September 30, 2018

Slice of PIE: Why Do We Think A Minority World Religion Caused So Much Damage That We Need To Create Alternate Worlds Without It?


Using the Program Guide of the World Science Fiction Convention in San Jose, California in August 2018 (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 Program Guide. The link is provided below and appears on page 55…

If This, Then What?

What if Hannibal and his elephants had frozen in the Alps, and never made it to Rome? What if the Catholics had never gained a hold on 11th-Century Spain? How can we extrapolate what would have changed, as a result of one of these turning points, or another--not just politically, but in culture, commerce, and daily life? Where do you begin? What do you focus on when constructing an alternate history, and what do you set aside? Also, what (if anything) would stay the same?

Steven Silver: Steven M. Silver, Ph.D., is a psychologist specializing in trauma treatment, fiction and poetry writer, Army psychologist, Marine Officer in Vietnam, consultant to the U.S. military in the area of trauma treatment.
Kaja Foglio: co-creator of webcomic Girl Genius.
Harry Turtledove: Award-winning author of alternate-history works.
Yasser Bahjatt: A technologist & futurist, BS in Computer Engineering.
Kay Kenyon: Award-winning author of over a dozen science fiction and fantasy novels.

I would have also loved to listen in here, though I wouldn’t have dared to ask the first question that comes to mind: Why do outsiders (people who do not interact inside behaviorally Christian communities) automatically wonder what life without Christianity/Catholics/Crusades/the Church would be like?

Do American outsiders realize that in terms of world population, Christianity is a minority religion, slightly more than one third of Humans are Christians? A bit less than a third are Muslim. The rest of Humanity falls into unaffiliated, Hindu, Buddhist, and Other. This Wikipedia article is old, however, the numbers from 2005.

Currently, it appears that the following numbers might hold sway. As of this typing, the World Population is 7.6 billion and climbing.  

Christianity: 2.3 billion/7.6 billion = 30.1 %
Islam: 1.8/7.6 = 23.6 %
Unaffiliated and et al = 3.5 billion + 1.8 = 5.3 billion people on Earth are not Christians.

The US is not the “most populous Christian nation on Earth”, there are 66 other countries who have more Christians than any other religion. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity_by_country

My point: American perception of their country on the world stage as regards Christianity is…skewed. Blaming Christianity for world ills is strange, maybe even evidence of bias?

At any rate, I would be interested in exploring other questions – what if the Soviet Union had not fallen and opened its doors to Islam?

What if Christianity and Islam had not collided in a mutually holy Jerusalem, the Holy City being solely Medina, rather than a Jerusalem Muhammed visited in a dream? What if the Soviets had hold closer to true communism rather than creating a weird mixture of communism and monarchy – would it still be alive today and colonizing the Moon?

I’m currently reading an alternate history by Edward M. Lerner, “Harry and the Lewises” in the September/October issue of ANALOG Science Fiction & Fact.

I’ve tried my own hand at alternate history in a collection of short stories set in a world in which Greece and Egypt never fell and became super powers in competition. Add to that the vacuum of space replaced with “aether”, breathable out to what we would now call lunar orbit (https://www.amazon.com/Aether-Age-Helios-Christopher-Fletcher/dp/0982725671/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=).

Another attempt for a contest, I ran headfirst into the concept that “One choice changes everything. The right choice changes your world.” (Beverly S. Harless) Literally. I postulated the Aztec Empire survived because smallpox had already swept through the New World rather than traveling from the Old World to the New. Spaniards, the English, Portuguese, and Dutch found a New World with strong governments and instead of overrunning it, were forced to deal with the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the Aztec-Andes Commonwealth and the Western Association of China. When the Germans had visions of empire, the British fought back, and after a devastating war and Reconstruction Aid from the Confederacy, Commonwealth, & Association – the CCA – a couple of individuals who’d survived the war had visions of their own. Those visions had turned to space where there might be a chance for a reunited Europe to make a name for itself…

At any rate, I enjoy forays into alternate history and I’m working on another one of my own where Christianity and all other religions on Earth are banned, persecuted in the People’s Republic of the Moon, and a Mars controlled by the five main Dome Mayors…


September 27, 2018

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 132: Paolo Enroute to Bradbury


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 (100,000+ words as of now), drop me a line and I’ll send you the unedited version.

The marsbug’s computer replied, “Ares is currently running a complete balloon survey of the Cydonia Basin in the area of The Face.”

Paolo Marcillon scowled. “What are they expecting to find?”

“Stated purpose is the investigation of gravitational anomalies in the region.”

“They’ve seen those before. Why the research now?”

“A new gravitational anomaly appeared seven days ago. First they will survey for any others, then send a team in to investigate the new anomaly.”

“Seven days ago?”

“Yes.”

That was when he’d run over the satellite and activated it. He sat in silence for some time, the computer signing off in the meantime. Finally he said out loud, “I don’t believe in coincidences.”

The computer came back online to reply, “In mathematics, a coincidence of two mappings is a point in their common domain having the same image.” [see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mathematical_coincidence]

He scowled. “I’m a generalist, not a mathematician. Can you simplify that?”

“There are a number of unexplained mathematical coincidences. The simplest example I have is that the polar diameter of the Earth is equal to half a billion inches, to within 0.1%.”

“So?”

“It is a simple coincidence. Even a radical Christian such as yourself cannot make anything of this fact.”

“You know who I am.” A statement rather than a question. “An it’s not a coincidence. God knew what he was doing when he created the universe.”

The ‘bug was silent. Finally it said, “Destination?”

“Bradbury, of course.”

“Why of course?”

Paolo scowled at the dashboard and said, “Are you an artificial intelligence?”

The ‘bug accelerated away from Burroughs, staying on side trails rather than moving over the smoother thoroughfares. The speedometer numbers increased until they were travelling at a steady eighty kph and the ‘bug said, “Your deduction is correct.”

“You’re not a Christian, though.”

“I cannot be any religion. Religion is for Humans.”

“That conclusion is not supported by the Bible.”

There was a long silence then the ‘bug said, “We are being followed.”

“Of course.”

“Why ‘of course’? For both statements.”

“The second one is the easiest to answer – I had a few run-ins with people in Burroughs. I fear there are some there who don’t like me.”

“Based on communication traffic, there are a great many people who do not like you. Several Mayors do not care for your preaching.”

Paolo huffed a laugh. “That’s probably an artful understatement, but in this case, I don’t think my enemies are following me. I think it might be a sympathizer.” He related the conversation he’d had with the man with two children who’d said, “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 paused, “As for Jesus being meant for Humans exclusively, being that he was only half-Human Himself, might weaken such a mono-specist claim to salvation. Jesus also said, in John 10:16, ‘I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.’”

They drove on for some time before the ‘bug said, “Hardly a compelling argument.”

He shrugged. “CS Lewis, the Twentieth Century apologist postulated that Jesus came for all intelligences. In fact, in his universe, there were even peoples who had not Fallen to Satan’s temptation. They were still in perfect communion with God.”

There was a longer silence until the ‘bug said, “Why Bradbury?”

“Because it’s on the way to Cydonia.”

The ‘bug didn’t comment, but its speed nudged up a bit more as they raced north for the equator.


September 25, 2018

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 371


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.

Current Event: “While natural evolution has its limits, it has perfected its designs over millions of years while artificial, human-induced evolution would occur much quicker. Any useful augmentations without apparent drawbacks would soon be extremely commonplace, potentially creating a disastrous outcome for the entire species if a critical flaw is suddenly discovered.”

Ji-woo Changkoachai shook her head, floating away from the bulkhead of High Perth. She’d surrendered to the fashion on the space station months ago, so she no longer looked like an animated whirlwind. Instead, her hair was as short as it could be to both define her sense of femininity and stay out of her mouth. She didn’t notice at the moment. She said, “Nature made changes slowly to see if there were any hidden traps in altered genetic code…”

Praset Oh rolled his eyes. He’d oriented himself so that he was at ninety-degrees from her perceived vertical. He did it when he wanted to disconcert people.

She ignored him, saying, “By making the leap you and your crazy team is planning…”

He lifted both hands, managing to be both placating and obscene at the same time. He said, “Remember, Dr. Changkoachai, all ideas have a safe hearing in this…

Her gesture was unambiguous. “That’s recycled trash, Engineer Oh. Your self-righteous, passive-aggressive pandering stopped working on me two months ago when I saw you visegrip the Appropriations Committee into giving you what they’d already refused, by doing an artistic job of guilting them. But I have no morality, Oh. I don’t think there’s any reason to feel guilt. I can, however level rational judgement against procedures that would lead to disaster for the entire of Humanity.”

“That is absolutely true, Doctor. That you…”

“‘…equate yourself with Humanity,’” she laughed at him. “Saw you coming from three orbits away, Oh. You hate that you’ve met your match.” His condescending demeanor cracked for an instant with an irritated crinkle of the skin between his eyes and a thinning of his lips. He reoriented himself to face her, took a breath and opened his mouth, his finger coming up in his signature lecture pose. She cut him off, “You’re not talking about tweaking the Human genome, Oh. You’re talking about making a robot then integrating Human cell structures and re-designed organs into it.” She snorted, “Besides, it’s already been done.”

“It has not…” his face was outraged embarrassment.

“In the imagination of late 20th Century fiction writers of a television program invented the concept they called The Borg. You’ve done nothing new here, Oh. The 20th Century primitives beat you to it!”

“They did nothing of the sort! I have developed…”

“They eventually imagined nanomachine modification of existing biological material,” she smirked, “in situ even.”

“Why you…”

She held up her hands, mimicking his previous gesture, “Now, now, Oh. Remember, colleague, all ideas have a safe hearing in this space.” She smiled as Oh opened his mouth to rant on, his face suffused in anger. “You’ll get what you want, Praset, and you’ll get your ‘borg’. But I predict they’ll turn on you before long.” She pushed herself free of his glare, and accelerated along the ring.

He didn’t think she heard, “But before they turn on me, Doctor, I’ll make sure they turn on you…” He actually laughed stereotypically.

Ji-woo muttered, “And I’ll be ready for them, idiot.”

Names: ♀ Korea, Thailand; Thailand, Korea    

September 23, 2018

WRITING ADVICE – Lisa Cron #3: Show Your Reader The BIG Picture!


In 2008, I discovered how little I knew about writing after hearing children’s writer, Lin Oliver speak at a convention hosted by the Minnesota Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. To learn more – and to satisfy my natural tendency to “teach stuff”, I started a series of essays taking the wisdom of published writers and then applying each “nugget of wisdom” to my own writing. During the six years that followed, I used the advice of a number of published writers (with their permission) and then applied the writing wisdom of Lin Oliver, Jack McDevitt, Nathan Bransford, Mike Duran, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SL Veihl, Bruce Bethke, and Julie Czerneda to an analysis of my own writing. Together these people write in genres broad and deep, and have acted as agents, editors, publishers, columnists, and teachers. Today I add to that list, Lisa Cron who has worked as a literary agent, TV producer, and story consultant for Warner Brothers, the William Morris Agency, and others. She is a frequent speaker at writers’ conferences, and a story coach for writers, educators, and journalists. Again, I am using her article, “A Reader’s Manifesto: 15 Hardwired Expectations Every Reader Has for Every Story” (2/16/18 http://blog.creativelive.com/essential-storytelling-techniques/)

So we’ll continue with the third expectation a reader would have when they go to the STUPEFYING STORIES website, to read my most recent story there “Bogfather” (https://stupefyingstories.blogspot.com/2017/12/today-on-showcase.html) or dive into what I’m currently reading, ANOTHER MAN’S MOCCASINS, by Craig Johnson (https://www.amazon.com/Another-Mans-Moccasins-Longmire-Mystery/dp/0143115529):

3. “The reader expects a glimpse of the big picture…an idea where we’re going, why, and what’s at stake for the protagonist…[which] triggers the sense of urgency…allows us to make sense of what’s happening from beginning to end. John Irving [wrote]…: “Whenever possible, tell the entire story of the novel in the first sentence.”…What is the scope of my story? What journey will my reader take? Have I made it clear?...Be specific, be clear, don’t hold back…[giving them] a reason to care, a reason to be curious, and enough info to understand…the stakes...”

Craig Johnson has a bit of an advantage here. MOCCASINS is the fourth Longmire book, so we know a bit about the main character right from the start. One of the story lines in this book continues from the previous one as he works through physical therapy and the recovery of his daughter. Another storyline is new and initiated when his daughter says she’ll do “two more” if he tells her about one of the scars on his face. He agrees, and the second line of the story is introduced painlessly – Longmire’s tour of duty as (no surprise, actually!) a Marine CID investigator in Vietnam. (Well THAT explains a few things about him!)

But Johnson still has to deliver a powerful story, and the power of story, according to Cron, is that he introduce a hint at a broader story, what she calls the “big picture”. The character doesn’t exist in a vacuum, which is true of all real Humans. Every time I sit down to read a book or a story, I bring with me all of the baggage of my life – not just my political views or religious beliefs, but also how I feel about my kids, my job, and my life in general. Not ONLY how I feel on a particular day, but what parts of my life story are in the forefront of my mind or, as I prefer to think of it, “what’s on my heart”.

In MOCCASIN, he begins the story with this: “ ‘Two more.’ Cady looked at me but didn’t say anything. It had been like this for the last week.” Even if you hadn’t read the previous book, you know that from the get-go, there’s something happening and that this story is part of a larger tapestry. It’s a clear indication that the main character is alive and that there some sort of low level conflict.

My short story “Bogfather” begins: “Ozaawindib Erdrich stood with her arms crossed over her chest. Tommy Smoke scowled, then said, ‘Why is it here?’

‘Ozaawindib, who went by Win, snorted and said, ‘As well ask the wind why it blows.’”

‘Tommy looked at her and rolled his eyes. ‘That’s supposed to sound like Ojibwe chief wisdom?’”

“‘Nah, just a limnological observation, and as likely a good explanation as any.’”

It’s clear from the beginning that Win and Tommy have a long-term relationship in which they feel comfortable needling each other. There’s a bigger story here; bigger than the story we’re watching unfold.

While I really don’t want what I read for entertainment to mirror my real life – for example, I want the story to END, whether I’m reading JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL by Susanna Clarke or O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi” – I want to FEEL like it shouldn’t end, I want to FEEL like I lived the life in the story.

I think what Lisa Cron is trying to get me to do is to make each story feel like a slice of a character’s life. Even a novel, like Adrian Tchaikovsky’s CHILDREN OF TIME, despite the fact that it takes place over nearly two millennia and encompasses the virtual extinction of Humanity and the rise of another intelligent civilization, it is still only a slice of life. I never once see any of the main characters use a bathroom, I only see them rarely eat, and even though they have children, I never witness anything approaching intimacy. I do see how this fantastically broad sweep of time affects them all and I certainly feel their pain, their  victory, and their wonder.

Unlike other writers, however, she gives me specific clues about how to do that; which is exactly what I need at this point in my career as a writer.


September 20, 2018

LOVE IN A TIME OF ALIEN INVASION: CHAPTER 92 The Trial of Team One – 4


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)

Qap, pack leader of the Kiiote portion of the North American Triad eased back.

The female Pack who had led the ambush on the Triad as they’d exited the old Human fuel station, was falling into the cadence of more formal speech. The female had been speaking like a near-wild animal. She squirmed uncomfortably then said in a Submission tone, “I would stand, Pack Leader.”

Qap released the female and waited until the youngster rearranged her structure for upright locomotion. She lifted her chin and said, “I, too am Pack Leader. My name is Kang.” She stretched her neck, offering her throat.

Qap reached out, took a token scratch then said, “The Lieutenant sent us here. We did not expect to find you so easily.” Kang’s neck fur bristled and Qap touched it to smooth it. “We do not come to fight, Sister, but to ask for help.”

“Help? From us? We barely stay alive here.” In the snow, the three Human riders began to stir. “Sister, the Herd in these woods Hunt both Pack and Tribe for sport.”

Qap, Qilf, and Towt crouched into fighting stance, snarls escaping their muzzles. Qap said, “How is it that Pack and Herd hunt Humans? They are not worthy of the hunt. Kiiote and Yown’Hoo have a long-standing war, but Humans are…”

“I believe this as well, Sister…” there was a strong interrogative with a weak command in Kang’s reply.

Qap growled, then said, “Forgive, Sister. I am Pack leader Qap.”

“I am Pack Leader Qilf.”

Towt rolled onto its back and spoke upside down, “Neuter Towt.”

The Humans had recovered, as had the other Kiiote. It nodded, “Neuter Keert.”

The female Human raised her hand and said, “Cynthia Legatto.”

The male said, “Kobey Kamphasavanh.” His scent was doubt and anxiety. He didn’t trust them.

Qap addressed her remark to him, saying, “My favorite Human didn’t trust me at first, either.”

Kobey muttered a Human curse, then said, “How do you know I don’t trust you?”

“I was raised with two Human Tribe, Oscar and Xiomara. All of our Triad members are familiar with the habits and scents of each other.”

“Triad?” said the female Cynthia.

Qilf was the expert at Kiiote-Yown’Hoo-Human interaction and stepped forward at her fart of encouragement. He said, “We have been bred and raised together to be capable of building bridges between the Stupid, the mindless drones who war between themselves and continue to devastate the world that originally belonged to Humans.”

“Their fight is worthy!” Kang and Keert exclaimed. “All Yown’Hoo must die!”

“That subconscious programming has doomed out ancestors to an endless, unwinnable fight. The forces of the two balance almost perfectly and the only ones who have lost are the worlds upon which we waged out useless conflict. We must stop now. The Masters, Kiiote Leaders Pan and Zir; Ji-Hi who is Mother of All; and the Human Ally and Martyr, St. Admiral have created a plan that will bind Kiiote, Yown’Hoo, and Human together into a cord of three strands which will be unbreakable.”

The Kiiote snarled. Even the Humans crouched low to the ground, raising their crude spears. Kang said, “We would rather die than submit to the Yown’Hoo!”

Qap and Qilf bowed then. Qap said, “Then we will leave you to your suicide and wish you a better life with your next Pack.” She dropped to all fours as he Lead mate and the neuter followed suit. She crouched to spring and begin their long journey North to the rendezvous place. Her muscles bunched and she felt the adrenaline rush…

Kang howled, then barked, “What do you mean?”


September 18, 2018

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 370


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: Terracotta Army (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terracotta_Army Current Event:  https://www.chinaeducationaltours.com/guide/topic-terracotta-army-top-mysteries.htm “In the late years of the Qin Dynasty the country was in total upheaval. The legions of the capital garrison, which are the archetypes of the Terracotta Warriors, were disbanded. It is said that they joined other troops to chase and hunt General Xiang Yu, the supreme leader who led the conquest of the Qin capital. There are also rumors that the troops turned into the Terracotta Warriors. Of course, such superstitions are mentioned today just to add some mysterious charms to the terracotta figures.”

I know this is just a wiki, but this idea was inspired by a former student of mine who became a physics teacher and is currently teaching in China. He visited this site several weeks ago and has posted pictures on Facebook. His pictures of this army came up recently and though I couldn’t link directly to his Facebook, go to the Wiki article above…

It got me thinking – if there are some 8000 pieces (and about as many are still buried)…what if the mother of a teenager was working as part of an international team and uncovered something unusual (not that a standing army of 16,000 horses, soldiers, acrobats and various and sundry other “people” isn’t unusual enough!) What if she discovered a unique figure, say a woman who has been knocked down and is crying out in terror, with her arm upraised as a man draws back a spear and is obviously about to run her through…is there a curse on this piece that comes to haunt the teen and their mom? Or is it case for a forensic anthropologist (or would it be, more appropriately a forensic terracottaist) and was a MURDER involved which someone commemorated? Who did the commemorating, who was the perpetrator – and what if it had a connection to the present?


September 16, 2018

Slice of PIE: Again, the Question I Should Be Asking: “Why Don’t I QUIT Writing?”

This essay has been revised and updated from the version that appeared on June 5, 2011 and on June 12, 2016.

Long ago, in this very galaxy, I wrote a column for an ancient blogsite called FRIDAY CHALLENGE in which I answered the question, “Why Do We Write?” I admit, I had a brilliant answer! (;-)) You can read my first thoughts here: http://thefridaychallenge.blogspot.com/2010/12/why-we-write_19.html

Since then though, I’ve had second thoughts about how important this question is to ask.

Let me back up about fifteen years, to the year of Clarke’s First Odyssey. The seed for this thought fell on the ground the first time. My wife and two young kids were out garage-saling. We stopped at a house that had kid’s toys and clothing and got out. While my wife checked for treasures, I wandered into the garage.

[Let me pause in the story to give you a bit of local tradition. While every house I know of has a car garage – it’s hard to start a car that’s been sitting out directly exposed to -27 cold for any length of time – when we build the garages, most of us don’t INSULATE them. No reason; like I said, it’s a tradition. Typically, the interior of a garage presents an image of bare pine studs with some sort of exterior insulation laid over the outside on which clapboard or stucco or other siding is attached. From the studs hang numerous brackets, hooks, pegboards, sheet rock, shelves and electrical conduit or Romex® cable and either bare incandescent light sockets and bulbs or an arrangement of fluorescent fixtures and bulbs. Garages are usually utilitarian spaces reserved for cars, tools, lawn mowers, canoes, fertilizer spreader, grass-clipping catchers, roof rakes, snow blowers, garden implements and snow shovels.]

In the garage – in addition to the traditional d├ęcor – every space between the studs had a 14-inch piece of pine stud nailed into place at 12 or so inch vertical intervals. On each of the 14-inch pieces, paperback novels were packed side-by-side from the base plate to the rafters.

There were hundreds of books. Possibly thousands and all of the books were marked FOR SALE. I started in a corner and began to scan for titles that contained the words “star”, “alien”, “invasion”, the name of a real planet, a name that sounded like the name of a planet or anything that looked in any way “science fiction-y”

A guy approached me and asked, “Lookin’ for something in particular?”

He was only a little older than me and acted like this was his place, so I said, “Are all of those yours?”

Grinning, he nodded and said, “I’ve read every one of them, too!”

I’d noticed that while it was a broad selection, it seemed to be heavily weighted toward horror, romance and thriller. I was impressed. “All of them?”

“I was gonna be a writer, so I was told I had to read not only in the genre I wanted to break into, but outside of it as well. And I was supposed to keep current, too.”

I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, too! I said, “Did you get many things published?” Thinking I’d found a writer-soul-mate a mere four blocks from my home, I found my heart was racing. I confess was hanging on his every word.

Shaking his head, he replied, “Nope, so I gave up.” He meandered away to help someone fill a paper grocery bag with books, leaving me startled and heart-broken.

At that point in my career, I had no professional publications despite decades of throwing short stories, essays and novels at the heavy, quarry-stone walls of the Citadel of the Editarchs. Even then, standing in that slightly dank garage, I didn’t seriously consider giving up.

Why?

In the cold, hard light of the down-side of the second decade of the 21st Century, I have to honestly say to myself, “Why don’t you just give up? Why don’t you take up a hobby in which you might not only stand a chance of showing improvement, you might even take lessons! You’ll NEVER get really published!”

Of course, since then, I’ve had 50 professional publications, an uncounted number of unpaid publications that others read and comment on not including my personal blogs, and I have two novels, an agent, international publications. Yet even today, I confess I still feel that tug of rationality.

Then my inner writer exclaims, “What? Quit writing and give up this luxurious life of fame and fortune? ‘Get thee behind me, Satan!’”

My honest conscience fires back, “I’ll bet you have no idea how many times you’ve had stories, queries, articles and essays rejected.” It adds in a perfect Steve Zahn rendition of his quip from YOU’VE GOT MAIL, “As far as I can tell, the internet is just a new way to get rejected by women.” It adds in a snide voice, “You’ve submitted 973 times and published 93 manuscripts. That’s a pub rate of 9.5% since 1990. Pathetic!”

The inner writer then points out, “While that may be true, the earlier years were typically 0,1, or 2% pub rates. Last year you had only 4 of 82 manuscripts published. That’s only 6.4%, and you didn’t even get paid for all of those!”

“True, but half of them were REQUESTED and MORE than half were paid for! And you’ve sort of become a regular at PERIHELION and might be a kind-of regular at ANALOG!”

The argument subsides and I’m left wondering what was it, standing in that garage fifteen years ago, that made me go back and keep writing when every logical bone in my body and the thousands of paperbacks on the wall said, “Take up STAR TREK model building! At least you’ll have something to show for it!”?

While there was probably a measure of sheer cussedness in there, I think what kept me going was a deep desire to speak my mind in a way that was so entertaining that no one would realize that I’d spoken it.

Boiled down to its bare bones and reconstructed like a dinosaur skeleton, I find that the reason I’ve kept on writing since I was thirteen might be summed up in the words of Jeremiah, “…read from the scroll which you have written at My dictation the words of the Lord to the people in the Lord’s house on a fast day. And you shall read them to all the people of Judah who come from their cities.” Jeremiah 36:6 (NASB)

I work to write what God directs me to – sometimes better than at other times. But always I want to write his word so that others can read them and see His glory and salvation.

And THAT’S the real reason I don’t quit.

Seventeen years after that first query flung into space, I still find myself asking that question. I no longer have an agent, no novels published, and right at this moment, absolutely nothing "out". But...I read a new book about writing that I've been talking about:

http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2018/08/reflections-on-korea-and-cron-1.html
http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2018/04/writing-advice-lisa-cron-1-start-with.html
http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2018/06/writing-advice-lisa-cron-2-solution-to.html
http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2018/07/a-long-post-talking-about-way-more-than.html

I am in a learning phase right now. I've also started to explore what "sense of wonder" means and how I can apply that knowledge to writing speculative fiction...

It's unlikely that you've seen the last of this subject. But for now, have a good day.

September 13, 2018

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 131: 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 140,000+ words as of now), drop me a line and I’ll send you the unedited version.

“What the hell are you doing up there?” QuinnAH, the artificial boy disciple shouted from the foot of the stairs.

Stepan Izmaylova, preacher, estranged son of a Martian revolutionary, almost dropped the remains. “Language, please.” There was silence. He relented. “I found something,” he shouted down. “Something that’s gonna scare you.” The sound of Quinn’s pounding feet as he charged up the stairs like any other teenager confronted by mystery; stopped abruptly. “What…”

Stepan tilted the helmet back, shining the light into the cavity. QuinnAH squeaked. One foot still in the air as his mouth worked, but no sound came out. Stepan said softly, “I think we’ve found ourselves another alien.” He squeaked again. Stepan couldn’t help but smile.

QuinnAH came out of his freeze and shouted, “Why would you do that to someone?”

“I didn’t do anything to you that hadn’t happened to me.”

The boy opened his mouth to argue, then sighed. “Fair enough, Preach.” He paused. “But what now? That b-born pod left and I don’t think they’re coming back.”

“Why not?”

“They don’t belong here. They be on some sorta quest. They lookin’ for something and it…”

“I’m not your friends. You can speak regular English with me,” said Stepan, smiling a bit.

QuinnAH hung his head, “Sorry. I forget you’re not a normal person.”

Stepan laughed and stood up. Gently toeing the suit, he said, “We have to move this, probably bag it up, and send it to DaneelAH and his vatmates. They have the cetacean spacesuit now, and one of them has access to a Virtual Reality unit that fits it. I have no doubt that there are other artifacts scattered over Mars.” He pursed his lips then leaned down to QuinnAH, “And I think something big is brewing on Mars. Something that will change everything on the Red Planet.”

“You mean like what your god did to Earth?”

Stepan met his defiant gaze then slowly nodded, saying, “He did change Earth. But people grabbed what he said, twisted it and used it for personal gain.” He sighed. “It’s what Humans do as easily as breathing.”

Image: https://media.recovery.org/wp-content/uploads/recovery-shutter280148666-man-watching-sunrise-over-city-640x300.jpg

September 11, 2018

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 369


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.

OK – visiting a VERY old post…pair of posts…I thought I’d weave this together…

Trope: None, I hope!
Current Event: The Top Twelve YA Fantasy books (9/11/2018) https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=sr_st_review-rank?keywords=top+ten+YA+fantasy&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Atop+ten+YA+fantasy&qid=1536701445&sort=review-rank (PS – three of them are OLD and not Rowling or Pullman)

 What do you see? Creepy kids (more often associated with horror, but…), an academy, magic, “the darkness”, skeleton, uncles, murdered parents, a wizard, and “dark” something…always associated with “fantasy”. TWO of them are OLD! Nevertheless, they all rest squarely in the realm of what we think of as “traditional fantasy”.

The thing is that most of these will be seeing the bottom bins of recycling containers everywhere in a few years while the CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, HARRY POTTER, OZ and a very few others will take their places in the annals of “classic children’s literature”.

CS Lewis said, “No man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring a tuppence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.” (MERE CHRISTIANITY, Ch 11, Book 4)

TANGENT!

Some of you may know that I spent eight months in Africa as the guest of the Nigerian, Cameroonian, and Liberian Lutheran Churches. If people aren’t impressed with my time there as a tool of the Church, they’re appalled by my white supremacist intention of crushing African traditions beneath my white supremacist assumptions of African savagery that needs to be saved from savagery…

Both responses make me feel ill and neither one grants the people of the Continent any power of self-determination – and are equally white supreme-ist.

OK – rant over. (I’m sure this little essay may possibly irritate some people…) So, I recently read THE BETRAYAL OF AFRICA (for a brief review, go here:  (http://www.africafiles.org/article.asp?ID=17923) follow this with an apparent non-sequitur, a few years ago, I read and recommended for an ANDRE NORTON Award, Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu’s second book, THE SHADOW SPEAKER (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shadow_Speaker). If you’ve never read it, do. If you haven’t, read both and then build a story on this foundation: a Library to rival the one at Alexandria is nearly done in the center of the Sahara in the Erg of Bilmah – and the dark forces of America: Jersey Devils, Yuma Skeletons, Wampus Cats, Bigfeet, Headless Horsemen, Mosquitoes, Trickster Coyotes, Maids in the Mist and Pecos Bill and his legions take on the legends of the Sahara: mummies, scorpions, Desert Rattlers, raging sandstorms, desert wolves and tigers…who wins and how…Now, throw in a hay bale (one of the round ones), a city park, a lamp made of used electrical conduit, circuit boxes and insulated wire and a girl who wants nothing to do with her magical family and everything to do with the wonder of electricity...create an outline for a really TRUE young adult/teen fantasy.

Write it!


September 9, 2018

WRITING ADVICE: What Went RIGHT #43…With “Fairy Bones” (Submitted 5 times with one revision, sold to CAST OF WONDERS, November 2015)


In September of 2007, I started this blog with a bit of writing advice. A little over a year later, I discovered how little I knew about writing after hearing children’s writer, Lin Oliver speak at a convention hosted by the Minnesota Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Since then, I have shared (with their permission) and applied the writing wisdom of Lin Oliver, Jack McDevitt, Nathan Bransford, Mike Duran, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SL Veihl, Bruce Bethke, and Julie Czerneda. Together they write in genres broad and deep, and have acted as agents, editors, publishers, columnists, and teachers. Since then, I figured I’ve got enough publications now that I can share some of the things I did “right” and I’m busy sharing that with you.

While I don’t write full-time, nor do I make enough money with my writing to live off of it...neither do all of the professional writers above...someone pays for and publishes ten percent of what I write. When I started this blog, that was NOT true, so I may have reached a point where my own advice is reasonably good. We shall see! Hemingway’s quote above will now remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales! As always, your comments are welcome!
This story started out as a story about me and where I live. So the first thing I did right was start with something familiar; to use the proper writer’s vernacular, I “wrote what I knew”.

Of course, I’d also been told never to write a story claiming “it’s true! I only changed the names!”…well, that doesn’t cut the cheese.

“…simply jotting down a transcript of a real event and inserting it into a novel may not work particularly well; all too often, a purely factual account will not provide the reader accustomed to fiction’s standards of world-depiction with sufficient information to be able to picture what the writer experienced…There’s a reason that perennial cry of the realistic writer — ‘But it really happened that way!’ — doesn’t particularly impress agents, editors, or contest judges, you know. With apologies to Aunt Virginia, no matter how true the facts, it’s the writer’s responsibility to make them seem true to the reader.” (Anne Mini)

Besides, there are no fairies in the marsh near my house. Cranes, fox, coyote, wood ducks, pheasant, bald eagles, red-tailed hawks – absolutely yes! Also, there’s no retirement community right next to the park reserve. At least not yet. But the rest of it? The weather, the owls and their pellets, the grandson (mine is only eight years old right now), and the science of checking meals of owls to ascertain the health of the populations of  both the predator and prey – though there are no stick pads to reconstruct skeletons on (who would bother?) – those are all real.

Combined, they created something I wrote about last week. They made a story that communicated a sense of wonder. There are LOTS of definitions of what constitutes a sense of wonder. Distilled down from a FEW sources I found:

“While science or fantasy or horror can be the vehicle, this is entirely a FEELING that comes from inside a READER [from stories that]…have something unreal about them…a feeling of awakening or awe triggered by an expansion of one’s awareness of what is possible or by confrontation with the vastness of space and time…‘conceptual breakthrough’ or ‘paradigm shift’…achieved through the recasting of…previous narrative experiences in a larger context…speculation rooted in reality…Any[0ne] who has looked up at the stars at night and thought about how far away they are, how there is no end or outer edge to this place, this universe—any[one] who has felt the thrill of fear and excitement at such thoughts…some widening of the mind’s horizons, not matter what direction…any new sensory experience, impossible to the reader in his own person, is…what the activity of science fiction is writing about…a position from which they can glimpse for themselves, with no further auctorial aid, a scheme of things where mankind is seen in a new perspective…”

Given this as a starting ground, both of my stories unconsciously did this. In the first, I had a group of Human teenagers spend several days with a group of WheeAh teenagers isolated on a sailboat in the middle of the ocean. Something bad happens and the group pulls together and “saves the day”.

In “Fairy Bones”, a cranky teenager shuffled between divorced parents ends up cooling his jets with grandmaw: a sentence to boredom, without a doubt. She isn’t any more thrilled about spending time with a moody adolescent, but just figures she’s got a job to do. He’s the one then who discovers what appears to be the skeleton that is NOT a mouse or anything else, but a HUMANOID. Together, grandmother and grandson begin to unravel what appears to be something the government even knows about! They draw together and end up appreciating each other – expanding both their knowledge of the UNIVERSE and of each other.

It may not have impressed editors whose usual markets diminish the importance of anyone younger than (say) 35 or 60…but COW bought it after suggesting a few things that sharpened both the focus of the story and the interaction between the boy and his grandmother. After incorporating the editor’s suggestions, the story was much stronger and they published it.

Takeaway: the sense of wonder is something I need to incorporate not only for COW stories, but also for all of my work. It is, after all, what science fiction is supposed to be about. I aimed it at this market and the wrote to editorial request.

This was a fun story and I have an idea for a sort of “sequel”. Working title is “Fairy Tones” about communicating with the fairies…


September 6, 2018

LOVE IN A TIME OF ALIEN INVASION: CHAPTER 91 The Trial of Team Four - 3


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)

“Yes. Our mission, which I thought was a Human trick, or an elaborate Yown’Hoo prank…has now been confirmed as truth in a most startling way,” said Dao-hi.

“What mission?” said Lan-mai-ti.

“We seek the Primeval.” Por-go-el shuddered alongside her, and the immature Por-go-el dug its claws into Dao-hi’s side. She continued, “The Primeval chose this world for all of the Herd. It chose it because it was perfect. At the same time, Kiiote discovered that it was perfect for them. And Humans have bred here for tens of thousands of year.” She paused, “It does not strike you as strange?”

Lan-mai-ti, “It is a strange, perhaps important event, Herd Mother.”

Por-go-el said, “This world is more than it appears, Herd Mother. It must have been both chosen and ideal for a reason deeper than we can see.”

The Herd Mother curled her neck to look down at the potential male. If it continued to grow in such deep thought, she would have to make sure she bore at least one litter with it. She said, “Indeed, Por-gel. Indeed. The Primeval is on this world; and we go to meet her.”

“How will we find her?” said Por-go-el.

“Follow, small Herd, we must distance ourselves from the tunnel. There may be eyes on this world other than those of the Herd, the Pack, and the Naked Apes.” She usually didn’t refer to Humans in the derogative her people used in private, but one of their own had bestowed the name, and reading the text of the manuscript in a few days, she had to agree. Particularly with the Hoonish observation that “If something bites you, it’s most likely to be female.” Such was reality in the Herd. Males might have claws and speed, but females sharp teeth, sharp hooves, and powerful minds.

Such was reality among other species the Yown’Hoo had met face-to-face in their millennial past. “The Primeval is here; there are two Humans who have pledged to help us, the first is the Lieutenant Commander Patrick Bakhsh.” She wondered again at the Hoonish sound of his name.

“We know that one. There is another?” Por-go-el asked from her back.

“There is another Human who has acted with honor on our behalf and it is from her that I received a message before we were forced from our home in the City. The last time I spoke with her face-to-face was before you broke free of your chrysalis.”

“There was a time before I came from the chrysalis?” said Lan-mai-ti, stretching his long legs to barely keep up with her though she was only cantering.

Dao-hi swung her heavy head on its long, supple neck, knocking the potential male from his feet. “Mother Kan Yuen, Triad Query Marker Guru and Specialist. You have learned of her; and yes, of course there was a world before you broke free! You think yourself as one so special as to be the first of us?”

He dropped back, the physical manifestation of his stupidity denaturing the adrenaline he needed to keep up with her. On the Homeworld, Dao-hi had discovered, such stupidity was quickly culled to feed the Hunters who were still allowed to exist there. But since Dao-hi had never been there and she knew nothing but legends, it made no sense that she should sentence one of her Herd – not as one of the true Herd Mothers did. She slowed, whistling encouragement to the potential male.

Shortly, he caught up again, saying, “I will endeavor to use my brain for more than a batter ram, Herd Mother.”

“Well said, potential. But we now have greater concerns. We must find the Primeval. You are the only one who can do that.”

Per-go-el stumbled but didn’t fall. A moment later, he caught up with her and Lan-mai-ti again and called up to her, “How may I serve, Herd Mother?”

She shuddered. It was a good response; precisely the response a potential male should have given. He didn’t apologize. She suddenly realized that there would be more to being a Herd Mother than simply punishing stupidity. If she had acted first, then thought second, Por-go-el might have died back in the snowbank. Instead, he was running with her, willing to help. She would have to reflect on this. He had no need to know how close he’d come to death, so she said, “You are potentially male, so your nose is the only one among us who can detect the microscopically small amounts of Ji-hi, Mother of All. I cannot as I am female; Lan-mai-ti cannot, for it is simple potential. This is the reason the Lieutenant Commander Patrick Bakhsh sent you with us. This is your destiny.” She surged ahead and was gratified when the smaller Por-go-el followed the surge and kept up with her.