September 19, 2017

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 322

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: Dystopia Is Hard

Adéla Stoica hung her head. She’d practiced abject submission just like all the other teenagers in the Orientation Class did. Beside her, Enio Cassar did the same thing.

What the Master before them didn’t see was Adéla open her eyes and shoot a sideways glance.

This time she beat Enio to the punch and could barely hold in the giggle that bubbled up inside of her when he opened his eyes an instant later. They were supposed to be contemplating the worthlessness of their own lives in submission to the Great Cause. She sighed – an acceptable sound – because the Masters of the Great Cause thought they’d beaten everyone down.

Standing before the class, Master Farkas scowled at her. He said to the class in Esperanto, the Language of Submission, “Estas bone ke vi kontempli vian propran senvaloreco ĉiutage, kaj konsideru la grandecon de la Lando anstataŭe.”

This time Enio sighed. It was the motto of the regime, “It is good that you contemplate your own worthlessness every day, and consider the greatness of the Country instead.” The education of the youth after fourteen years of the Society of the Great Cause was predictable. Master Farkas continued, “It should make you feel the weight of that responsibility so deeply that your spirit groans with the burden of it. It is only through sacrifice to society that the individual might live best. It is only through society that all wisdom, all knowledge and all discovery might be directed by the National Science Foundation. Through that wisdom, humanity might live again in the luxury to which it had become accustomed.”

Enio muttered, “Ai mund të marrë zbetë e tij idiot horseshit gojën dhe të fus atë deri gomar e tij, ku ai erdhi nga." Like everyone else at the camp, their mother language was the one they cursed and made love in; Esperanto was the language they learned to mock in; English was the language everyone could communicate across ethnic walls in. Of course, there were to BE no ethnic walls because the Great Cause united all of North America into one Cause – the betterment of humanity.

It was too bad Master Farkas was also a linguist from the Old Order. His gaze arrested Enio and he said in the same language, “Merrni ass tuaj i dobët këtu lart tani, ju mut pak.” Enio’s eyes bulged as Master Farkas added, “Your girlfriend can come up here, too.”

“She’s not my girlfriend,” Enio blurted.

Adéla elbowed him and they stood their ground. The line behind theirs shoved them forward and the lines in front of them opened up. She looked at them and said, “Cowards.” But none of them looked the slightest bit afraid. They looked bored. Like they wanted something interesting to happen; kill the mold growing on their lives of dull sameness. Like jackals. When Master Farkas looked up at them though, their faces transformed to slack idiocy then morphed into hanging heads.

He gestured to them and led them out of the classroom, his white lab coat flapping behind him. Two other technicians wearing the shorter, lower-ranked blue lab coats went into the classroom to take his place. Leading them down a half dozen short flights of stairs, he stopped at a metal door and used his passkey to unlock it. Pushing it open, Adéla and Enio could see that a huge screen covered one wall and that a face filled the screen, looking at them. Master Farkas grabbed Enio’s arm and shoved him into the room. Enio sighed and walked in. “I can’t believe you’re doing this…” The door slammed ponderously.

He touched Adéla’s shoulder and said, “You’re next.”

She knew exactly what was coming and shook her head, remembering the really fascinating books she’d read as a precocious two year old. First she grabbed her older brother’s copy of THE HUNGER GAMES and read it, then the other six sequels. She fell in love with Scott Westerfeld’s UGLIES books. Devoured Haddix’s  THE HIDDEN. Every dystopian book she could find from HG Well’s TIME MACHINE to the seven LAST SURVIVORS books; she read and cherished in her heart.

Then the Great Cause overtook the countries of North America – and her life had been tedious boredom ever since...

Names: Czech, Romania ; ♂Albania, Malta
                                                                       

September 17, 2017

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: Does Science Fiction or Fantasy PROMOTE The Boring Viewpoint Character?

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…

The Appeal of the Bland Protagonist: Many popular books and series feature a fairly bland protagonist. The panelist discuss why bland protagonists are popular, how they inform reader identification with the protagonist, and what they like and don't like about it! Also, is it difficult to write bland protagonists?

Kari Sperring: fantasy writer
Caroline Stevermer: fantasy (YA) writer
Robert Silverberg: Ah! Ah! Ah! What I would have given to meet this writer in person! I read his books when I was a KID! (As an adult, I found a copy of REVOLT ON ALPHA C with its “original” Scholastic Book Club cover…)
Angus Watson: fantasy writer

Is there a reason all of the participants in this group write fantasy? Is it an unconscious bias indicating that fantasy stories are more likely to have bland characters than science fiction stories are?

Hmmm…because the first SF character I thought of was Miles Vorkosigan (Lois McMaster Bujold’s SF Universe hero). He’s absolutely NOT bland and while I’m certain I can’t get into his head and “feel like” a well-born aristocratic dwarf…I love the character. Lemme think…I’ve been reading widely lately, so what about Ada Palmer’s Mycroft Canner? A serial torturer/murderer is hardly bland, though in TOO LIKE THE LIGHTNING, he is very bland.

I read a very old Star Trek novel – the main character is NOT bland there, either. Hmmm…Paul Atreides in DUNE? Not bland. Ah! I have one, Toshio Ishikarwa in STARTIDE RISING is bland; normal, and not at all sure of himself. Mackenzie Connor WANTS to be bland, a salmon biologist, but she is anything but. Nope, she doesn’t count. Lessa of PERN? Nope, she’s queen of the planet in all but title.

OK – let’s look at fantasy. I don’t read much (almost always under the direct supervision of my daughter!), but based on what I have read, let’s have a go at it. Starting with the obvious: Harry Potter. Bland? Yup, even though he lives under the stairs, he’s the teased, abused, dreary, weary, whiny kid who lives in all of us. The Pevensie Kids – same thing. Granted, they live during the London Blitz of WWII, but so did a lot of others who didn’t slip into a wardrobe to find a magical land.

Let’s get more serious: Thomas Covenant, anti-hero in Stephen R. Donaldson’s remarkable THE CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT, UNBELIEVER, other than the fact that he’s a leper, he’s basically a normal, jerk of a guy. Bilbo and Frodo Baggins? “Normal”, uh…hobbits… who are neither heroes nor great – and in fact, Frodo was so close to destroying Middle Earth that only the fact that his boring valet saved his life kept Frodo from blowing all the hard work they’d done up to that point. After that, my fantasy memory gets pretty sketchy – PERDIDO STREET STATION I read ten years ago; Jonathan Stroud’s BARTIMAEUS books were grand, you can hardly call a demon “bland”, but Nathaniel himself is unremarkable in his world.

So – what’s the takeaway here?

Couple of things – fantasy main characters are average Mayras and Miguels. Science fiction main characters are superhuman Katniss’ and Peetas.

Also, based on the current and continuing popularity of fantasy, the bland protagonist is the choice of Twenty-first Century men and women. The superhuman has mostly lost its appeal except in certain cases.

Master Silverberg mashed fantasy and science fiction together when he created the MAJIPOOR CHRONICLES – a huge planet colonized by numerous alien races and Humans…which has technology either so advanced it’s indistinguishable from magic, or medieval technology of castles, kings, and knights. However, as I reflect on it, the viewpoint character, Valentine is both a bland and a superhuman character. China Miéville does the same thing in PERDIDO STREET STATION – mixing fantasy and steampunk technology. Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin is a dull and boring scientist in the city of New Crobuzon…who also does magic.

Creating boring characters?

Easy peasy – because us writers as a group are pretty boring! So, if I want to write fantasy, I start with a boring person. If I write science fiction, I need a superhuman (a transhuman, I suppose).

Sheesh…this explains ALL KINDS OF TROUBLE I’VE BEEN HAVING LATELY! My SF protags have all been normal people, boring people…now I have to go back and look at what it is I’ve had published recently – but right off the bat, the main character in my most recent ANALOG story is a Mayan princess…


September 14, 2017

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 110: DaneelAH & Company 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 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. They are HanAH, the security expert (m); DaneelAH, xenoarchaeologist (m); AzAH, language expert (f); MishAH, pattern recognition (f).

After grabbing the Artificial Human boy, she released him into HanAH’s tender embrace – a solid grip on the boy’s upper arm. “Are you an agent of Paolo Marcillon?”

“Who?”

“Paolo – an underground Christian agitator who’s wanted for sedition and terroristic actions.”

“No! I ain’t heard a no Polo! I work with the Rim Preacher!”

DaneelAH stepped up, gesturing HanAH to release the boy. Squatting down, he took the boy by both shoulders and said, “Your master…former master!” he said when the boy’s shoulders tensed. He loosened his grip. “Your former master is a Christian?”

The boy twisted free and DaneelAH let him go. HanAH and MishAH were close by. He glanced at them then shook his torso. “I guess, ‘cept I don’t know what that means. Zactly. I just know he natural born, but he ain’t like all the others. He’s good. All them others is bad.”

"Not every natural born is bad," DaneelAH muttered, looking down at the blue boy.

"Yeah. Stepan ain't. He's just sorta like a babe out where I live. But he do have connections in the HOD,” said the boy.

"The HOD?" HanAH said. “And you’re rather free with a Natural Born’s name.” He scowled down at the boy.

"Stepan calls me Quinn. If he do it, he don’t mind if I do.” He shrugged and continued, “Yeah, we was in the Home Owner's District. We were there 'cause he had to meet with some old guy." He shrugged. "That was weird. They chased him out 'cause he wasn't someone they expected him to be."

"What's that supposed to mean?" AzAH said.

"When we was there, they kept calling him somebody named ‘Natan Wallach.’"

The vat mates looked to each other, then down at the boy, stunned. DaneelAH finally managed, "Can you take us to your preacher friend?"

He shrugged again, “Sure. He be happy to see more of us at his roof farm.” He looked up at them, scowling, “Why do you want to see him?” His gaze narrowed to suspicion, “You gonna do something to him? ‘Cuz if that’s what you’re plannin’, I’ll make sure something happens to you – now, on our way there, or after you hurt him. He’s my…” he paused. “He’s my pastor. You mess with him and you mess with me.”

For an instant, the four vat mates looked at each other, tempted to laugh. Then Quinn stomped on HanAH’s instep. He drew back to strike the boy, but before DaneelAH could grab his wrist, the boy dropped to the floor, scampered between MishAH’s legs, biting her ankle; he swept his leg under AzAH, making his stumble and before he could move, DaneelAH found the boy holding a shard of glass against his anterior trial artery.

“If I push this just hard enough,” he said without any trace of a burr or street-talk, “You’ll bleed to death in five minutes.”

DaneelAH was careful not to move a muscle as he said, “We have no interest in hurting your pastor nor of exposing him. We want to find out if he knows where we can contact a man named Paolo Marcillon, who is also a Christian…”

“You mean like my pastor?”

DaneelAH raised an eyebrow. “You believe that your pastor is one of those?” He lowered his voice, “That’s illegal you know.”

The boy pricked DaneelAH’s foot, making him yelp as AzAH said, “Quit teasing him!”

Quinn stood up and said, “So being one of these Christian things is illegal?”

“Yes, it is,” said HanAH gruffly. “And being a Christian inti is more illegal, still! So don’t go getting ideas!”

MishAH smiled and said, “I think he’s just gone way past getting ideas, brother.”

HanAH grunted as Quinn said, “So, you guys Christians, too?”

“I’m not,” said HanAH.

MishAH and AzAH looked at each other and said, “Undecided,” in unison.

Quinn looked up at DaneelAH, “You ain’t sayin’ much, mister.”

“I’m not a ‘mister’, I’m a heyou!” He twisted his mouth to one side, sighed and said, “I suppose I may nearly be one.”

“Yeah,” said Quinn matter-of-factly, “I’m mostly pretty close, too.”

The sisters laughed. Quinn bristled which made them laugh harder. Finally AzAH said, “No disrespect meant, young Quinn.”

“Disrespect taken!”

MishAH said, “It’s just that you sound like we do when we talk about these Christians. We never meant to attach ourselves to one – and now we find we’re entangled with two.”

“I ain’t never seen no one named like you said, that Paul Oh. Stepan never said nothin’ about him, neither.”

“Who’s Stepan?” HanAH said.

“That ain’t important no more.”

“Why?” DaneelAH said.

“‘Cause he gone be dead if you don’t come with me.”

“What?”

“A monster in the warehouse done eat him!” and with that blurt, Quinn broke down, weeping.


September 12, 2017

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 321

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.


Antonia Dobre said, “Vampires are imaginary and, to tell the truth, were overdone once second after Bram Stoker published DRACULA and someone else started a vampire story.”

Mihai Barbu said, “It doesn’t matter if I agree or disagree, I want you to tell me how many times in the last month someone has asked you if you ever seen a ‘real’ vampire as soon as they find out you grew up in the Transylvanian Mountains.”

“No.”

Mihai busted out laughing, “See?”

“See what? That people who aren’t from Romania are idiots?”

He frowned, touched her arm and said, “Hey, Tonia, what’s wrong?”

She jerked her arm away, slapping his hand at the same time, “Don’t touch me!”

Mihai hooked his foot around the leg of a nearby chair, pulling it toward them. “Standing in the middle of the Transylvania Youth Hostel is no way to work out our problems.”

“I don’t have problems!”

“Not you!” he said, “Your disposition is always this sunny.” He snagged another chair and gestured for her to have a seat.”

She glare at him and finally cracked a sickly smile, dropping down on the chair.

“What’s wrong?” asked Mihai, sitting down.

She threw up her hands, than rotated one palm up. There was a bandage on it. “I got bit.”

“By what?”

She gave him an exasperated look, “A bat – what else?”

He shrugged, “A goat?”

That surprised a laugh from her. Then she grew serious again. “Really. The bat’s got to be sick.”

“Why’s that?”

“I’m not speaking or hearing right.”

Mihai suddenly realized that he hadn’t actually heard her speak the last two words. He’d read her lips as he did when his airline mechanic father had him working with him under the jet engines of at the airport. At the same time though, the hairs  on the back of his neck had perked up – just like they did when the sonar security scanner swept over him when he was being scanned before going into the same airport. He said, “Are you speaking ultrasonically?”

“I…” she stopped, eyes brimming, then managed, “I think so…”

Names: + Romania

September 10, 2017

WRITING ADVICE: Can This Story Be SAVED? #16: “A Time To Heal”/"The Body of Man, Given For You" (Submitted 9 Times Since 2013)

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, 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:
Would you be willing to give up your life for something you weren’t sure you believed in?

Elevator Pitch (What Did I Think I Was Trying To Say?)
Noah Bemisemagak ran from a horrible incident he’d precipitated as a teacher to an interstellar situation that’s not that different from the one he’d fled.

Opening Line:
“No one ever bothered to ask.”
Onward:
“Going to the Shabe Captain’s lavish dinner party was the only way Noah Bemisemagak could leave behind the Guru Suicides and the Humans and Sentients who obsessed over them. His path to Mars, interstellar space, danger, and martyrdom led first through this dinner party. He closed his eyes. If Earth Government had given him a choice between the party and leading a group of extreme biker teens on a first contact mission with aliens who looked like Hallucigenians on steroids while he drove a wheelchair, he’d have taken the wheelchair and the teenagers. They hadn’t.

“Nowhere in his application to Shabe-Human Contact and Debt Reduction – SHuCADRe, the Cadre for short – did it bother to ask if he enjoyed parties. He didn’t.

"In briefs on the bed of his two-room suite, he snorted. No sane adult would have given him the chance to work with teens, bikes, and wheelchairs.  Four of his students had killed themselves jumping from the upper levels of the Minneapolis-St Paul Vertical Village with badly home-made hang gliders. He was the guru who’d written the query markers leading to their unguided experiment. His poor judgment was common knowledge. That the kids had hacked into the query marker trail of a student who had the skills and support necessary to do all of those things successfully was much less well known. Nine years after the event, no one bothered asking. That may have been because the middle seven of those years, he’d been drunk or stoned.”

What Was I Trying To Say?
If only I’d done the tag line and elevator pitch BEFORE I wrote the story, I might not have had so much trouble reigning it in. In fact, I think I’m going to go do that for my current work in progress right now…

The Rest of the Story:
Noah does WAY too much after this point – he runs into a survivor from his past and her guardian, he’s introduced to a BUNCH of weird aliens, meets a good kid named Dale who is WAY more than he appears to be, a political situation where an Iroquois Republic and First Nations Vertical Village wants to secede from Earth and have its own representation in the Unity, the beginnings of the United Faith In Humanity pogroms, the four Divisions of Earth’s united government, fractures in the Shabe (aliens to whom Earth owes a deep debt), interstellar politics, religion – Human and alien (and my main character is a Christian), the tenets of the United Faith in Humanity, introduce a new aphorism: “‘Never read into an alien, Human intent or purpose.’”, Noah gets lost, meets objections to his work at the Voyageurs Gray Wolf Institute, “just happens” to see the kid being kidnapped (did I mention the kid was in a wheelchair???), nine pages before the end of this “story” we come to the mystery, introduces ANOTHER key concept of the alien associations Humans find themselves in: “As you are Sentient-but-not-Sane, the ritual practices laid out by our beliefs are safe from exposure to public judgment or censure as no Sentient member of the Unity would take anything you told them to be truth. Your observations of our worship service may instructive and allow you to lead the evolution of your people into Sentience.”, he witnesses an alien communion service after sacrificing his own body in place of the original handicapped victim, saves her life and is promoted to Sentience by the aliens, almost gets arrested for kidnapping the former student, the Shabe Reformation, and finally – how does all of this connect together…and finds out Dale is a major in the Combined Forces of Earth assigned to ALL of the issues above…

End Analysis:
This is a blueprint for a series of novels, so there’s NOTHING that can be done to save this story because it’s three or four novels; prequels to my novel, OUT OF THE DEBTOR STARS (which I will soon submit to Baen Books…where it will stay for a year) while I look for another agent.

Can This Story Be Saved?
In a word, “No.” It’s not a story.

“But…”

It can be broken into novels and I can tell just the one story without all the rest wrapped around it. I like Noah. I like Dale. I can slim it down to that simple story and Noah’s meeting with the weird alien Ybrayith. We’ll see if I do.


September 8, 2017

LOVE IN A TIME OF ALIEN INVASION Chapter 70

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)

Before they started their war, both the Yown’Hoo and the Kiiote had explored the galaxy and knew that all it was, was the Kiiote, the Yown’Hoo…and Humans. [AUTHOR’S NOTE: THERE ARE ALSO THE TCH – A FRIGID-FORM, CRYSTALLINE HIVE MIND; AND THE BAHWOOH, THE REMANT OF A BALLOON INTELLIGENCE THAT ONCE RULED THE MILKY WAY BUT COLLAPSED FOR MYSTERIOUS REASONS AND INHABITS ONLY MASSIVE BROWN DWARF STARS] Some whack-a-doodles on the home worlds decided that it was their manifest destiny to get rid of the inferior Other and the mutual feeling spawned their war.

We’re just an afterthought because Earth was the perfect place for both of them to reproduce. Plus they got smart babysitters into the deal so they could continue to fight and make new soldiers.

I know. It sounds sick, but I can’t judge, either. As far as I can see, it’s what Humans did to the Korean peninsula two hundred years ago.

We had to fix this; not just the aliens, but Humans as well. Humans have a long, long history of hatred and persecution. Usually the ones persecuting were certain they were right. They once thought they had a god on their side. Then they had science on their side. Both belief systems led us to the brink of war or directly into one.

All three of us had to learn how to get along. We had to change the future or it would just be more of the past. I stopped my charge north to wait for the Triad, its guardians and its teachers.

By the time they caught up, I was in my right mind again. Maybe I’d been OK all along. But now I think I knew where I was going.

I was gonna lead.

Retired caught up to me first. I stuck out my arm and said, “You were right, Sir.” He pushed against my arm. I shoved back.

He grunted, then said, “Very well, Boy. Let’s see what you’re made of.”

Herd, Pack, and the other half of my Tribe trundled down the tunnel and came to a stop. Retired stepped behind me as I turned to face them.

“What is happening?” said Qap.

“I think it’s time I start doing what I was made to do,” I said. Stupidly, my voice chose that moment to crack. I cleared my throat, knowing that I was blushing furiously and glad for the dimness of the tunnel lamps. “Sorry. Listen, we’re the North American Triad – GURion isn’t and neither is Retired. We are. So, I’m going to try my hand at leading.” Before anyone could protest, I raised my voice over the Yown’Hoo whistles and yips from the Kiiote. “No, I’m not going to do anything stupid! We’ve got a long trip. I think we need to pass leadership back and forth.”

“What are you babbling about?” said Xio.

“You and me. We can lead,” I gestured between us.

“Why?” she pointed to Retired. “He knows more than all of us together! Why would I want to follow you?”

I couldn’t help it. I looked back at him. His face was still; as if it had been carved from obsidian. I looked back to Xio, glared and said, “It’s time.” Then I locked gazes with her. She put one of her incredibly tough fists on her hip. I almost gulped, but stopped myself. Then I said, “Because Retired is going to die before we do and we’ll have to think for ourselves. So – you can do what I’m going to suggest, or you can give up on me before I even get a chance to be a failure.” I glared. After a few heartbeats, her fist uncurled and her hand fell to her side. Qap’s form softened and even though she didn’t revert to her four-legged form, she relaxed the two-legged one – a Kiiote sign of suspicious resignation.

I looked at Dao-hi. After a moment, her tentacles slid from their grooves alongside her neck, the tips pointing at me. She was giving me temporary authority over the Herd. I nodded and said, “Here’s what I think: I was reviewing our route north. I think we go to the surface outside of Monticello,” that was the site of the only nuclear power plant on central North America to be purposely destroyed by the Kiiote. “We head straight north into the national wildlife refuge.”

“But that’s…” Retired began. I turned to glare at him. His eyes widened and he lifted his chin then nodded.

“I continued, “…because staying here is the obvious route to take. I have no doubt that our movements are being tracked…”

The rest of the Triad burst out with angry growls, shouts, and whistles. I held up my hands and remarkably, they shut up. “Someone’s been on our tail since we left the Dome. We need to search our clothes and bags,” I looked at GURion, “And you need to scan everyone one of us – naked. They know where we are. Once we’re clean, we exit the tunnel and then meet up with it again west of the city of Foley. We can move faster overland – and anyone following us will figure we’ve kept on through the tunnel because it’s the easy route.” I looked around at everyone, finally turning to face Retired.

He grunted and said, “Let’s get moving, ‘Car. I’ll take point and GURion can follow all of us,” he looked to me, and waited.

I nodded, adding, “How far is the next overnight spot?”

“Ten kilometers. If we move it, we’ll make it there in seven hours. Then we can rest, then strip and redress and head for the surface.” He set off. A moment later, I set off after him; the rest of the Triad close behind.
                                                                                      

September 4, 2017

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 320

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.

F Trope: good vs evil If you’ve never read THE DARK IS RISING series by Susan Cooper – you should!

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

Names: All Russian or Polish... 

September 3, 2017

Slice of PIE: Real Wars and Science Fiction Solutions

NOT using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City in August 2016 (to which I was invited and had a friend pay my membership! [Thanks, Paul!] but was 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.

In the March 1973 issue of ANALOG Science Fiction & Fact, there was a novelette by John Brunner, prolific author of several genres and pen names, that has stayed with me for nearly a half century.

I was fifteen years old and I’d been reading ANALOG for three years. Saigon fell to Communist forces two years later and a bitter, angry, embarrassed, and defeated US military and ambassadorial corp limped home to lick its wounds and shut itself off from the world of overseas wars for the next quarter century.

In Brunner’s story, “Who Steals My Purse”, the US was fighting a losing battle in Vietnam. But in THIS 1973, a newly elected president and his people have a plan for ending the war in Vietnam by overwhelming the peasants with stuff. Tools, food, education, more tools, seeds, a bit of propaganda, needles, a “microfilm library, one per village, complete with magnifier”…some two thousand items in color-coded boxes and video instructions in Vietnamese.

These were dropped on Vietnam using a repurposed ICBM and the story implies that the war was won.

In our history, Oil Price Shock and the Yom Kippur War destabilized the South Vietnam government and it was unable to maintain its hold on the country. In April of 1975 (my senior year in high school), Saigon fell to the communist Viet Cong, and China and the Soviet Union bolstered their satellite nation -- which today is still one of four countries who claim their politics to be communist…but its economy has grown dramatically and it is slowly becoming a wealthy country.

All of that took forty plus years. Brunner had proposed to short circuit the war by flooding the country with a wealth of material possessions because who WOULDN'T want our stuff?

Interesting, but I'm going to insert a bit here about Eastern versus Western worldviews. This Youtube was helpful, if simplistic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=URtrGFxLbg4

In essence: religions are radically different; focus is different to a point where Westerners see themselves as a big, fat INDIVIDUAL in a crowd, and Easterners see the CROWD as holding their identity; Westerners see time and events as “ready, set, GO…*bang!*, THE END”; Easterners see time and events as circular, never ending, and flowing one to the other and back again. Worldviews that are inherently irreconcilable.

While “Who Steals My Purse” left a deep mark on that fifteen-year-old, Brunner’s solution was too radical for its time. Americans were still stuck on manifest destiny.

Don’t get me wrong, that’s where I was at, too. But as a teen growing up in the wake of the Sixties, worldviews and politics were changing rapidly. The country seemed to be desperate to regain its sense of world juggernaut. I remember the truly MASSIVE Bi-Centennial Celebrations of 1976 and was as caught up with them as everyone else. But manifest destiny had fallen by the wayside, never to reappear. But we viewed the solution of the world's problems as a "if we just work hard enough, it'll be OK".

Which brings me to today and a story I wrote called, “What The Cockroach Said”…and a little conflict the US got so involved with sixty-some years ago, that we’re STILL involved with today. It's an undeclared war in which only a very, very few shots have been fired in sixty years.

Of course, I'm talking about the Korean War. In my story, we use a peculiar technology involving “cockroach robots” (see this Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81Zv8PPF8bE), some microminiaturized communication devices, and a knowledge of North Korean worldview. It’s been rejected several times already – no idea why – CC Finlay (F&SF) said that there were elements that he liked; Neil Clarke (Clarkesworld) said, generically that it wasn’t quite what he was looking for; Ben Kinney (Escape Pod) said that they, “greatly enjoyed this story's concept, but it felt a bit repetitive for our tastes; and particularly in the beginning, the prose didn't quite work for us.”; I revised and sent it again. Jonathan and Michelle (DSF) generically decided not to publish it; it’s now in the hands of Sheila Williams at ASIMOV’S.

In it, the cockroaches appear to Korean people and invoke juche. Juche is an ancient Korean concept that, according to Wikipedia is: “usually left untranslated, or translated as "self-reliance"…the official state ideology of North Korea [which] says that an individual is "the master of his destiny", that the North Korean masses are to act as the "masters of the revolution and construction", and that by becoming a self-reliant and strong nation one can achieve true socialism.” It has also been “criticized by many scholars and observers as a mechanism for sustaining the dictatorial rule of the North Korean regime, and justifying the country's heavy-handed isolationism and oppression of the North Korean people. It has also been described as a form of Korean ethnic nationalism, but one which promotes the Kim family as the saviours of the "Korean Race" and acts as a foundation of the subsequent personality cult surrounding them.”

I won’t give away my solution, but you can probably draw conclusions based on the hints I gave above.

Oh, last of all, wondering why I care about the whole North-South Korea thing? Maybe yes, maybe no? I'll tell you why anyway: my son, daughter-in-law, and grandkids are stationed there and lest you think they’re “just one of the mass of soldier-types”, they live off-base, have Korean friends, and both my grandkids go to Korean schools…just so.

August 31, 2017

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 109: 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.

Paolo Marcillon looked over the small crowd gathered around him on the floating stone disk Burroughs Dome called the Court of Eleusinian Mysteries . He continued his discourse, “I’m here to say that the soul belongs to the Water God – who, like a pot of snow on a hot stove is solid, liquid and gas yet water all the same, the God of Heaven is Father forever, Son crucified and alive again and Spirit of unimaginable power yet all the same. That’s who we belong to.”

There was laughter, angry mutters and words that sounded like “slavery” and “haters” and “terrorists”. Rather than shouting over them though, Paulo’s voice lowered as he said, “God wants us to turn away from evil and come to Him.” He stood abruptly, ending his session.

People drifted away, but some stayed. A man with two children approached him and lowering his voice said, “Get moving, young man. Some have gone to fetch the mind police.” He snorted softly. “You know, even your Christian forebears had friends in high places who believed that people should be able to choose for themselves what they believe. Some of them never became Christians themselves.” He turned and hurried away.

Farther on, another man watched, standing and lifting his arm as if he were stretching. He was with two small children who were tussling on the turf. Paolo had started to look away when he saw the man’s first two fingers together, pointing up; the other three clenched his palm. The signal vanished in stretching fingers and a flat-handed twitch 45 degrees to Paolo’s left.

Paolo dipped his chin and set off across the floating platform, an additional 45 degrees off of the indicated direction. The other man set off at a tangent a moment later, bisecting the two trajectories. Not long later, they passed each other in front of a service passageway. The man was alone and paused, knelt and adjusted his boot straps. Paolo sneezed then turned to the service hatch, pushing it. It was identical to every other hatch door on Mars. Maintenance, while sloppy on Earth, had to be precise on Mars. The lives of the entire population of the planet depended on it. Paolo kept walking.

He turned a corner and stopped. A few moments later, someone else entered the passage. He heard the tread of booted feet. A moment later, the man came around the corner. Paolo said, “You could be about to kill me, using a easily discoverable sign of the prehistoric Christian church.”

“I could kill you for even saying that, but your slaughter isn’t my business. You took a huge risk out there – and you’ve put us at risk.”

Paulo shrugged slightly, “No different that the Twelve three thousand years ago.”

The man nodded. “Trudat,” he said. Paolo couldn’t help but smile. “What?” the man said.

“The rituals are three millennia old; how we speak is purely Martian.”

“Probably – the Christ spoke Aramaic or Hebrew. We’re speaking Spandaringlish.” They looked at each other for several minutes. The man said, “I’m Judas.”

“Paolo.”

“The connotation isn’t significant.”

“Whew!”

Judas smiled. “All right. I can connect you with the underground here, but I need to know why we should risk talking to you.”

“You’re talking to me.”

Judas shrugged. “It was my turn to be pastor this week.”

Paolo nodded. “I need to exchange my ‘bug for a new one. I’m on a quest.”

“What are you looking for?”

“I’m not looking for anything in particular. I’m sort of gathering clues.”

“A private investigator, of sorts.”

Scowling, Judas crossed his arms over his chest. Paolo knew Human behaviors well enough to recognize resistance, so he said, “I stumbled across an alien satellite.”

Judas shrugged. “Interesting, but irrelevant.”

“It has markings on it only visible when you project ultrasound over it.”

“How’s that?”

“We can’t see them, but a computer tuned to it can change the reflections into visual images – and they show up as symbols.”

“A language?”

Paolo shrugged this time. “Maybe. The tablets of a collector here has the same markings.”

This time Judas pursed his lips then finally said, “How does that help the underground Church?”

Paolo took a deep breath. He hadn’t tested his idea on anyone ever before. Perhaps someone who wasn’t a partner would be more inclined to poke holes in his thoughts. He said, “I think Mars had life on it long ago.”

“Duh. Well-known and accepted evidence supports…”

“Intelligent life.”

Judas shook his head, “Impossible. Mars wasn’t viable long enough…”

“It didn’t come from here. It was extraterrestrial in origin.”

Judas didn’t say anything for some time. “So? I reiterate my question, ‘How does that affect the Church’?”

“If we come forward with evidence that Humans aren’t alone in the universe – and our faith doesn’t go to pieces – the witness will bring more into the arms of Christ. If the Unified Faith in Humanity either attempts to suppress us by increasing the efforts of the pogrom, we aren’t any worse off than we’ve ever been. But if we lead people to a new understanding of our place in the universe and are seen to embrace it, the UniFiH can’t exactly crush us AND celebrate the discovery. Besides, I think God is leading me to gather the evidence.” He paused, waited, then said, “I also believe that other Christians have other pieces of evidence pointing to the same thing. I think God is preparing the Church to lead Mars.”


August 29, 2017

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 319

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: god-like aliens

This is SUCH an old idea; tired; worn out…I read CHARIOTS OF THE GODS when I was like, thirteen. It was lame then and the books since then are STILL lame, as is his website and his continued insistence that the rest of the scientific world is crazy and he’s right – that aliens came down from space to form our total mythology – from the Greek pantheon to the Mayan gods poised to return to Earth in December of 2012. He also has a theme park and is planning a media extravaganza (http://www.daniken.com/e/chariots_project.shtml) – sounds to me just like any other property developer: out to get rich!

I’d like to try something different.

Besides the possibility of One God, the broadcasts of van Daniken’s book in the form of his movie of the same name, have been floating into space since 1974.

No doubt the “alien gods” have seen it.

I notice they haven’t been around to reclaim their godhood lately.

But what if they did come back? What if they are here? Now?

Fifteen-year-old Tommy Servant has been into his mom’s old books. After reading the relatively new TWILIGHT OF THE GODS on his friend’s NOOK, he’s been reading one of the writer’s books a week.

In the heat of the summer, he’s camping in a nearby state park and he’s out laying on a stone outcrop over a shallow valley, watching the Milky Way wheeling overhead. Something descends from the sky and moves directly toward him. Shortly, there’s a small spacecraft hovering directly in front of him. A ramp extends from a door that opens. All he can see inside are a few banks of lights and a rectangle of darkness.

The invitation is obvious but…crap! What should he do? Then a voice speaks – it’s female and surprisingly sounds a lot like Mom’s voice.

It says, “Tommy, what you see before you is a ship that carries a gateway to our world. We are not gods and even though our ancestors sometimes visited Earth, we didn’t make your pyramids or your Easter Island heads or anything else like that. We want you to set your world straight about what we DID do here: we explored. That’s it. Your own people created the Nazca lines as well as created calendars. We may not be gods, but we’d like you to be our prophet. Because some of us are coming to Earth; but not all of us are benevolent…”

YOU take if from here!

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

August 27, 2017

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: DOWNTON ABBEY as Science Fiction

NOT using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City in August 2016 (to which I was invited and had a friend pay my membership! [Thanks, Paul!] but was 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.

The entire premise of the incredibly popular historical drama (that my wife and I just binge watched over the past four weeks…) concerns the impact of TECHNOLOGY on PEOPLE…

Think of it! The entire six-year-long series of eight or nine episodes each year (aired in the US in mid-winter!) covered the years 1912 to 1926, OPENS with the sinking of the Titanic. The most technologically advanced ocean liner in its time, it was also the most technologically advanced form of transportation of its time. It removes the heir-apparent of a decidedly ordinary, aristocratic family and their servants.

From there, technology runs totally RAMPANT all over them!

Medical advances (cataract surgery, hospital consolidation), weapons advances (gas and airplanes), communication advances (the telephone and records), agriculture advances (breeding and farming methods), MORE transportation advances (the CAR!!!!!), pedagogical advances (people who teach from a knowledge base rather than because of a degree), – even social advances (women’s rights) constantly trample the cast into the ground.

Sometimes LITERALLY. I asked my wife shortly before we finished the series what the body count was for the show. We didn’t know, but I found out: the two heirs who died on the Titanic, Ambassador Pamuk, William, Lavinia, the FIRST Mrs. Bates, Lady Sybil, Matthew, Alex the Rapist, Mr. Gregson, Isis, Charlie – oh, and the 41 million who died in WWI, as well as the 1503 on the Titanic, and 20-50 million who lost their lives during the Flu Pandemic of 1918-1919.

Rough estimate then:  41,000,000 + 35,000,000 + 1503 +12 = 76,001,515 dead on Downton Abbey.

The fact is that the number was almost certainly due to technological advances – or the lack thereof. If you removed the technological advances, then the story would collapse in on itself.

I’m not kidding. Downton Abbey is SCIENCE FICTION at its best in that it showed repeatedly the impact of technology on BOTH individuals and Human civilization.

Need more convincing?

The entire series would have failed miserably if the two heirs of Downton Abbey hadn’t been on a ship. The Titanic was cutting edge technology from stem to stern (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RMS_Titanic) and was, as we all know so well, touted as “unsinkable”. It had also been built to be the fastest ship (as well as the most luxurious ship) on Earth.

The continuing failure of medicine to control viruses brought about the deaths of millions during the pandemic – but specifically killed Downton’s heir’s fiancé  and throwing him into the arms of the daughter of the Earl of Grantham…and then he was killed in a car accident. Medical procedures both cured and complicated the lives of the people there; jazz music spread by both recording and wireless caused endless complications with the “teeny-bopper” Rose; and the increased ease of transportation allowed not only Tom to flee England for America, but brought Cora’s interfering mother from America to England.

Off stage and in a slightly different age, the introduction of the wireless in the 1920s along with the continued development of transportation methods, led to the involvement of a future King of England with an American divorcee and the necessity of him speaking on the wireless to all of the British Empire as they flew into a second war with Germany – in THE KING’S SPEECH.

I’ll stop here and rest the defense of my premise: DOWNTON ABBEY is Science Fiction at its best!