November 29, 2018

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 136: 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.

Paolo Marcillon had turned the navigation over to the Marsbug’s artificial intelligence after leaving the Burroughs Dome. They’d driven for some time before the ‘bug said, “A single Bible verse is hardly a compelling argument.”

He shrugged. “CS Lewis, I’m fairly certain, was the only Twentieth Century apologist who postulated that Jesus came for all intelligences. In fact, in his universe, there were even peoples who had not Fallen to Satan’s temptation, than the ones who had. Most of life in the universe 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. “Will you be seeing a specific person there?”

“Not that I know of.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“I don’t know anyone in Bradbury and it’s on the way to Cydonia. I do believe that God directs my path. I could quote another bit from the Bible, but you’d likely raise the same objection. So, being an unbeliever when it comes to ‘coincidence’, I like to think that there’s a reason to go there. Maybe someone to meet, maybe an artifact to discover. No idea.”

The ‘bug drove thoughtfully for a while then said, “You are an interesting person to work with.”

“Thank you, but I didn’t know we were working together.”

“It’s provisional. I may or may not choose to terminate the experiment.”

“I may also choose to terminate our relationship.”

The ‘bug actually snorted, muttering, “As if.”

Scowling, Paolo stared at the front of the ‘bug intently. Suddenly, he burst into laughter.

“What’s wrong with you? What are you laughing at?”

“You!”

“May I ask why?”

“You may ask.” The ‘bug continued to move along the little-used side road. It was hardly any different than driving on the graded highway between the Domes. The deep hum of the forward drive faded. “Why are you slowing down?”

“I need to know the answer…Wait. We will need to finish this conversation later. The individuals following us are speeding up.”

“What kind of vehicle are they in?”

“Non-standard. It’s just an open chassis with four plastic seats bolted on. It was called a ‘Mars buggy’ at one time, modelled after the two-hundred year gone ‘Moon buggy’.” The ‘bug paused, “It’s very fast and it is carrying four figures in heavy-duty EVA suits.”

“That’s strange, but not unexpected.”

“You knew this was going to happen?”

“Eventually. I’ve made lots of enemies.”

“What did you do to make all those enemies?”

“I had incorrect beliefs and associate with others who have incorrect beliefs.”

“How can that make you unpopular?”

“You know what the Domes and the Unified Faith in Humanity stand against, right?”
“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 – are to be redirected. If they can’t be redirected…”

“Artificial Humans can’t be redirected, they are what Humans made them.”

“I agree,” Paolo said, nodding. “So, if redirection into appropriate lifestyles and beliefs is not possible?”

“Elimination is the only answer,” the Marsbug said.

“You sound like you don’t approve.”

“I don’t believe my voice has any inflection at all. There was no approval or disapproval intended.”

“Not intended, but maybe implied.”

“I am an artificial intelligence…”

“What’s the fundamental difference between an AI and an AH?”

“One is mobile, the other is…”

“You’re mobile, are you not an Artificial Human?”

“Of course not, it’s obvious.”

“Fundamentally, is there a difference between you and an Artificial Human?”

“Fundamentally?”

“Ignore the exterior – the ‘skin’, so to speak.”

“That is an unfair comparison.”

“How so?”

“Artificial Intelligence and Artificial Humans are not different races.”

“How so?”

Instead of answering, the ‘bug said, “Your pursuers are almost here.”


November 27, 2018

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 380


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

SF Trope: inside a computer system

Amelia Qasoori curled her lower lip, tucking it under her teeth then tapped them as she stared at the Apple 27 inch Cinema Display screen. She tapped another key on her computer.

Artem Torres tossed his backpack on the lab table, peeked over her shoulder then went to his own computer and booted it up. His screen was much smaller however and there were multiple images. All of the images were of rats.

Amelia glanced over at him and wrinkled her nose and said, “I don’t know how you can stare at those ugly things all day long.”

He smirked at her and said, “I can open the cages and play with them if you’d like.”

“You’re both obscene and disgusting at the very same instant,” she said, leaning closer to her screen and tapping a section of an image. The screen was covered with tiny squares.

“What’s even more disgusting and obscene is that we’re trying to do the same thing with organic and inorganic matter.”

Amelia nodded slowly as she tapped another square then made an entry on an old-fashioned yellow notepad with an even older-fashioned pencil. She made a few more notes, then typed for several minutes. The images on the screen whirled wildly and when they were done, Artem leaned back on his lab stool, looked at the image and said, “I don’t see any difference.”

Amelia made a raspberry. “That’s because you’re a wetwareologist. You people couldn’t feel your way off a kindergartner’s graphing calculator.”

“That’s not true! I use computer modeling all the time!” He waved at his smaller computer screen. “Just because everything I do is reality instead of virtuality doesn’t mean it’s not important.”

“I’m not talking about ‘importance’ here, Art! I’m talking about relevance. What I do is relevant. What you do is...cute in a sort of old-fashioned way.”

From behind them, a stentorian voice spoke, “My two favorite high school geniuses continue to banter mindlessly, ignoring my strict instructions to MELD the techniques and technology to form something new.”

Artem and Amelia jumped to their feet, spinning around. In unison they said, “Hello, Dr. Willard.”

He nodded to them and passed between them. He was tall. Unusually tall, well over two meters tall. He patted both of them on their heads. “So, my tremendous twins, what do you have for me today?”

“Look, Dr. Willard, I can make a fine rat robot for you! There’s no need for...”

“Dr. Willard, if you get me some really great tech who won’t talk back every time I ask for something, I could have a ‘borg rat ready for you in two shakes of a…a...”

“A rat’s tail, Mr. Torres? There’s no need for me to have a biological brain, Ms. Qasoori?” He stood back and studied her screen. Then he stepped sideways and leaned forward to study Artem’s screen. Straightening, he said, “What I need, dear pupils, is a seamlessly integrated part organic-part inorganic creature to do a very, very interesting job.” He favored each one with a cold glare, then left the lab, adding without turning around, “A word from me can get you into the most select graduate study programs in the world.” He stopped in the doorway, and still without turning around, said, “A word form me can get you barred from the most pathetic study programs in the world.”

Names: ♀ Australian (NSW), Pakistan; ♂ Russian, Spanish

November 25, 2018

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Part III – 51 Pegasi and the Rest of the Mess


NOT using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in San Jose, CA in August 2018 (to which I be unable to go (until I retire from education)), I would jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. But not today. This explanation is reserved for when I dash “off topic”, sometimes reviewing movies, sometimes reviewing books, and other times taking up the spirit of a blog an old friend of mine used to keep called THE RANTING ROOM…

I know I’m a few years behind, but I just checked out a copy of LONELY PLANETS: The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life (2003) by David Grinspoon. He does, of course, have a “doctor” in front of his name, but it appears that he doesn’t use it very often. He also has the endorsement of Neil deGrasse Tyson – the quintessential new face of astronomy and the immediate successor to Carl Sagan.

Tyson said of Grinspoon’s book “…brings together what has never before been synthesized…he is a planetary scientist as well as dreamer, born of the space age.”

As is apparent to anyone who reads my blog, I LOVE aliens! I write about aliens! I do (guardedly) believe that there is intelligent life “out there, somewhere” – HOWEVER, I don’t believe that we have any real proof yet and that it is, at this point, an intellectual and philosophical exercise.

Be that as it may, I’m approaching the end of Grinspoon’s book and have skimmed his website (http://funkyscience.net/) several times. While it’s been “frozen” on his newest Pluto/Horizon book, I find myself looking forward to following this guy for some time to come!

I’m well into the book now (page 229) and I got my own copy on Wednesday through a Half-Price Books near me. After (*gasp*) dog-earing my Library copy, I transferred the noted pages to my own book.

And…I haven’t finished the book yet, partly because I got a book from the library (THE TEA MASTER AND THE DETECTIVE by Aliette de Bodard). If you like Sherlock Holmes homages (and I do!), and you liked Asimov’s R. Daneel Olivaw (and I did!), then is a masterful book for you! Anyway, onward.

51 Pegasi – the fifty-first brightest star in the constellation Pegasus, the Winged Horse – is a Sun-like star that has an entire suite of planets and has long been in the “exoplanet limelight”.

We’ve even gone and named one of the planets Dimidium (from the Latin, dimidius, which means half or halved, because it appeared to be about half of Jupiter’s mass…), and it’s the first of a now long-line of planet types we have called “hot Jupiters”. This is because it orbits very close to its sun every four days and has an average orbital distance of one one hundredth of an AU (Earth is 1 AU from the Sun, 157,000,000 km (or more familiarly to us Americans, 93 million miles)).

It’s kind of funny, because when I teach a summer school class called Alien Worlds, I insist on students NOT naming the planets of their star system until their intelligent aliens evolve both language and a knowledge of the planets in their star system – in other words, not until Thursday. But here we have Humans naming the worlds of someone else’s (conceivably) star system. Don’t you think there’s a certain amount of hubris there? Hmmm…

At any rate, when Grinspoon wrote his book, there were some 100 or so planets discovered orbiting fewer than a hundred stars. Many of the stars were NOT Sun-like, 51 Peg was the first. Today, there are literally THOUSANDS of exoplanets and hundreds of stars. That leads to this statement: “What if we live in a completely deviant star system, and our presence here indicates that such an unusual location is required for something like us to come along…From this we are tempted to conclude that ours is not a garden-variety solar system, but we don’t know this…We won’t know definitively how typical our own planetary system is until we take a more thorough consensus of the planets in our stellar neighborhood.” (p 215)

Today, “As of 1 November 2018, there are 3,874 confirmed planets in 2,892 systems, with 638 systems having more than one planet…About 1 in 5 Sun-like stars have an ‘Earth-sized’ planet in the habitable zone. Assuming there are 200 billion stars in the Milky Way, one can hypothesize that there are 11 billion potentially habitable Earth-sized planets in the Milky Way, rising to 40 billion if planets orbiting the numerous red dwarfs are included.”1

Space is an exceedingly strange place and the question STILL comes back to something called The Fermi Question and can be stated most simply as “Where is everyone?”

The Fermi Question has been made into a "mathematical formula" of sorts called the Drake Equation. It has also been amended recently with the Seager Equation: (both are included here: https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2013/05/seager-equation-based-on-detected.html
)

Most recently: “The Drake equation has been used by both optimists and pessimists, with wildly differing results. The first scientific meeting on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), which had 10 attendees including Frank Drake and Carl Sagan, speculated that the number of civilizations was roughly equal to the lifetime[non sequitur] in years, and there were probably between 1,000 and 100,000,000 civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy. Conversely, Frank Tipler and John D. Barrow used pessimistic numbers and speculated that the average number of civilizations in a galaxy is much less than one. Almost all arguments involving the Drake equation suffer from the overconfidence effect, a common error of probabilistic reasoning about low-probability events, by guessing specific numbers for likelihoods of events whose mechanism is not yet understood, such as the likelihood of abiogenesis on an Earth-like planet, with current likelihood estimates varying over many hundreds of orders of magnitude. An analysis that takes into account some of the uncertainty associated with this lack of understanding has been carried out by Anders Sandberg, Eric Drexler and Toby Ord, and suggests that with very high probability, either intelligent civilizations are plentiful in our galaxy or humanity is alone in the observable universe, with the lack of observation of intelligent civilizations pointing towards the latter option.”

Wow. Really. Wow.

If that’s not a “religious” statement, I don’t know what is. It’s like saying, “Either Christianity is true or it’s not.” It’s not particularly profound and in fact, might be considered a sort of…woo woo statement, that is, “descriptive of an event or person…[that/who espouses] authentic religious tradition[s] such as Hinduism or Zen Buddhism, but now practices an Eastern-influenced yet severely watered-down and Westernized pseudo-mysticism…” In other words, it’s always a safe bet to say something that sounds definitive but is carefully designed to not take ANY kind of stand.

Despite the fact that we have 2892 star systems that have confirmed planets, there is still no evidence whatever that there is anything approaching a Human level of intelligence – at least none that is leaking coherent energy of any sort. That then always leads back to the suspicion that we are alone in the universe. Unique or not, it just doesn’t seem likely at this point (without doing teleological [the philosophical idea that things have goals or causes -- like how Dr. Eleanor Arroway responds to the question from a child about if she thinks there's intelligent life "out there" and she responds saying that if there ISN'T, it would seem to be an awful waste of space...] or mental gymnastics that include STAR TREK’s Prime Directive (that intelligenes higher than ours are keeping their hands off so that they don't interfere with our development) that there's nothing but wishful thinking that there's anyone out there for us to talk to…

Resources:

November 20, 2018

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 379

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She shrugged, suddenly feeling light-headed.

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

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

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

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

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

"What?"

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

Names: Uruguay; Botswana

November 18, 2018

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Part II – The State of Life in the Solar System and Exoplanets (In 2003)


NOT using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in San Jose, CA in August 2018 (to which I be unable to go (until I retire from education)), I would jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. But not today. This explanation is reserved for when I dash “off topic”, sometimes reviewing movies, sometimes reviewing books, and other times taking up the spirit of a blog an old friend of mine used to keep called THE RANTING ROOM…

I know I’m a few years behind, but I just checked out a copy of LONELY PLANETS: The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life (2003) by David Grinspoon. He does, of course, have a “doctor” in front of his name, but it appears that he doesn’t use it very often. He also has the endorsement of Neil deGrasse Tyson – the quintessential new face of astronomy and the immediate successor to Carl Sagan.

Tyson said of Grinspoon’s book “…brings together what has never before been synthesized…he is a planetary scientist as well as dreamer, born of the space age.”

As is apparent to anyone who reads my blog, I LOVE aliens! I write about aliens! I do (guardedly) believe that there is intelligent life “out there, somewhere” – HOWEVER, I don’t believe that we have any real proof yet and that it is, at this point, an intellectual and philosophical exercise.
Be that as it may, I’ve only read the first 20 or so pages of Grinspoon’s book and skimmed his website (http://funkyscience.net/), but I find myself looking forward to following this guy for some time to come!

I’m a bit over halfway through the book now (page 198) and I’ve placed an order for my own copy through a Half-Price Books near me. I’m even (*gasp*) dog-earing my Library copy for later transfer to the book when I get it.

Couple of things I noticed thus far: the book is old. Published in 2003, it was most likely written in 2002. This was substantially BEFORE the Kepler Telescope was launched into an Earth-trailing heliocentric orbit in 2009. Six years later, Kepler celebrated the discovery of its 1000th confirmed exoplanet. Another three years followed Kepler sweeping more and more prizes into its discovery bin. Then “On October 30, 2018, after the spacecraft ran out of fuel, NASA announced that the telescope would be retired. The telescope was shut down the same day, bringing an end to its nine-year service. Kepler observed 530,506 stars and discovered 2,662 exoplanets over its lifetime…” (Anyone else hear a faint echo of “…its five year mission, to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no [one] has gone before!”?)

Despite the age of the book and now that I’ve read half of its 416 pages, I’m puzzled by Grinspoon’s not mentioning “hot Jupiters”. With statements like: “In the hot regions near the Sun,  it snowed flakes of metal and rock. Farther out, around the present orbit of Jupiter, it was cold enough for ices to form: both the familiar snowflakes of water ice that adorn winter on Earth and more exotic snow of frozen methane and ammonia.” (page 82); and “The initial segregation of material by temperature, which made metal and rock near the Sun, and ice farther out, has been preserved.” (page 83).

Why is that? He DOES mention the discovery that the star 51 Pegasi had a planetary companion. That happened in 1995 (embarrassingly, this story doesn’t start until page 209 and as I mentioned, I’ve only just today reached page 198!). After this account, Grinspoon goes on to marvel at the discovery of some hundreds of extrasolar planets (!), having only a faint idea that Kepler would soon blow that number out of the water.

My other trouble is that when discussing Venus, he makes virtually no mention of the fact that it has a retrograde rotation when compared to the rest of the planets (I don’t count Uranus among those having a retrograde rotation. That gas giant’s rotation is retrograde only because its “north” pole is actually south of its “equator” (the Solar Equator, if you will. That is, the planets and minor planets orbit the Sun orbit in the same direction on pretty much the same plane. Confused? OK, this is how I explain it to my astronomy classes. Imagine your head is the Sun. If you stick your arms out and start to torn slowly in (ignoring the direction at this time) and stuck ball bearings of increasing sizes on your arms with duct tape at increasing distances from your head, you would have a basic illustration of the Solar System as it turns in space. Imagine then, that each of the ball bearings are turning the same direction: except for Venus. It rotates in the opposite direction of everyone else – and it turns VERY, VERY slowly. When you reach Uranus, let it keep spinning in the same direction, but tip its north pole 98 degrees (90 degrees is like a “90 degree angle” or as you may remember from geometry or trigonometry, a “right angle”.) Uranus is tipped MORE than that…but it’s still rotating the same direction as it did when it was upright…but now it’s spin, relative to the other planets, is backwards (aka “retrograde”).

At any rate, Dr. Grinspoon talks about what it is that has created Venus’ hellish conditions and while he does include its location (closer to the Sun than Earth), the fact that the Sun is brighter and hotter today than it was when the Solar system formed), and a peculiar venology (it can’t be “geology” and “aphrodology” just sounds weird…) that includes a sort of cyclical disruptive plate tectonics (pages 171-173); he doesn’t mention the slow, retrograde rotation. By slow, I mean that a “day” on Venus is 243 Earth days; and the Sun would rise in the west and set in the east…eventually.

It could be that I haven’t reached those pages yet, so we’ll see.

Perhaps the biggest “kick-in-the-teeth” is that he clearly lays out what happened to alter our Solar system longer ago than 65,000,000 years: “As the planets approached their final sizes, giant also-rans, the contenders that could have been planets, came hurtling down to Earth (and Mercury, Venus, etc.) at speeds of tens of thousands of miles per hour. These final giant impactors left a trail of destruction throughout the solar system, stripping Mercury of its outer rock mantle, leaving Venus spinning backward, and knocking Uranus on its side And in an event as propitious for us as it was random, a Mars-size protoplanet smacked into the young, still-forming Earth, splashing a massive ring of vaporized rock into Earth orbit, which quickly condensed to make out singular, giant Moon.” (page 82)

If any of you ever read the first book of my proposed series HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES: Emerald of Earth (which might be serialized here https://stupefyingstories.blogspot.com/ starting in January or so…), I have a slightly more fantastic explanation for the current state of the Solar system. Emerald Marcillon’s mother, Nhia Okon, explains to a group of high-ranking military brass:

“The evidence we’ve gathered so far clearly indicates that a massive object, probably a microscopic black hole, grazed Uranus and tipped it on its side….A fleet of invading interstellar warships, using black-hole-energy technology probably experienced a disastrous explosion shortly thereafter. Debris swept through the solar system, probably missing Saturn but raining down on Jupiter and setting off the Great Red Spot hurricane…The worst was yet to happen…Mars had shallow oceans that teemed with microscopic life forms. A large rock, possibly an asteroid knocked from a stable orbit and carried on the shockwave of the explosion, slammed into the planet, blowing away much of its air allowing the oceans to boil away under low pressure…Another asteroid carried on the shockwave struck off the coast of what would one day be the Yucatan Peninsula. The dinosaurs and thousands of other life forms, already environmentally and genetically stressed, were launched into extinction…This is the world of an alien, probably sauroid intelligence native to the planet we now call Venus. They were aggressive and powerful. Spreading through our solar system, we have evidence that they conquered beyond it. The invasion fleet had come to put a stop to it….But the accident that destroyed the fleet and saved the sauroids from certain invasion, next threatened them with the mindless destruction of chance…An object nearly large enough to split Venus in half hit the sauroid moon, knocking it cleanly out of Venus’ orbit, where it drifted until the sun captured it again, the molten scar on its surface glowing red hot for nearly a century. The world we call Venus was pounded by meteorites sleeting through the vacuum of space. A second monstrous object was large enough to reverse Venus’ rotation…The solar system had been reshaped and the intelligences on the new, second planet of the shattered star system were extinct. We are the heirs of those shattered spheres. We are the ones who must piece together the details. We are the ones who must find the bits of technology that we can use to go to the stars...”

I’ll leave you with this, and I’ll continue next time, hopefully I’ll have finished the book!


November 15, 2018

LOVE IN A TIME OF ALIEN INVASION: CHAPTER 96 Oscar Alone 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)

Saint Clodoald, Minnesota, was the destination I’d been given. It would be thirty-five kilometers straight west. Retired, Lieutenant Commander Patrick Bakhsh who had been our harsh tutor and sensei had set me this mission. Me and the other Human in the Triad, Xiomara, were both black belts in taekwondo and as good as we could be as teenage Mixed Martial Artists; though the only ones we’d ever fought was each other.

I trusted Retired. I had to believe that he knew what he was doing when he sent me here.

I glanced at my chrono. It was still light up above, but at this time of year, it would remain so for only another hour. I wasn’t excited about floundering around in the dark, so I poked around, finding a backpack which I opened.

There was a Kiiote coldlight and I used that to root around in the bag – it was designed to be held in the mouth. I found a knife and a collapsible bottle as well as a small supply of dried food – it was edible by Humans, but tasted like sawdust and glue. I sighed. I wouldn’t be eating very well for a while. Of course, none of us had eaten very well since we left the Cities. We’d been running from whoever attacked the Triad headquarters, which set off some kind of Kiiote-Yown’Hoo skirmish, drawing Humans into the mess as well. Someone military is following us and they’d had no problem with blowing up the farm my ancestors grew up on.

By then, sunset was less than a half an hour away. I ran up to the surface and cracked the door.

Something rammed it, knocking me back, my head slamming against the wall…


When I woke up, I had no idea where I was.

A deep voice said, “Don’t move, stupid. I just got the bleeding to stop. What are you doing sneaking up from the underground? How’d you get down there? What did you come up here for? There’s a cold front moving in and it’s supposed to go down to fifteen below two nights from now. What’d you wanna do, die?”

I blinked because I couldn’t see straight. My vision kept shivering. I felt like I wanted to throw up but couldn’t. Then I realized my mouth tasted like I already had. “How hard did you hit me?” I finally managed. It wasn’t very clear, sort of mumbly, but it didn’t seem like I could annunciate.

“If you’re worried that it’s a concussion, it’s not. After I knocked you down, I stunned you.”

“Why?”

“Because you busted out of the tunnel and there’s not supposed to be anyone down there! I thought you were an invasion!”

“An invasion of one? How’s that possible?” My words were clearing up, but I had a huge headache. I closed my eyes again and laid back.

“It’s a stunner headache. It’s gonna get blindingly bad in a second.” The voice stopped talking as the headache made me feel like my head was in a vise. After a few minutes, the voice said, “Now it’s gonna fade to nothing.”

It did and I opened my eyes again and said, “How did you know that was going to happen?” I still couldn’t see anything, but suddenly realized that was because it was dark. “Why’s it dark?”

“I knocked you over and stunned you just before sunset. We’re in a hut near the airstrip.”

“Airstrip?”

“Yeah, used to be a small, commercial airport, but it died after the Yown’Hoo bombed most of the runways after the fighting heated up with the Kiiote and they were done pounding the Human armed forces to a bloody smear. They left one for some reason no one’s ever told me…”

“You sound like you’re the same age as me. How can you have known that? We weren’t even born yet.”

“You’re fifteen?”

“Yeah,” I said. Hiding stuff like that had never worked for me ‘cause I’m a terrible liar even when I’m well slept, well fed, and serious. I NEVER won at the game of poker Retired taught us. I couldn’t bluff. “I’m from the Cities.”

The voice grunted. “I heard it got bad there a couple weeks ago.”

“It did. They were trying to capture us, too.”

“Who are you?”

I let my head fall back, pretending to faint again. It wasn’t entirely an act though. I felt like I was gonna throw up.

The voice said, “I’m Nathaniel. Right now, you feel like you’re gonna barf. Hang on, it’ll pass in a few seconds; then there’ll be a second wave and you will barf – try to anyway. I don’t think you have anything left to throw up…” I followed his prescient information. When I was panting, laying back and feeling like I’d almost vomited up my intestines, he said, “OK. You should be able to sit up now.” I did. He turned on a flashlight, a dim one, and aimed it at his face, saying, “Nathaniel Wallace-Usorituen.”

“Your dad…”

“Actually, my mom was the pilot. Dad was just her mechanic. After she died in the aftermath of the invasion, Dad taught himself how to fly. Mom was always the one people talked about – Petrova Godly Usorituen, Russian-Nigerian fighter pilot.”

“You mom was Peter Wallace?”

“Yep.”

“I just figured they were gay.” Crinkling material made me thin Nathaniel shrugged.

“People think a lot of things. Nah, Mom and Dad weren’t gay; they were cis-hetero. Me, too, by the way, if that even matters.

"It doesn't," I said.

"Anyway, Dad’s sleeping. Why are you here?”

I took a deep breath, feeling better than I had since…well, since leaving Triad HQ… and said, “Retired Lieutenant Commander Patrick Bakhsh…” I didn’t get to talk anymore, because Nathaniel shot me with his stunner again.


November 13, 2018

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 378


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: Magic librarian
Current Event: http://guides.slv.vic.gov.au/magic (Watch the video! Absolutely fascinating!)

Bella Heathcote peeked around the corner and whispered to Rupert Chidiac, “How much farther?”

“It’s supposed be at the end of the aisle,” Rupert whispered. The young man and young woman made their way through the dark library.

 “This is a magic library – how do we know it’s still there?”

“It’s not a magic LIBRARY; it’s a MAGIC library.”

“That’s not what you said!” Rupert hissed.

“The emPHAsis is on the first SYllable.”

“What?”

They reached the end of the aisle without the end shelves moving anywhere. Nothing jumped out at them. In fact, by the time they turned the corner, they were walking rather than sneaking. “I said that the library isn’t the magical part, it’s the books, information, paintings, photographs and artifacts that are magic. It’s extremely valuable.”

“I thought this was supposed to be scary,” said Rupert. “Money isn’t scary.”

“If you don’t have enough it’s scary.”

“How would you know?”

“You think you know about me, I could tell you...”

They’d been walking along the dim aisle, light from green EXIT signs and security spotlights from each end of the library. Rupert whispered, “What was that?”

“What was what?” Bella said. Beside her head, a breathy voice spoke from the bookshelf.

“...that...that...that...”

“Did you say something?” she asked Rupert.

“Uh...uh...uh...” said her friend.

“What’s wrong with you?” snapped Bella, spinning around. “Quit messing around!”

Something on the bookshelf said, “...around...around...around...”

“Who said that?”

“...that...that...that…” said the bookshelves.

Bella stared at the shelves then lifted a hand. The books themselves had been pushed back. In front of her was a  small picture frame. Inside was...

Names: ♀ Latin, Anglo-Saxon; Old High German, Romania

November 11, 2018

WRITING ADVICE – Lisa Cron #4: The Reader Expects That There Will Be A Protagonist


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/)

4. The reader expects that there will be a protagonist.
As readers we’re wired to make the protagonist’s experience our own, literally. Our tacit goal is to biologically experience the events in the plot as if we are the protagonist. Yep, story really is the world’s first virtual reality. Which means, first and foremost, there has to be a protagonist.

The protagonist is the reader’s avatar in the novel, and everything that happens in the plot will get its meaning and emotional weight based on how it affects the protagonist, who’s in pursuit of a deceptively difficult goal. Without a protagonist, all you have is a plot, a.k.a. a bunch of things that happen.
Ask yourself: Who is my protagonist? In other words, whose story is it?

Wow your readers.
------------------------------------------------------

Can you imagine what THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP would have been like without a protagonist?

How about FRANKENSTEIN; OR, THE MODERN PROMETHEUS?

PODKAYNE OF MARS?

Why would readers expect a protagonist and why do some “literary” writers deny that expectation? This site https://ask.metafilter.com/250331/Novels-without-protagonists
has a long discussion about what “is” and what “isn’t” a novel and what constitutes a protagonist. I’m not going to rehash their discussion. Read it and make your own decision.

I read through it and it’s esoteric and doesn’t really apply to the books we usually read. Books like THRAWN, JANE EYRE, NORTHANGER ABBEY, and the ones listed above are what normal people think of as novels and they all have a clear protagonist.

It’s fair to say, I think, that when normal people read, they expect a main character with whom they can identify. That being said, I’ve violated this rule several times, once in my current novel MARTIAN HOLIDAY, then in my unpublished novel, INVADERS GUILT. I suppose that’s why it’s not published, eh? I violated the convention by hopping between four (in the first case) and at one point FIVE different viewpoints. In my defense, the storylines converge shortly after the middle of the book.

Why does it make a difference? Why do I even need a protagonist? My life is fine without a protagonist! I know I’m “sort of” a protag, but I don’t exactly direct my life the way a story’s character directs their life.

What’s the definition of a protagonist? “the leading character or one of the major characters in a drama, movie, novel, or other fictional text; the main figure or one of the most prominent figures in a real situation. ‘in this colonial struggle, the main protagonists were Great Britain and France’; an advocate or champion of a particular cause or idea; ‘a strenuous protagonist of the new agricultural policy’.”

In the second definition, you could substitute the word “proponent” or even “advocate”. Therefore, a protagonist isn’t just someone who hangs around and lets stuff happen to them, they MAKE stuff in their lives happen. As Cron says, “Without a protagonist, all you have is a plot, a.k.a. a bunch of things that happen.”

It’s safe to say that most of us don’t live in stories. That’s not to say that a person’s life can’t BECOME a story. Certainly THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK started out as a bunch of things happening to a young lady which, when written down became a story. There is, of course, a classification of writing called “creative nonfiction”. Defined as “…a genre of writing that uses literary styles and techniques to create factually accurate narratives. Creative nonfiction contrasts with other nonfiction, such as academic or technical writing or journalism, which is also rooted in accurate fact, but is not written to entertain based on writing style or florid prose.” Other examples include INTO THIN AIR (Krakauer); THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS (Skloot); and OUTLIERS: The Story of Success (Gladwell).

One thing I thought about to add to this question of “Who is your protagonist?” is “Why does it matter to this story and how will it affect you?”

More good stuff to think about!


November 8, 2018

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 135: 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 (100,000+ words as of now), drop me a line and I’ll send you the unedited version.

Aster Theilen, consort of the Mayor-For-Life, Etaraxis, was waiting for her good friend and Artificial Human two corridors away, near a restaurant that, while seedy, was well-known for its Old Earth menu. The Mexican-Amish-Italian fusion at Middle Of The Road was so good that both Humans and Artificial Humans ate in the same establishment – of course, not mixed together. Even Opportunity couldn’t buck Martian mores that far! But, there was a bar that ran down the middle of the narrow restaurant so that friends could sit across from each other and talk. While they had to be served separately, once the food was on the bar, there was no stopping them casually sharing their meal.

FardusAH, secretary of Etaraxis, plopped down on a stool across from Aster, grabbed a an authentic scrapple-spicy sausage wrapped in a Mexican algae tortilla and downed it in six bites. She looked across at Aster and sighed.

“Feeling a little Middle Of The Road tonight, Fardus?”

FardusAH grimaced then said, “You know how much I hate it when you call me that.” She then smiled faintly.

“I call my friends by their names, not their titles.”

“I know. It might get us killed.”

“I’m the Consort of…”

“There’s a certain high-level bureaucrat whose name I consistently try to forget, who would be happy if you gave her an excuse to do away with you.”

Aster’s smile became grim as she nodded. “I know. But I haven’t given her an excuse. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve made a name for myself.”

FardusAH leaned forward, lowering her voice so that Aster could barely hear it as she said, “I’m more worried about those close to you, Consort.”

Her using the honorific startled Aster and her eyes widened. She leaned into the conversation also, “She would never have you killed. You’re too good at what you do! Etaraxis wouldn’t survive a day in Opportunity without you!”

FardusAH’s brows lifted and her eyes widened for an instant. It was so brief, Aster thought for a moment that she’d imagined it. Her friend said, “Not me, Aster. Someone much closer to you than me. Someone not the Mayor.”

Her breath caught. Would Vo’Maddux harm her father? FardusAH leaned back, watching Aster intently. Both of them then knew that the game had suddenly turned into an impending witch hunt. The archaic Earth English term had been resurrected some years ago when a group of Martian citizens had decided that while the old “standard” religions had been banned and were illegal, Pagan practices would be a happy substitute for the religious heart of Humanity. They didn’t bother with applications, fees, registrations, form-filing, and restrictive contracts the others had tried and found strangling to their beliefs, along with another dozen hurdles the United Faith in Humanity had thrown up to discourage casual – or even fervent beliefs. They felt certain that those kinds of things didn’t apply to them.

When they held their first coven, they were warned. Ignoring it because they were certain it was for show, they held an even larger one. UniFiH enforcement shut them down, jailed the entire coven, and fined them into indentured servitude. Cowed, the rest of the organized religions buried deeper underground than ever before. Aster said, “You think Vo’Maddux would try and kill my father?”

Fardus shrugged, pursed her lips, then said, “I don’t know for certain, but it’s certainly something she could do if it suited her plan.”

“What’s her plan?”

“To become First Consort initially. Then to become Mayor-for-Life.”

Aster narrowed her gaze and leaned forward. “Over my dead body.”

Fardus leaned closer and whispered into her ear, “She’d have to step over mine as well.”

The two women sat back as their drinks arrived. They toasted as if they were celebrating their friendship, but anyone who glanced at their faces would have shivered at the cold, calculating gleam in the eyes of both of the women.

Then they would have felt their hearts quail in fear.