August 20, 2017

WRITING ADVICE: Can This Story Be SAVED? #15 “THE ‘KRASIMAN, THE MONKEYBOY, AND THE FROGFATHER” (Submitted 6 Times Since 2014, Revised Once)

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:

Given a hopeless life on an alien world, a dark past, and a strange ally, could Koti trick his way to a better future?

Elevator Pitch (What Did I Think I Was Trying To Say?)

Koti is a company slave on Enstad’s Planet as his mother and father were. She died, tricked by an alien into trying to fly again. After her death, the alien works with the boy to create a fulcrum to leverage the departure of Humanity and gives him the neural link taken from his mother so that he can fly again and take the rest of his kind with him.

Opening Line:

“Koti Christofferson breathed deeply of humid brimstone and rot, then jumped half up the ladder. Bamboo wind chimes warding plague rattled under his feet as he scrambled up the thin plastic rungs.”


“If you don’t stay up there and keep an eye out for marshsharks, I’ll feed you to them myself, Monkeyboy!”

Koti laughed, and called, “You only own my hands and feet, Deck Master! I own my life!” He raced barefoot past the first flash vessel, mallet on his belt slapping against his thigh and orange nylon shorts. An instant later, the vessel blew a cloud of super-heated steam that flowed back along the harvester’s hull. Sliding head down the other side, Koti dropped onto the walkway sticking out a meter over the swamp. “I can see the ‘sharks better from here, Deck Master, and only I know how to scare them away!” he called, leaning over the side, dry reeds brushing his face.

“No tricks from you boy!” the man shouted. “You need to be…”

What Was I Trying To Say?
I wrote the story for a contest for CICADA. We were supposed to tell a “trickster” story; so I suppose my intent was to say that “Tricksters can live in any time, on any world.”

The Rest of the Story:

Lord-a-livin’ is this a mess!

The WORLD is the character of this story and it’s complex both sociologically and ecologically. I have life cycles, weird creatures, and a society that is made up of Indian Christians and Haitian and Louisiana voodoo believers…all done on purpose by an Earth government intent on eliminating faith in anything but Humanity…

I have technology: starships, neural implants, harvesters that collect organics from the vast marshlands of Enstad’s Planet – or Murr< as the aliens call their world – for processing into oil via thermal depolymerization which has had only spotty success in the US (most likely due to opposition from Big Oil, I’d say…*grin*)

I even have a story. Simplified: Alien creates tool to get Humans to leave its world, boy (aforementioned ‘tool’) wants a life off the mud ball he’s grown up on, his passport is the neural implant (incidentally dug from the skull of his dead mother…) which Alien uses to engineer the boy’s enemy, thereby getting him off world…

End Analysis:

Like I said above, this is a mess.

On the other hand, it’s a mess because there’s so much here that I tried to cram into the tiny space of 7000 words.

Fump, the alien Murr< (which “was a purring ‘murr’ followed by a ‘ribbit’.”), killed Koti’s mother in order to get the neural implant which he gives to the boy. The intent is to persuade him to lead the exodus of Humans off their world…

As I was writing this article, and while this thing is a sorry mess, it’s NOT a sorry mess because I don’t have a story here. The story COULD become a novel about Koti in the same vein as Heinlein’s CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY (from “In a distant galaxy, the atrocity of slavery was alive and well, and young Thorby was just another orphaned boy sold at auction. But his new owner, Baslim, is not the disabled beggar he appears to be: adopting Thorby as his son, he fights relentlessly as an abolitionist spy. When the authorities close in on Baslim, Thorby must ride with the Free Traders -- a league of merchant princes -- throughout the many worlds of a hostile galaxy, finding the courage to live by his wits and fight his way from society's lowest rung. But Thorby's destiny will be forever changed when he discovers the truth about his own identity....”)

Can This Story Be Saved?

How about this for the novel that this story, properly sliced, might be part of: Koti’s parents fled a pogrom on Mars aimed against Christians. She nearly died in a ship mutiny and they landed on Enstad’s Planet, where his mother gave up navigating Interspace “forever”, though she never powered down her computer-brain link. They made a hard – and anonymous life – together. Then her husband was badly injured. The company that owned the organics industry on the planet ran a “cash-only” medical care system. She borrowed to save his life, then he killed himself when he was to be handicapped on a “working world” forever. She owed a loan shark who sold her the cash. She tried to get back into space, but when she took the first step, she died and Koti only escaped the loan shark because he was taken in by an local alien. What he doesn’t know is that the alien engineered his mother’s death, created their relationship, then releasing him to take his mother’s place as a starship navigator. But HE understands aliens and when he has a chance to help with a Gwelch “invasion” of Enstad’s Planet, he does – with stunning consequences…

Ah! Now I know how to FIX the story. But it could be lots of work…I don’t know. The future will tell.

August 17, 2017

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 108: 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 (70,000+ words as of now), drop me a line and I’ll send you the unedited version.

The young blue man stepped up to Aster Theilen, Consort of Mayor Etaraxis of Opportunity Dome. As a group, the derogatory epithet was inti – because Artificial Humans had had all their introns removed – the non-coding sections of their Human DNA. They could only reproduce via cloning. They called themselves the aych, short for AH, as in Artificial Humans. He said, “Great-Great said that you need to watch vo’Maddux. That she was a slimy evil.” He leaned closer, “We will watch for you, your Majesty. We will watch and protect you.”

The look he fixed on her made her want to shudder.

She wanted to say she was just a secretary who’d been randomly chosen by the Mayor. But God had his hand on her life and called on her to do something that hadn’t been successfully done on Mars yet. She nodded slowly and said, “Go, then. When the moment is right, I will give the signal.” He grinned, turned, and ran into the darkness.

A moment later, Aster was alone. She wasn’t certain how to get out of the Underground, but there would have to be ways for both Artificial Humans and Naturals to get down here. She pulled out her phone and tapped it to project. On the Burroughs Dome home page hovering in front of her, there were no simple icons to swipe to get a map of the Underground. “No big surprise there,” she muttered then pursed her lips. There had to be access – she couldn’t be the only civilian who found themselves in the Underground.

“Ah!” She keyed through to a general search page, tapped her phone to audio and said, “BexMars – Exploring the Underside of the Planet.” There had been both reports and documentaries she’d seen in passing regarding Naturals who explored the Underground for thrills. A few moments later, she ended up on a page that detailed the tours they both offered and encouraged.

She scowled, struck by how the organization could easily be a front for Naturals sympathetic to the cause of Artificial Humans. Possibly even a contact FardusAH might not know of. Despite the resemblance to an ancient Earth organization that had ferried another group of slaves to freedom, there was nowhere on Mars an Artificial Human could run to. Always identifiable, often programmed to die young, and so far with only few Natural Borns offering support; they could not be spirited away to the Northern Lands to claim their freedom.

Aster sighed and kept at the site. She didn’t have much trouble finding where she was on one of the maps they displayed, though they were somewhat vague. As she looked around the hub station stood in, she noted that the map excluded three of the exit tunnels and showed nothing of the small doorways between three tunnels. While she had no idea what those might be for, it was their absence on the maps that intrigued her.

She started when a male voice said, “I’m here, Aster.”

For an instant, she thought Etaraxis had followed her – or more likely had her followed – then she recognized her father’s voice, altered by the size of the space.

“You didn’t have to, Dad. I have a map.”

“They aren’t much good if they’re put out by the Dome…”

“No, these are by a bexing group…”

“A what?”

She laughed, crossing the hub, following her father’s voice. When she reached him, she said, “Bexing is the art of exploring Human-made structures from a side not normally seen.”

“You sound like an advertisement,” he said, taking her hand and leading her into one of the pitch-dark tunnels.

“That is what they said on their website. The maps they provided weren’t entirely accurate, either.”

He stopped suddenly and turned to her, “They have online maps?”

“They aren’t really accurate…”

“They don’t have to be! If the authorities have even an inkling of what the Underground looks like, they could very easily have tracked you down here!”

“I don’t know…”

“You probably have a tracker on you!”

Aster shook her head, “Dad, please give FardusAH some credit.”

“Who’s that?”

“She the Artificial Human who serves Etaraxis – and she knows I want to use my position to change Martian society. I’m sure anything the Mayor put on my to track my whereabouts – and I don’t think it’s come to that yet – she would have neutralized or redirected…”

“It’s not the Mayor I’m worried about, Aster. It’s vo’Maddux…”

A voice in the darkness said, “And you’d be correct to worry about just that, Madame Consort. Entirely and completely correct…”

August 15, 2017


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:  curses, curses, curses

Apparently Soviets removing the skull of the Great Khan, Timur caused the Germans to invade Russia in World War II. When the Soviets returned the skull to the Tomb, it caused the Germans to be crushed in their attempt to flee Stalingrad and lost the rest of the war.

There are people who think that that is a curse.

Some people think it was a hoax.

It is now 2038. Hans Diefenbaker and his father are in Samarkand, Uzbekistan to look at both the Tomb and the history of the supposed curse.

Leonid Omelchenko and his parents are also in Samarkand, Uzbekistan doing the same thing – studying the Tomb and its Curse.

Both them are there with the 3D cameras and production money from DreamWorks and Lucas Films that are being poured into the investigation – because in three years it will be the 100th Anniversary of Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi invasion of Russia in 1941. The largest, deadliest and most horrific battle ever fought in human history, the coming anniversary has sparked wild claims and commentary in the blogosphere – and taking the blame off of Adolph Hitler is one direction that has become increasingly popular. The death of the last surviving WWII soldier had happened in 2037 in Maine. He was 97 and had joined the Army in May of 1945 at 17, so there is, in fact no one left who personally witnessed the fighting. The film makers want to change that.

They also want to see if the Timur Curse is real. Leo and Hans are standing in the Tomb with their parents when the skull is lifted from its base. They are all standing there when, what they think is an earthquake shakes the ground. It wasn’t a big one. Nothing was knocked over except for one of the cameras. No one was hurt. At least not in Uzbekistan.

No one they could see, anyway.

No one Human, for sure…

In far off Stalingrad, another ancient tomb is stirring and a guard at Lenin’s Tomb is knocked off his chair by an earthquake. Another earthquake causes the Biederitz River east of Magdeburg, Germany to slosh between its banks and a heavy fog to raise from the water in the middle of the night.

In Uzbekistan, Hans and Leo end up together outside in the darkness as the power in the city fluctuates. As they talk in English – both young men have been to the US for their first year of college – they are suddenly struck dumb, frozen in the darkness then abruptly fall to the ground as if they are having seizures.

But they aren’t important. No one notices them. Not yet, anyway…

Names: Germany; Russia

August 13, 2017

Slice of PIE: Emma Thompson – From Shakespeare & Jane Austen To Alien Cat Starship Captain & Agent O of MIB…

NOT using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Helsinki, Finland in August 2017 but I was unable to go (until I retire from education)). I would have chosen a topic, then proceed to 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.

Let me just say that I LOVE Emma Thompson's acting.

My wife and I first ran across her in the Kenneth Branagh production of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, in which she played the fiery Beatrice in the early 90s and again in SENSE AND SENSIBILITY a year or so later. The first was, of course, a play written by William Shakespeare, the second from a book written by Jane Austen. She has won two Oscars, three British Academy Film Awards, a primetime Emmy, and two Golden Globes for her various works – including writing the screenplay for SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (as well as starring in it).

Then she popped up again – a doctor who has cured cancer in I AM LEGEND, a weird “anti-Mary Poppins” in the NANNY MCPHEE movies – and oddly, the woman who created Mary Poppins in SAVING MR. BANKS, a divination instructor in one of the HARRY POTTER movies (of course are there any British actors who did NOT have a part in a HP movie?) While she played a plain, old, ordinary writer in STRANGER THAN FICTION her work-in-progress is a novel directing the life of man doomed to die at the tap of her typewriter, which she discovers just in time.

The reason I’m writing this is because to me, she embodies the idea that all movies are fantasies – whether she’s playing a lawyer, a dissident journalist, or a crystal-ball-gazing diviner and teacher – she does all with equal gusto and creates characters who are believable and sympathetic.

I’m plagued right now by a long stretch of disinterest in my writing and so I’ve started to search for what I’m doing wrong. One of my biggest weaknesses has been character development, so I look at acting sometimes to see how actors of disparate realities create characters. How does someone like Emma Thompson, whose net worth is somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 million dollars ( play the part of a working-class German woman after being raised in a creative acting/writing family in London, spending time with Scottish grandparents convincingly? Clearly, she draws from some well of character because the words on the page of a script can’t precisely dictate how a character behaves – especially if the descriptions are painted with minimal strokes and the characterization in the script is simply typed words.

How can I create a character on paper when my work is NOT scriptwriting? How do I make readers “see” my characters clearly?

Perhaps I can learn from someone who has portrayed an alien cat starship captain, the director of a super-secret alien integration bureau, and a pre-war, working class German housewife convincingly.

August 10, 2017


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)

“Why are people trying to kill us?” I said.

Great Uncle Rion shrugged and said, “That seems to be the nature of the universe – hatred…”

I couldn’t help it, I guess Xio couldn’t, either. At the same time we said, “No.”

He looked startled. I said, “If we go that way, we might as well give up. If everyone is motivated by hatred, then there’s no reason for us to take one more step. There’s no reason to keep on with the Triad, either. If all that’s going to come of it is Humans loathing the Kiiote who loathe the Yown’Hoo, then what we’re trying to do is against nature and against all of our natures.” I stepped up to it and leaned forward, “So, are you exempting yourself from that statement? Your nature is somehow different – because if you’re going to try that, I’m going to mention briefly that you said that you were created by Humans – who somehow managed to keep their hatred out of you. Right?”

GURion held up both hands and said, “I will amend my statement only.”

“Go ahead,” I said. Right now, I was thinking I wanted to deactivate him and continue on in my delusion that the nature of the universe was to NOT hate. Hate required energy; apathy required nothing.

He said nothing for a while. Finally he spoke. We were all there – the Herd, the Pack, the Tribe along with Retired – waiting. Finally, he said, “I will amend my statement to say that it is the nature of the universe to be neutral. It requires intelligence to expend energy to choose to accept or hate; but I posit that hatred is more entertaining than acceptance.”

“What about love?” Xio said. “Love can be more entertaining than hate.” She glanced at me. “I can be fun as well.”

“I will concede the point. But not all intelligences link love and sex. For some, hatred is the choice that leads to sex.”

I was getting embarrassed, so I cut into the conversation. “We need to leave. We’re all awake and we have a long way to go to our next destination.” I turned to Retired, aka Lieutenant Commander Patrick Bakhsh. “Where’s our next stop?”

He jerked his chin sideways as he said, “Nowthen Station. We’re under a burned out school that used to be called Ramsey. From here we go north, this tunnel follows the bank of the Rum River, then turn west and exit under an old greenhouse. We’ll rest there, take a ditch farther to the Station. From that point, we’ll have to go overland to Sand Dune State Forest. There’s a supply cache there where we can spend a night.”

“How far is that?”

“About thirty-five kilometers.”

“What?” Xio exclaimed, “I can’t walk that far!”

He shrugged. “GURion can carry you or you can ride one of the Yown’Hoo…”

The Herd Mother reared in alarm. Retired just shook his head, then stuck his fingers in his mouth and blew. The resulting whistle stunned everyone except for GURion, and I’m pretty sure even he was surprised. Retired glared around at the Triad. “You people have no idea what kind of danger you’re in, do you?” He let the words just hang there. I had no idea what we were doing. For a while, it’d seemed like the adventure we were made for – literally. “We’ve a trip of nearly a thousand kilometers.” Everybody made a sound that was like me and Xio screaming. When we calmed down, Retired continued as if we hadn’t interrupted him. “That’s quite a walk, but we have to do it under fire. Granted, we’re not always going to have Human or Yown’Hoo or Kiiote military hot on our trail, but there are people against us! Against YOU – and that’s because you’re strong enough to cause a paradigm shift not in just one society, but it three societies on three different worlds.”

“But how can we travel that far?” said Lan-mai-ti, then youngest and smallest member of the Herd.

“We have to work together. Me, or GURion, or Qap or Xurf or Car or Xio or Dao-hi or Zei-go, Seg-go, and Ali-go – will beg, borrow, steal, or outright buy various modes of transportation to get us to Grendl. When we DO get there, there’s a way to join all of the other Triads in the Antarctic. That’s were the real work will begin. You’ll continue to learn all the way there – but you’re academic days are pretty much over. Your educations will be practical now. You’ll all be armed when we leave here…”

I couldn’t help it, shouting, “That’s what I’m talkin’ about!”

Retired stared me down until I hung my head and cleared my throat and said, “Sorry, boss.”

“You’ll be trained how to use them, but more importantly you’re going to learn WHEN to use them. There will be no alien star wars in this Triad. Discipline and hard work will be all you do.” He swept us with a withering glare, “And you will take orders from me and me alone.” He looked directly at GURion and said, “Protocol A, Lieutenant Commander Patrick Bakhsh,  Alpha Five Seven Omega.”

GURion’s head tipped to the side and it said in a voice I’d never heard before, “Acknowledged. A57Omega.”

“Everyone get your gear, we’ll break camp and head north in fifteen minutes. Make sure you use the facilities here. All that’s between us and Nowthen Station is bare walls.”

The group scattered, but I stayed behind. “May I speak to my great uncle?” I asked.

Retired nodded and grabbing his own pack, went out to stand in the hallway, closing the door behind him. I looked up at Great Uncle Rion and said, “Is this really what Dad wanted for me? For all of Earth?”

He didn’t say anything right away. Finally, “It wasn’t he best-case scenario plan, but it was one of the plans.”

“What was the worst-case scenario,” I said, feeling ghoulish.

It lifted its chin and said, “The one where I’d been caught, had my memory yanked and been melted down for parts – and following my information, you’re captured, tortured, then you brain is injected with a flesh-eating bacteria and you get to suffer some more.”

My eyes reached their maximum bugging-out distance and I gagged. “Worst-case?”

It nodded. “Best case was than none of this happened, the Yown’Hoo and the Kiiote made up, and they helped us rebuild Earth and formed a strong, interstellar alliance.”

I nodded, then said, “Let’s try to stay as close to the best-case scenario as we can.”


August 8, 2017


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.




Names: ♀ Uruguay; ♂ Mali                       

August 6, 2017

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: The Fantasy (& Science Fiction) of Poverty

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…

Fantasies of Free Movement: A number of recent works have explicitly linked the trope of transportation in SF to issues of migration and home, ranging from the strange topologies of Dave Hutchinson's "Fractured Europe" series, to the "death of the majority" in Ada Palmer's Terra Ignota, or the more contemporary parable about seeking refuge found in Mohsin Hamid's Exit West. What do such works do to help us explore the opportunities and challenges of a free-movement world? In a time of (seemingly) closing borders, where in fantastika can we find grounds for hope? And what questions remain under-explored?

Niall Harrison – moderator and member of the WorldCon 2o17 team
Nicholas Whyte – science fiction fan
Rosanne Rabinowitz – contributed to anthologies: Jews vs Aliens, Horror Uncut: Tales of Social Insecurity and Economic Unease, Something Remains and Murder Ballads. Her novella “Helen's Story” was shortlisted for the 2013 Shirley Jackson Award.
Teresa Romero – no information on her and she only participates in this event
John-Henri Holmberg – Swedish author, critic, publisher and translator, and a well-known science fiction fan

This is truly a fantasy that only the wealthy might even be able to imagine…

I can’t respond to Dave Hutchinson’s series, but having read Ada Palmer’s first book, I am of the belief that the kind of movement she postulates will ONLY be possible for the mega-wealthy.

In fact, it may be embarrassing how little of the world’s population even have an INKLING of what such a world would look like. According to the two articles below, one seventh of the world’s population has to walk some six kilometers to just to get drinkable water. Hilary Clinton made the issue a cause de célébrité. Based on a wild guess, Christine Negroni of AIR&SPACE magazine says that perhaps six percent of the world’s population has flown at all…

That means that 94% of the Earth’s population would have little to no idea what such a concept as “freedom of movement” is ( -- even as a purely physical concept.

Politically, out of the 197 regimes on this planet, one in four are considered “not free”. Of the other three fourths; one third are only partly free. In 2016, the “free world” was made up of less than half the countries on Earth…the only places where someone MIGHT be able to come and go as they please (note however, that to go from here to Canada or Mexico, I need a $60 US passport and a plane ticket or a gas budget that would cover the trip...for starters.)

While science fiction writers have for decades attempted to both entertain and cast a light into the future and explored possible futures, I am increasingly bothered that those futures. They seem to be more for the wealthy and less for the poor and for some reason “the poor” have vanished miraculously – from Gene Roddenberry’s wildly optimistic United Federation of Planets of which Deanna Troi says, “…Poverty was eliminated on Earth, a long time ago. And a lot of other things disappeared with it - hopelessness, despair, cruelty...

And to which Samuel Clemens replies, “Young lady, I come from a time when men achieve power and wealth by standing on the backs of the poor, where prejudice and intolerance are commonplace and power is an end unto itself. And you're telling me that isn't how it is anymore?”

In virtually every other story I’ve read recently (though Kameron Hurley created a new definition of “poverty” in her THE STARS ARE LEGION), poverty (if it even exits according to some) is a thing of the DISTANT past. In 2013, Charlie Jane Anders sparked a discussion about how science fiction writers deal with poverty (read the original article and the comments here: I’ve got a few books to check out because of the Anders article, but I can just note that her debut novel isn’t about poverty but about teen love, magic, and technology. Nothing wrong with that, but I simply note that here for effect.

So…my rant is over. The reason I feel strongly about this is that “some” people in the comment section of Anders’ article claimed that there is no poverty anymore and that it’s just a matter of distribution. I would direct them to the nearest Calcutta slum; or possibly the Chicago projects; or even Mary’s Place in downtown Minneapolis -- to have a little chit chat with someone who lives on the streets.

I know students who live in their family cars. I personally know two boys who were born in the back of a van in which the family lived because there was no way for them to afford an apartment, the trip to the hospital, or to live anywhere else (may I also point out that they were born 21 years ago in 1997 during the reign of the Democratic Party…which prides itself on taking care of the poor…which, in this case, it didn’t.). When attempting to interview for a job (I might point out that this incident occurred in the Golden Age of Barack Obama), they were told “No.”

The reason given was that they were “urban hillbillies”…

At the risk of sounding undemocratic, the Bible is pretty clear on the subject of poverty. Doesn't mean we can't WORK for the eradication of poverty, but working toward something doesn't mean it's going to succeed.

August 4, 2017

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 107: Stepan of 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.

“I’ll go down. You wait here.” Without waiting, Stepan Izmaylova sat on the edge of the dark, gaping hatch and said, “I was a hero of the Faith Wars. There’s nothing down there that can harm me – not after all these decades.”

“Keep tellin’ yourself that, Preach,” said his companion, QuinnAH, an artificial Human who had attached himself to Stepan’s mission. He added, “My only thought is that maybe they wasn’t tryin’ to seal us out. Maybe they was trying to keep something IN…”

Stepan looked at him, nodded, and said, “Good point. You keep on praying while I go down there.” He slid forward, reaching with his toes.

“How come you didn’t bring no light?”

“I didn’t think I’d be going caving; just roofing.”

Quinn snorted in laughter. “I should push you down the hole for that dumb joke.”

“No need,” said Stepan as his toe caught on a platform below. He slipped over the edge of the doorway, touching down with only his head showing. “If I find anything useful down here, I’ll hand it up to you, all right?”

Quinn just grunted, sitting slowly, folding his hands, staring at Stepan.

“OK.” He pulled his communicator out, switching it to flashlight and aiming it into the depths. “I don’t see any monsters.”

“Don’t joke. The worst monsters look like us so we don’t notice them.”

Startled, Stepan gaped at him. Finally he nodded, adding, “Brilliant observation. If I died today, my life would be complete because I met you.”

Quinn snorted. “That sounds more like something you’d say to a girl, but I get it. If you see anything down there that’s gonna eat you, shout and I’ll call the cops. They probably won’t show up until tomorrow, but then they can investigate…”

“Thanks! I get the idea!” He ducked down, shining the light around his feet. “There are stairs leading down.” He reached out a foot, withdrew it and called up, “You want to get me the stick you were poking the roof with?”

Quinn turned and came back shortly. “It’s strong so make sure you poke really hard.”

Stepan grinned then said, “Why? You want me to come back?”

“‘Course!” he paused. “If you don’t whose gonna feed me?”

“Scamp!” Stepan snorted, jamming the stick against the step below. It held and he started down, jabbing three times and following. The skylight above shrank slowly and he had to rely on the flashlight more and more. He reached a landing when he estimated he’d gone halfway down the warehouse. There was a door set in the Rim Wall.” He called up as much to Quinn.

“Don’t open it!”

“I have to!” Stepan called back.

“Why? What if there’s like a mummy in there?”

“This isn’t Egypt!”

“What’s that?”

“I’ll tell you about Egypt later – it also has to do with my religion! I’m going to try and open the door.”

“Why does your religion have mummies?” Stepan called down.

Stepan leaned on the door. It didn’t budge. He set the stick down, found the seams of the door then ran his fingers up and down. Nothing happened. He pressed the center of the door. Nothing happened. Stretching his arms, he ran his palms over wall beyond the door. His fingers caught on a square, raised slightly from the wall, about waist height. Scowling, he turned his light on it. “There’s a switch here!”

“Don’t touch it! Come on back up, Master!”

Stepan stared up at the light, Quinn’s head hanging over, looking down. Then he pressed the switch.

August 2, 2017


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: Halloween!

Snow-dusted, dark alpine slopes reminded Nazar Ionescu of a tidal wave frozen solid an instant before capsizing a crowded luxury liner on the North Atlantic. The TITANIC, perhaps. He said, “This is not going to end well.”

Giorgia Lukić shook her head and said, “Sad sack.”

Nazar looked over at her, frowning. “What does that mean?”

“Nineteen forty-three, World War Two, an old comic book character whose name was a euphemism for a much more vulgar term. But you’re someone whose very presence lowers the tone in the room – a sort of the human equivalent of Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh.”

“I am not!”

She swept an arm to include then entire four hundred kilometer long range of mountains. “They’re moody this morning. Yesterday morning, they were divine. How can a conference in the Alps...”

“These are not THE Alps. They are Alps – and do you know it’s a Latin word that means a place in the mountains where cows eat?”

“It does not!” she exclaimed pushing him away from her. “It can’t. It’s got to be more romantic than that!”

He shrugged. “I was born not far from here and shipped out about ten hours after when the Soviet Union shattered. This is not a romantic place.”

Giorgia took a deep breath, exhaled then said, “All right. It’s November and miserable. But we’re not here for romance, are we?” She fixed him with a long look. He blushed and turned away. “We’re here for an experiment that has the potential to change the face of physics…”

“Or open a gateway to another realm,” he said. She shot him a quelling look. They’d had the conversation before. Many times. With many people. He was well-known for his beliefs. Some had even named him ‘Marburger’ – as well as a having a fast food named after him at a nearby restaurant – after the early 21st Century report1  that nudged a controversy just before the first activation of the Large Hadron Collider.

“You cannot be really serious, Nazar. Really?”

He stared up into the mountains for a long time before saying, “Science is full of unexpected developments, Giorgia. No one working at Bell Labs in 1958 could have predicted that their device would be used to play movies in people’s home. Certainly no one watching Eniwetok would have predicted the Bussard probe on its way to Alpha Centauri. No one...”

“I get it. We test a new application of a scientific law and don’t necessarily know exactly what will happen.”

“I’m not talking about the purely physical results. There is another dimension, something beyond what we...”

She held her palm out to him and turning around, headed back to the lab where a team of nearly a hundred scientists from all over the world had gathered at the foot of the iron-rich mountain range to create a microscopic wormhole that would take power generation to the next level.

“Giorgia! Wait for me!” She stopped but didn’t turn around. When he caught up with her, he said breathlessly, “If nothing happens with the first power up, you’ll never hear another word from me.”

The sunlight faded as clouds drifted over the Transylvanian Alps. Giorgia shivered as she nodded. “Make sure of it.” Still without turning around, she headed for the lab.

Padding footsteps made by his rubber-soled, signature blaze orange Converse All-Star high top tennis shoes followed after her. She said, “They should be powering up right around now.”

Under their feet, the ground trembled. Giorgia squeaked in surprise and Nazar grabbed her elbow to steady her. She was looking directly at the lab, slightly upward so that she could see the archaic crenellations of the roof. Something appeared over the building. Immense, winged, it hovered and for the briefest instant seemed to coalesce into an apparition that she could only call a ghost dragon...

Names: ♀ Italian, Serbian; Ukraine, Romania