing I’ve ever seen you do, Oscar.” He nodded, “Well done.”

There was silence. All of us would have to be fit leaders eventually. We were learning what it took to direct our own destiny. We would have to act for the Triad – not for our individual peoples. Not even for ourselves personally. Our individual civilizations had failed us. We were all we had. We were the future. I just might not see that future. So I said, “Let’s go.”

I guess we weren’t really noisy, but it’s hard for nineteen living things to move silently; especially with two of them are in hiking boots and another ten of them have hooves. But we walked.

The tunnel was dark. “What was this  used for, Commander?” I asked.

“Utilities.”

“You mean like electricity and water and stuff?” Xio said. In the past, she would have ended up as some kind of civil or aerospace engineer. Too bad all we did these days was destroy the old stuff – she’d tell you it had been called infrastructure – and forget about going into space. Humans know exactly how far that got us.

“That, but more. Before things started to fall apart, there was a movement to take the stuff we depended on and protect it. Used to be that power lines, communications, and video and audio transmissions used fiber optic cables. They were vulnerable to weather and physical damage. So they started putting them underground. Problem up here in the northland, was freezing ground. So some utility companies created tunnel systems. This is one of those tunnels.”

We were moving faster than we had been trying to go overland, though not as fast as we had in the truck; though with the truck, we’d been a moving target and the burnt out shell was somewhere miles back. We passed the first tunnel and for some reason, I started to jog. Xio was right beside me. I’d forgotten how good she looked running and was watching her so closely, I nearly ran into a wall as the tunnel veered left – west. I stumbled.

Retired laughed out loud. Xio smirked. Fax had been on my heels and he gave a little affectionate nip. I just felt more confused. I picked up the pace more and as we passed the second exit, I sprinted. Stopping abruptly, I was shocked to see the Triad and Retired had done the same. I was gonna make a big deal about it, but kept my mouth shut. For some reason, I didn’t think Retired would have made a snarky comment.

I was wrong. He said, “I thought you were gonna run us all into the wall just to prove you were in charge.”

Fax heard it for sure, ‘cause he snorted. None of the Herd would have heard it because he pitched his voice too high. I ignored him and said, “Find a place to stash the first set of trackers.”

After a few minutes, one of the Pack’s puppies yipped, “I dropped mine in a hole.”

“Rat’s nest,” said another.

“Ew!” said Xio and moved closer to Retired. Great. She wanted him to protect her.

“Let’s get moving. Qap, Quilf, Towt, are you ready?” Three yips. I glanced at my watch – cellphones had disappeared a long time ago; before I was born, I guess. Mechanical watches survived the high energy, electromagnetic pulses the Yown’Hoo and Kiiote fought with. Humans hadn’t stood chance when all-out war broke over Earth. “Good luck, my friends.” No one else spoke as the three Kiiote, in four-legged form loped up the exit to the surface. It was winter and by now, it would be dark. Cold, probably, too. I wished I could go with them…

***

The three Kiiote emerged from a concealed exit at the bottom of a sand pit, ringed with scrubby pine, loping to the surface and instantly split up, doubling back a few times before trading directions to confuse the trail. Like Earthly canines, they were deeply scent animals. Unlike dogs and wolves, they could biologically manufacture scents, sometimes even consciously triggering certain scents by a series of thoughts Humans might have called mantras.

Scent mantras.
It wasn’t long before any Kiiote happening along – or deliberately set on them – would have lost the original scent in a heady mixture of sex stimulants and pup scent that would elicit protective scent blindness. Their world was as complex in scent as a Human’s was in color and a Yown’Hoo’s was in movement.

Pack Leader Qap used slang – Yipe*fart – to communicate with the mini-pack, “We head north. Follow the scent of cold and veer to the stirring of Plains and mountain snows.” Holding a loose formation three or four lengths apart, they made their way northwest – by Human orientation – keeping low to the ground and occasionally back tracking to confuse their trail.

Unfortunately, they had not arrived unnoticed…


December 19, 2017

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 335

Each Tuesday, rather than a POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY, I'd like to both challenge you and lend a helping hand. I generate more speculative and teen story ideas than I can ever use. My family rolls its collective eyes when I say, "Hang on a second! I just have to write down this idea..." Here, I'll include the initial inspiration (quote, website, podcast, etc.) and then a thought or two that came to mind. These will simply be seeds -- plant, nurture, fertilize, chemically treat, irradiate, test or stress them as you see fit. I only ask if you let me know if anything comes of them.

SF Trope: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AceCustom (An ace custom is a piece of technology that differs from the normal model due to being tweaked in order to better fit its user...typically Ace Pilots...)

Zsigmond Alajos Becskei pursed his lips to stare at the old man in the wheelchair in the distance and said, “How old did you say he was?”

Sissinnguaq Âviâja, standing beside him, tapped her tablet computer. The answer popped up in front of them and she said, “Sixty-one.”

Zsigmond shook his head, “Looks like he’s a hundred.”

“Radiation exposure can do that to a person,” she paused, “I think he looks sad.”

 Zsigmond snorted, “You’d look old, too if you were playing with radioactive materials in your backyard when you were sixteen, too.”

Sissinnguaq shook her head, “We didn’t have back yards in Iceland. They kept getting covered in volcanic ash.”

“At least you had something interesting going on in your country. My parents moved here because they were bored.”

“That’s stupid.”

“You’re stupid.”

“Right,” said Sissinnguaq, “Maybe we should talk to him before he dies. Like in a couple of minutes.”

“Can’t argue with that.” Zsigmond swallowed nervously even though he walked along the sidewalk and up to the nursing home’s security station.

The guard behind the window looked up and slid the palm scanned under the slot and said, “Name and purpose.”

Zsigmond hesitated – this would be the true test of his forgery – and covered it by saying, “I’ve never seen my grandfather before. What if I want to leave before I have to talk to him.”

The guard, who’d been looking bored up to now, shook his head. “Old age ain’t a disease kid. He’s not contagious. He’s your ma or your pa’s dad. You ain’t gonna catch nothing.”

Sissinnguaq leaned and said, “My boyfriend’s not afraid of his grandfather in that way. He’s just never seen anyone…”

“Save it, girl. Are you guys going in or are you gonna run away scared like most of the other snot-noses?”

“You are an incredibly rude man,” she said, slapping her hand down on the scanner.

“I didn’t get to be eighty-three by being a sweetheart.” He looked at Zsigmond, “Either slap the ID pad or get out of here, kid. I ain’t gettin’ younger.”

 Zsigmond sighed and laid his hand on the scanner. A moment later the guard pulled it back under, looked at the ID and raised his eyebrows, saying, “Good thing you’re here. I don’t think Dave has many more days left in him.” He typed at his solid keyboard and the first entry door swung open. Zsigmond and Sissinnguaq waited for the second door while the entryway disinfected them. A moment later, the guard said, “Computer says he’s out in the courtyard.”

“Thanks,” said Zsigmond. The headed into the nursing home as the door swung slowly inward. He whispered, “Now if he’ll only be able to remember the last step he screwed up, we can get the reactor started tonight and blow up the city in the morning...”

Names: ♀ Native, Iceland ; Hungary
Image: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b1/3,2,1_blast-off!_(15871161250).jpg/511px-3,2,1_blast-off!_(15871161250).jpg

December 17, 2017

Slice of PIE: Why the Incentivization of Charity May Separate Us From An Interstellar Federation

NOT using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Helsinki, Finland in August 2017 (to which I be unable to go (until I retire from education)), I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. But not today. This explanation is reserved for when I dash “off topic”, sometimes reviewing movies, sometimes reviewing books, and other times taking up the spirit of a blog an old friend of mine used to keep called THE RANTING ROOM…

The waves of horror as non-profit organizations predict the death of charity because people can no longer write their donations off on their taxes has reached tsunami proportions:






It also seems that granting tax break for “philanthropy”, while the law will celebrate its Centennial this year, has hardly had a unanimously benevolent history and been without criticism: http://www.taxhistory.org/thp/readings.nsf/ArtWeb/972168BEA0B68D8585257B160048DD4A?OpenDocument

In fact, I never really thought about how “benevolence” might have a powerful political impact. Stupid me…

I am reminded of the reason my daughter withdrew from working toward a full International Baccalaureate Diploma. There were a few reasons, but one was that while she had done hours of volunteer work of her own accord, there were too many hours that she’d done that were for our church. The Program wasn’t interested in people volunteering for causes they supported. The Program wanted volunteers for the causes THEY supported.

Another name for forcing individuals to work for a cause not their own in order to meet the requirements of an educational reward is conscription. Indentured servitude might be another phrase. Her question was, “Are you volunteering for something if it’s something that is required?” In other words, isn’t “mandatory volunteerism” an oxymoron?

She didn’t get the Diploma.

National Honor Society also has such requirements as well – along with doing volunteer work for causes a student personally believes in, they are required to “volunteer” for causes that the organization has deemed worthy.

Another thought, is philanthropy limited to wealthy civilizations? According to Wikipedia, there doesn’t seem to be any record of philanthropy prior to Europe in the 17th Century. Also, there appears to be a distinctive difference between philanthropy and charity, with philanthropy being much better than charity: “Philanthropy has distinguishing characteristics separate from charity; not all charity is philanthropy, or vice versa, though there is a recognized degree of overlap in practice. A difference commonly cited is that charity aims to relieve the pain of a particular social problem, whereas philanthropy attempts to address the root cause of the problem—the difference between the proverbial gift of a fish to a hungry person, versus teaching them how to fish.”

Charity has a far more ancient history dating back to (quite possibly) the dawn of recorded history; certainly since the Pharaohs instituted the construction of the pyramids (NOT a charitable act, BTW). The infographic below notes that charitable giving has been growing since then and has become foundational to western society.

So, why do I bring this up here? Aside from the fact that charitable giving is likely to survive the elimination of the tax credit and that there is something to be said for reducing the influence of donors over organizational policy…

I bring it up because I’ve never seen mentioned anywhere in a science fiction story or novel the possibility that aliens or alien civilizations might consider charitable and philanthropic giving – perhaps even SACRIFICIAL giving – to be the mark of mature civilization, one that indicates that the society in question has overcome its biology with mind.

Maybe aliens haven’t contacted up because we are, as a planet, as a species,  entirely too selfish? I mean, English speakers can read a book called, THE SELFISH GENE (by Richard Dawkins, world-famous atheist, author, and speaker) in which he expands and popularizes the ideas of WD Hamilton, to wit: “Despite the principle of 'survival of the fittest' the ultimate criterion which determines whether [a gene] G will spread is not whether the behavior is to the benefit of the behaver, but whether it is to the benefit of the gene G ...With altruism this will happen only if the affected individual is a relative of the altruist, therefore having an increased chance of carrying the gene.”

I’m adding this new answer to the list of answers to the Fermi Paradox (simply stated: “…a simple question that anyone looking out at the night sky has probably asked themselves: Where is everybody?...it’s a big universe, so why can’t we see life anywhere but here on Earth?”) https://cosmosmagazine.com/space/what-is-the-fermi-paradox I’ve written on Fermi’s Paradox before (http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2017/06/slice-of-pie-post-ideas-is-this-like.html)

So maybe aliens are waiting for us to start giving selflessly and when it seems that an unselfish gene has entered the pool, we’ll be contacted by an advanced civilization…

Just so you know, I have a story in mind that might explore this.


December 14, 2017

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 116: 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 and I’m sorry, but a number of them got deleted from the blog – go to SCIENCE FICTION: Martian Holiday on the right and scroll to the bottom for the first story. If you’d like to read it from beginning to end (90,000+ words as of now), drop me a line and I’ll send you the unedited version.

From the darkness of the underground station, vo’Maddux finally spoke, “I won’t do so any more. Your career in the Mayor’s office…”

Aster cut her off, “…was not anything I ever cared for. You would have it if I could give it away.” She paused, waiting for the other woman opened her mouth before she cut her off, “But I’m the one who has it and you won’t get rid of me as easily as you got rid of the other Consorts.”

There was a long pause, then vo’Maddux said, “A free bit of advice, sister,” she paused, “Don’t make the mistake I just made.”

Aster hummed and waited for the sound of receding footsteps, then followed after her, turning down the path suddenly lit by a faintly glowing, stylized letter, “I”. She smiled. Clearly the network of underground Artificial Humans was better organized than “natural born” Humans suspected. FardusAH had probably been monitoring her; and she likely had connections not only within the Mayor’s office, but…

The letter vanished then appeared in a side tunnel, flashing red once then vanishing. Clearly whoever was watching her was trying to tell her something. Or keeping her out of an ambush. Who would try and ambush her down here – aside from the obvious? Aster turned and started to move faster. She had no idea really where she was going. Were there underground Christians as well as Underground Inti? Who else maintained underground operations. For that matter, Mars was vast and most of it was uninhabited – at least that was the opinion of those living in the Domes. But while there were only Five Domes, there were another two dozen Stations and uncounted Outposts. Many were scientific in nature, doing the job of exploring Mars.

There were rumors of underground – literally – conclaves as well, those who lived off the grid, out from under the control of the Domes and the Mayors, and even out of view of the satellites that ringed the planet. She’d heard stories of Nomads, clans of Humans who had banded together with Artificial Humans and wandered the surface, pitching tents as the mood struck them.

There were lots of others on Mars, many who had no love for the Mayors or the Domes they ruled. She stopped. Who knew what she might be getting herself into by coming down here, openly declaring herself against vo’Maddux and with Artificials? Would her father be in danger because of her alliance – or was he already in danger because of his beliefs?

Aster continued to walk, flashing “I”s guiding her until she reached the sub-Dome elevator. She got in, rode ten levels up and stepped out – into the bright concentrated sunshine of midday. For a moment she stood blinking, then several blue Artificial Humans stepped up to her. One, an elderly male she’d never seen before, said, “Excuse me, Madame Consort, but the Mayor, his Excellency Etaraxis Ginunga-Gap has sent me, BondAH to collect you.”

Aster snorted. “And how did his Excellency know I would be exiting here?”

He lifted his chin and said, “His Excellency has his ways. Perhaps the best known is that he is always listening.” BondAH managed to keep his smile to a twitch of one corner of his lips.

Aster couldn’t control hers as she replied, “Message received.” She nodded, “I would be delighted to travel with you, Master BondAH.”

“Simply ‘BondAH’, if it please your Grace.”

She lifted and eyebrow and said, “It no longer pleases me, Master BondAH. It no longer pleases me.”


December 12, 2017

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 334

Each Tuesday, rather than a POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY, I'd like to both challenge you and lend a helping hand. I generate more speculative and teen story ideas than I can ever use. My family rolls its collective eyes when I say, "Hang on a second! I just have to write down this idea..." Here, I'll include the initial inspiration (quote, website, podcast, etc.) and then a thought or two that came to mind. These will simply be seeds -- plant, nurture, fertilize, chemically treat, irradiate, test or stress them as you see fit. I only ask if you let me know if anything comes of them.

H Trope: “Alucard” – Dracula Written Backward as a way of disguise…

“The word ‘monster’ comes from the Latin word monstrum which is an aberrant occurrence, usually biological, that was taken as a sign that something was wrong within the natural order,” read Wyndham D’Aquino.

“So, what are you trying to say?” said Charlotte Mogwai.

“Nothing,” said Wyndham, looking out the window at the house across the street. Small, run-down, it was just like the rest of the neighborhood. Pathetic. It was easier than looking at Charlotte. But he added, “You know, the fact is that it’s an aberrant occurrence.”

“Are you saying Dejario is a monster?” She snorted – a most unladylike sound, Wyndham thought – and said, “You’re just jealous!”

He shrugged and put down his tablet computer. “Yeah, but that doesn’t make Dejario any less a monster.”

“There is nothing wrong with the natural order! It’s just that...”

“It’s just that he’s not natural?”

“It’s not like he’s a vampire or a werewolf...”
“Those things aren’t even ‘monsters’ according to this definition! They were just made up in Hollywood to make money for the studios…” Wyndham said.

“So you’re saying that Godzilla was part of nature?” asked Charlotte.

He opened his mouth, paused to reconsider, then said, “Inasmuch as mutations are natural, Godzilla was.”

“Dracula’s natural?”

He shrugged, “Based on a real villain with as taste for bloody impalement of his enemies, then ‘yes’. Perverse but natural.”

Charlotte scowled, whipped out her tablet computer and said, “Cyclops, Mr. Hyde, Dracula, Frankenstein, Werewolf, Invisible Man, Mummy, Bigfoot, Dinosaurs, Zombies, King Kong, the Blob, CHUD, Cthulu, Kraken, Medusa, Triffid, Trolls, Freddy Krueger, Ghost, Hulk, Evil Clown, Leprechaun, Megalodon, Predator, Wolfman, Wyvern...”

“Stop! No, they’re not all natural!”

“So, he’s not a monster.”

“He is a monster!” Wyndham said. “Besides, his name is Namel B. Isivnieht, from Russia.”

“So? Lots of people have strange names! Especially when they come from Russia.”

“His name is The Invisible Name, backwards – what? You failed spelling and grammar in school as well as math?”

“I didn’t fail math!”

“I was there – you did! Big time!”

Charlotte was ready to slap his silly face off his silly head and raised her arm to do it when something gripped her wrist – and another part of her body – and said with a Nigerian accent, “You don’t have to worry about him anymore, girl!”

As she struggled against the unseen hands, Wyndham suddenly crumpled across the room, blood spattering out from the back of his head as he pitched forward. A woman’s voice said, “Get your hands off her, Name – or the next bullet will be for your head!”

Names: ♀ France/Germany, China; ♂ England, Portuguese

December 10, 2017

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: “Why Haven’t Schools Kept Up With Changes In Technology?” REALLY???????? Who Would Ask A Dumb Question Like This!

Using the Programme Guide of the World Science Fiction Convention in Helsinki Finland in August 2017 (to which I will be unable to go (until I retire from education)), I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Programme Guide. The link is provided below…


Sandra Manning: High school math and science in the bush of Alaska…she "loves science fiction".
Nick Falkner: Director of the Australian Smart Cities Consortium at the University of Adelaide and a member of the Computer Science Education Research Group…award-winning teacher…with a focus on increasing student participation, retention, and enthusiasm…education beyond the traditional borders of the University…support teachers across Australia
Carl: Instructional Designer (No idea what this is or what his qualifications are, if any…Without a stated last name, I couldn't check his credentials. I could call myself an “instructional designer” as well…)
Juliet Kemp: writer whose stories have been published in various anthologies and online magazines

I’ve written about this before and like Sandra Manning, I’m a public school teacher in a different kind of “bush” – I’m at a suburban district that shares a border with the toughest part of Minneapolis Public Schools. One in ten of our students come from a neighborhood where shootings are a matter of course and gunfire happens without comment:

“I’ve commented on “education” in the past: https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2011/09/possibly-irritating-essays-educating.html, https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2014/10/possibly-irritating-essays-science.html, https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2017/07/slice-of-pie-another-stab-at-teaching.html, https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2016/08/slice-of-pie-does-science-fiction-still.html...the aim of a corporate school would be to create educated workers, so the curriculum would be slanted at an angle designed to produce the best employees. This…is no different from the stated goal of public education as condensed by Mortimor Adler in 1982: “to the develop citizenship, [stimulate] personal growth or self-improvement, and occupational preparation.”

“Is that what we SHOULD be developing? Or should we be working to create men and women who can think for themselves? But THAT wouldn’t be testable, would it?” (http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2017/10/writing-advice-what-went-right-41.html)

The push now in the state of Minnesota where I live and work, is to create “The World’s Best Work Force” (http://education.state.mn.us/MDE/dse/wbwf/) and as far as I can tell, we are the only state in the Union that has such an educational goal.

So – the answer to the question above is that it’s a stupid question.

Truthfully? Schools are daycares for the “real” adults in the world (those who make “real” money making “real” decisions in “real” jobs; ie: the ones who make over $200000 a year in insurance, real estate, or investment. All other work is incidental.) Schools are places to warehouse children and feed, clothe, and teach them manners and appropriate respect for “real people”.

At the same time as they demand that schools do everything from clothe to medicate their children, they complain bitterly that schools are a waste of money and don’t create anything useful – these are the same people who love to share, support, and promulgate the aphorism, “Those who can, DO; those who CAN’T, teach.”

Because the children in the schools are not “real”, and the teachers in the schools aren’t “real”; the money in the schools isn’t “real” either. Education budgets are cut seemingly at random. When the buildings cannot cut any more teachers because crowd control would suffer, they are left with the least-expensive technology.

“Technology changes rapidly, school systems not so swiftly!” Duh! (or from the Simpson’s (I guess) “Doh!”) You can’t change technology without money. If the legislatures don’t appropriate enough money, then the technology will follow the dollar – balance what you WANT with what you can get. 

“Real” people will scream, “We’re giving you enough money! You’re just wasting it!” On…what, please give me a line-item veto for what we need to get rid of. (Besides superintendents and other “district office personnel, who are often paid some whole number of times more than the people in the schools who have a direct influence on the lives of the children who are supposed to be in this “World’s Best Workforce”…) I haven’t seen a whole lot of “waste” in the classrooms I’ve taught in over 30 years – oh, our counselors get cut back (in 2013-2014, Minnesota had the third worst student to counselor ratio: 1 counselor to every 743 students. That’s partly because unlike our sister-state, Wisconsin, most Minnesota schools don’t have primary school counselors.) because, you know, they’re totally useless dead weight. Music and Arts teachers as well. English (except what someone needs to DO THEIR JOB!) should stick to the basics. Math – who needs anything beyond add, subtract, multiply, divide? Basic checkbook math, get rid of anything beyond that! Same for science. What do kids need to know about science – certainly not biology much past how to keep the environment clean; chemistry? WTH is that good for? So really, public schools are a waste of money – at least as far as people with “real jobs” are concerned…

The end result is that very little, I might even say “no”, up-to-date technology reaches the schools, at least not the school I work at. That’s reserved for, you know, the schools supported by people with “real jobs”. You know, the dirty-word “p” ones.

So this “discussion”, I would guess (as I wasn’t there) focused on colleges and on pie-in-the-sky “wishing” about what we could do “if only” schools would correctly answer “What technology should schools be using now and how could the teachers be prepared to face the changes?”

By “face the changes”, I am going to make an inference based on the tone of the question as it was expressed in English. I infer the question to mean that technology will replace teachers and that we should “be prepared” to be replaced.

If that wasn’t the inference, then I’d love to know what the intent of the question was. If it meant “Will teachers be able to adapt to new, innovative technologies?” I can only speak of the time I went from using transparencies on an overhead projector to using a Smartboard® over a period of three months and after two weeks of intensive training and tech support – and answer that I made the change after using first a chalkboard, then a white board, then overheads, I skipped PowerPoint presentations and went directly to the Smartboard®. I was 54 years old and had been in the classroom for twenty-plus years. I think I can confidently answer, “Yes, they can.”

If they meant “Get out of the way, Meatbags, ‘REAL’ technology is here!” then I’d have to respond, “Hmmm. Who’s going to show student what to do, deal with broken hearts and frustrations, feed them, clothe them, take care of them from 6 am to 6 pm and provide direct policing during all hours of school operation? Oh, and train them to be athletes, good citizens, and fine people?

I wait with “real” bated breath to hear THAT answer.