April 30, 2019


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: Apparently no one has ever thought of an “armies of things that aren’t supposed to be alive”. So, here’s an idea…                               
Current Event:
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, I linked here:

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?

April 28, 2019

Slice of PIE: Racist Ideas, Christianity, and Fantasy & Science Fiction

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 wrote this a month ago and I am currently at a men's retreat where we studied the book of Jonah. I discovered that THIS is a book for me. Jonah was a normal guy (pun intended); not a king, a rich man, or anything else special. I understand that people argue about whether he was "real" or whether Jonah is a work of "pious fiction". (Funny that, I know lots of people who are neither pious nor fiction writers who use fictions to make a point. You're reading one of them...). I am posting this again because after re-reading it, I think it makes some important points and I found myself agreeing even MORE with my own writing. So if you thought you read this before, you did...

I’ve sort of been doing a lot of non-fiction reading lately.

I’m almost done with STAMPED FROM THE BEGINNING:  A Definitive History of Racist Ideas In America (Ibram X. Kendi); the men’s group at my church have been reading MERE CHRISTIANITY (CS Lewis); and for our upcoming men’s retreat, our pastor recommended THE PRODIGAL PROPHET: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy (Timothy Keller)…

I’m going to go off on a few tangents here, but I’ll tie it up into a coherent thesis statement shortly (I hope).

I don’t read much fantasy, but with my daughter’s guidance, I’ve been exposed to a fairly broad, strong base that supports the quote I use in my IDEAS ON TUESDAY posts when I suggest fantasy ideas: “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


Octavia Butler, without a doubt, was one of the most profound speculative fiction writers of the 20th Century and she started very young: “At 12, she watched the televised version of the film Devil Girl from Mars (1954) and concluded that she could write a better story. She drafted what would later become the basis for her Patternist novels. Happily ignorant of the obstacles that a black female writer could encounter, she became unsure of herself for the first time at the age of 13, when her well-intentioned aunt Hazel said: ‘Honey ... Negroes can't be writers.’ But Butler persevered in her desire to publish a story, even asking her junior high school science teacher, Mr. Pfaff, to type the first manuscript she submitted to a science fiction magazine.” While obviously a science fiction writer, her work can also be read as fantasy as she wrapped myth and parables in future trappings. Nnedi Okorafor, a relatively new speculative fiction writer wrote, “Wild Seed showed me that the publication of the type of stories I was writing was possible. It showed me that I wasn’t alone and that what I was writing was ok. Octavia gave me strength.” (https://bookriot.com/2017/06/22/writers-inspired-by-octavia-butler/)

OK – now to pull the reigns in all of this together.

Keller mentions in his book, an encounter with Gimli the Dwarf with Galadriel, Queen of the Elves in Lothlorien. Gimli is a foreigner in the land, in fact, a victim of racist ideas – the Elves have long seen the Dwarves as inferior simply because of who they are, that is, ALL Dwarves are ugly, greedy, evil…

Kendi, in his book defines a racist idea as “…any concept that regards one racial group as inferior or superior to another racial group in any way…‘intersectionality’, prejudice stemming from the intersections of racist ideas and other forms of bigotry, such as sexism, classism, ethnocentrism, and homophobia.” (SFTB, Prologue, p5)

In LOTR:FOTR, Galadriel says, “‘Dark is the water of Kheled-zaram, and cold are the springs of Kibil-nala, and fair were the many-pillared halls of Khazad-dum in Elder Days before the fall of mighty kings beneath the stone.’ She looked upon Gimli, who sat glowering and sad, and she smiled. And the Dwarf, hearing the named given in his own ancient tongue, looked up and met her eyes; and it seemed to him that he looked suddenly into the heart of an enemy and saw there love and understanding…” (Chapter 7, “The Mirror of Galadriel”)

CS Lewis writes in MERE CHRISTIANITY, “…whenever we do good to another self, just because it is a self, made (like us) by God, and desiring its own happiness as we desire ours, we shall have learned to love it a little more or, at least, to dislike it less.” (Book 3, Chapter 9)…

*drawing a deep breath*

For me, the speculative fiction community has ALWAYS intersected with my faith, just as it has for Gene Wolfe, Mike Duran, Madeleine L’Engle, Kathy Tyers, Gray Rhinehart, Orson Scott Card…I’m sure there are others I don’t remember. (io9 published this almost ten years ago: https://io9.gizmodo.com/christian-readers-demand-more-science-fiction-books-wh-5574733 and got quite a bit of discussion. I was corresponding with Mike Duran a bit before he was quoted there.)

By reading all of my current books (MERE CHRISTIANITY for roughly the sixth or seventh time) it sparked in me an entirely new idea. I opened myself up to the Holy Spirit, and along with hearing sermons like the  one I heard today in context of what I’ve been studying, (based on Mark 2:1-12, and from which I took the single message: after Jesus told the paralytic first, “Your sins are forgiven.”; then asked the pharisees “Which would be easier?”; then told him, “Get up, pick up your pallet and go home.” Then came the part that I found startling this morning: “…they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this.’”), I may have become both a better man and (I hope) a better writer to add this point of view to my stories.

I noted that “…THEY WERE ALL AMAZED AND WERE ALL GLORIFYING GOD…”. Not just the paralytic, not just his friends, not just those listening to Jesus – but the pharisees as well. All of them had witnessed and seen the change and (possibly) believed on Jesus’ name, that he was God (who could forgive sins).

I have never  published a piece of Christian science fiction (not for lack of trying!), but as I reflect on it now, that may be a good thing. It allows me to integrate a number of ideas into my stories. This intellectual journey has given me the foundational paradigm for a set of stories I’m writing and (finally) defined by the question: “What if entry into an interstellar union required a ‘charity’ factor in the entire population of an intelligence?”

April 21, 2019

Easter Morning Reflections: I Come Back To This Comic Strip Every Year

From the first moment my wife discovered she had breast cancer, there was a deafening silence from the men I know. Even ones whose wives, mothers or girlfriends had breast cancer seemed to have received a gag order from some Central Cancer Command and did little more than mumble about the experience. Not one to shut up for any known reason, I started this blog…

Four hundred and ten posts, two hundred and sixty weeks.

Good Friday was last night.

Why do they call it good? Strangely enough, the best explanation I have ever heard or seen popped up on Friday on my niece’s Face Book post in the form of a comic strip drawn by legendary artist, Johnny Hart, creator of the strip “B.C.” and co-creator of the strip, “The Wizard of Id”:
This is the only reason such a day, such a celebration could be called “good”.

Seven years ago, my daughter and I were talking about Good Friday on the way to the service and back. She observed that this was the only specifically Christian Holy Day that the secular world has been unable to coopt. We decided that there’s no way that such an event could be made cute or represented by cuddly animals, people in costumes or from which candy companies might not spin adorable commercials or bunnies laying chocolate eggs. Any attempt to “cute-i-fy” Good Friday is doomed to failure by the nature of the day.

It’s grim. Gruesome. Dark. It’s all about torture and execution.

Outsiders – those who don’t know of, believe, or otherwise acknowledge Christianity – find it offensive and inexplicable; perhaps even insane. “Why would you possible want to remember the horrific execution of your rabbi and teacher?”

Last night I was reminded again that the events leading up to the execution of the Christ are NOT about the failure of God to accomplish His mission on Earth. The crucifixion was NOT a backup plan and a bad one at that.

The events prior to Good Friday were an exhibit  of everything that is rotten in Humanity and a display of ample proportions of exactly why it needed forgiveness and saving.

The infant Jesus was born a slave to an empire both global and cruel. His birth sparked the slaughter of hundreds of other innocent newborns, by the decree of a paranoid king. His life exposed the tedious, unremarkableness of thirty years of growing old in an ancient world and the loss of his father during adolescence; his three years of ministry exposed him to corrupt government, avarice and greed, ridicule by the intelligentsia, betrayal and abandonment by friends, public adulation turned mockery, lies, a corrupted justice system that did not represent slaves; gambling and drug abuse.

One night, bewailing my inability to present at a young writer's conference, I was shamed by His suffering because I have for some time now begged and challenged Him to explain, “Why have you made me suffer so?”

He hadn’t answered my plea until one night seven years ago when He said, “I can’t explain that, Guy. But I can say that I have been with you in that suffering because I understand suffering. I understand despair. I get you. That’s why I haven’t cast a lightning bolt in your direction for your impertinence. I understand, as few others can, your suffering, and I’ll stand by you and answer what questions I can. Look at your blog – lots of answers there. Not ‘the answer’, that won’t come until we can talk face-to-face; but you got a lot of them. See you later, bud.”

I spent time this Holy season (somewhat!) memorizing the following Bible verses: 

"Therefore, since we have a high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot understand our weaknesses, but rather one who has been tempted just as we are, yet without sin. So then, let us draw near to the throne of grace so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Hebrews 4:14-16

I know this isn’t about SF or writing exactly; I suppose I pulled a Johnny Hart on you all. Be that as it may, my prayer is that you might find some answers to your suffering. If you can’t find answers, then I’d be happy to talk with you. Just leave me a comment and I’ll reply…

April 19, 2019


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 Xiaomara; 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 at great profit to Humanity. Then the war spilled over on to the Human homeworld and all three are threatened with extinction…

Choral Reading
STAGE DIRECTION: (Spotlight falls on each as they speak then shuts off, illuminating the next; then all three spotlights fall on them as they chorus together.)

Yown’Hoo: “The literal decay of the fiber of Yown’Hoo morality accelerated when we refused peace with Kiiote.”
Kiiote: “Interbreeding, internecine war, and ritual cannibalism devoured us in resisting harmony with Yown’Hoo.”
Human: “Material gain from both Yown’Hoo and Kiiote fed our greed, so concord held no profit.”
All: “We might do something none of us alone can do, we might braid an unbreakable cord of unity.” (4/6/2019)

Natiel Henogledd shouted, “I’ve done all the research I need to! Bakhsh is a traitor!”

“I disagree,” I said, staring at him. I ruined my solid attack by swaying and spreading my legs farther apart to steady myself.

“Your opinion doesn’t matter!” he shouted.


He stared at me, sputtered, looked down at the ground, then looked up again. “You don’t know him like I know him.”

“He raised me,” I said. “In every way he’s been my mentor, my…if not father, my surrogate grandfather. He’s been like a grandfather to all…”

Natiel turned away, then turned back to me, “I’m glad he was a grandfather to someone, because he’s never been the grandfather he should have been to me. He IS my grandfather.”

It was my turn to look like an idiot, “He’s your grandfather?”

Nat repeated the last phrase, first in SnarlSnap, “{long howl} yip, yip; /drawn out fart\.” That one literally meant, “‘elder’ ‘sperm rub’ ‘close possession’.” In ‘Hoonish, he said, “/slapping arms together three times\, #three shrieking whistles in the key of D#.” It meant, literally, “‘it is MINE!’, ‘it is from time far beyond here!’”

When I closed my mouth and managed to keep my insides there as well, I croaked, “How can you speak all three?”

He snorted then said, “How can you speak all three?”

Scowling, I said, “We had to in order to work together. We…”

“‘…couldn’t favor one language over another’…”

Startled, I snapped, “Where’d you get that from?”

“The same place you did: my grandfather.”

“But…” I didn’t know what I wanted to ask. I sat down on the ground, staring at Nat. “You speak SnarlSnap and ‘Hoonish and Spandaringlish…”

I couldn’t believe it when he said, “I speak English, too.” Me and Xiao could both speak our baby languages – English and Chinese. We spent some time when we were younger messing around with how both of them had gotten tangled up in the Spanish – or Spanglish, really, that most people on North America spoke. There was even some French mixed in, like critique, déjà vu, and voyeur (one Xiao accused me of once)…But how did Nat speak it? Who was he? I stared at him for a bit, thinking about Retired and decided where Commander Baksh had dark hair with lots of silver in it, Nat had light brown – more like mine. He was built the same way though, almost skinny, but with hard muscle that corded like cable. His nose was littler than Retired’s and his chin was sharper. He also didn’t have much of a beard, like me, too.

“We could be cousins,” I said abruptly.

He studied me and I was suddenly aware of how I looked – mostly like someone who’d just crawled up from an underground tunnel. There was something else, too in his close scrutiny that made me blush. I wanted to rearrange myself, but that would be too obvious. Instead I said, “So, Retired…”

“Who’s Retired?”

“Commander Baksh. He calls himself that.”

Nat snorted. “He wasn’t retired when I was little. He was always busy.” He shook his head. “What about him?”

“He sent me here. Specifically. He wanted me to find a shelter that contained a wing I could use to fly, combining helium and a hydrogen jet and head for a place called Saint Clodoald. He said there was a plane or a tank there.”

“Why would he want you to do that?”

I didn’t know for sure if I could trust Nat, but he knew the commander – he was Retired’s grandson, for God’s sake! Still, I was more grandson than he was. And why was that? I pursed my lips, then said, “We need a vehicle that can carry the Triad all the way to Grendl.” I was only a little surprised when Nat stunned me again.

April 16, 2019


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: Appeal to a pastoral ideal: Much genre fantasy, of all genres, appeals to the pastoral ideal, one reason for the pseudo-medieval settings. Even urban fantasies will quite often depict cities as blots on the landscape, whose denizens /are blinded to what really matters by material ephemera. There are some fantasies, however, which either deliberately take the opposite stance or present a more balanced worldview.
Current Event: “The Minnesota Renaissance Festival is a Renaissance fair, an interactive outdoor event which focuses on recreating the look and feel of a fictional 16th Century ‘England-like’ fantasy kingdom.”

Svenja Johannson puttered around the edge of the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. She crossed her arms over her chest, tossed her platinum blonde hair and said, “I was hoping for a bit more authenticity.

Matias Gallagher, strawberry blonde hair curled like a swim cap over his head, shook his head and said, “Then you should have tried out for ‘Castle Life’.”

She snorted – a sound worthy of a horse, Matias thought – “That’s just as fake.”

He scowled at her and said, “Just because you Germans have all kinds of castles...”

“Not ‘all kinds of castles’ – Wartburg Castle. That is the only castle.”

He shook his head and said, “Speaking of Martin Luther, what makes you think you’d even like the real Renaissance?”

“Are you kidding? My ancestors lived then, there was no pollution, no noise, and definitely no people!”

“What’s wrong with people?” Matias asked as a pair of teenaged boys in basketball shorts, wearing high-topped basketball shoes and suggestive slogans, walked past them using an F-bomb every other word. They looked at him and Svenja. One flipped Matias the bird, the other asked Svenja if she wanted to engage in a sexual act. After Svenja fired a crude rejoinder back at him and Matias leaned back and folded his arms across his chest, flashing both his six-pack and expanding his pecs, the other boy waved him away. The two of them faded into the mob of 21st Century Minnesotans stuffing their faces the way they did at the State Fair and pretending they were in the 16th Century, Svenja glared at Matias.

Matias sighed, “Point.” He paused and said, “Let’s just enjoy the RenFest for what it is.”

Svenja scowled as a parade of knights in armor entered the Festival grounds, the earth trembling under the pounding hooves. The steel plate, gold trim, and silver filigree flashed in the brilliant afternoon light. There was a coolness in the air, a tiny bite of autumn hinting at the winter not far away. There seemed to be hundreds of knights prancing by. “There are so many...” she said.

“What?” Matias shouted. “I can’t hear you!”

“There are so many knights! Where did they come from?” The sun abruptly dipped behind a cloud. There was a flash of light and clap of thunder, yet when Matias pressed his hands over his ears, it seemed that only he and Svenja did so. Others around them seemed oblivious to the darkness and cold. “What’s happening, Matias?” she shouted.

“I don’t know...”

An instant later, the sun came out again. Matias blinked in surprise and Svenja stepped closer to him, grabbing his arm, long fingernails digging into his muscle. The first thing he noticed was the stench of open sewer and the legless man on sitting on the ground in front of them...

Names: ♀ German, Swedish ; ♂ Norwegian, Irish

April 14, 2019

Elements of Cron and Korea #7: A Protagonist’s Goal As a PART of the Story, NOT the Entire Sermon!

I may  have mentioned that one of my goals is to increase my writing output, increase my publication rate, and increase the relevance of my writing. In my WRITING ADVICE column, I had started using an article my sister sent me by Lisa Cron. She 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. I am going to fuse the advice from her book WIRED FOR STORY with my recent trip to South Korea. Why? I made a discovery there. You’ll hear more about it in the future as I work to integrate what I’m learning from the book, the startling things I found in South Korea, and try and alter how I write in order to create characters that people will care about, characters that will speak the Truth, and characters that will clearly illustrate what I’m writing about.

“Remember when Luke has to drop the bomb into the small vent on the Death Star? The story writer faces a similar challenge of penetrating the brain of the reader. This book gives the blueprints.” – David Eagleman

“The reader expects that the protagonist will enter the story with a longstanding agenda – that is, something she already wants, which is what gives true meaning to her goal.

“As readers we assume that the protagonist has a story-long agenda before she steps onto page one, and that her goal – in every scene – will be to move that agenda forward. In other words: she enters already wanting something very badly, and the plot will force her to go after it.

“Ask yourself: What does my protagonist step onto page one already wanting? Why does she want it? What’s her agenda – meaning: how does she plan to get it?”

Even those of us who go to church regularly and who have “swilled the Kool-Aid®” so-to-speak, dislike being preached AT, though we return every Sunday praying that the pastor will be learning WITH us.

So readers – at least speaking for myself – don’t like stories where it’s obvious that the author is trying to tell me to do something. They’ve made no effort to hide their agenda and the “story” is a thinly veiled parable or morality tale. The “message” has become the purpose of the story rather than the story being the purpose of the message.

That reads like it’s the same thing, but it’s not. A particular speculative fiction writer I once loved reading started their career with story. The story had a subtle but still present message: intelligence implies responsibility for the living things that are not intelligent. In fact, the entire of galactic civilization was based on the importance of preserving not only the planetary environment, but the GALACTIC environment.

Reading that first book drew me into the author’s world and I was persuaded that the message was valid without them slapping me in the face with it.

This author grew more strident in their promulgation of the idea and maybe because they didn’t feel the message was being received, they became not only blatant, but demanding. So demanding that the story they were trying to tell vanished under the onslaught of propaganda. Not only don’t I read that author any more, their popularity has dropped to where their books have essentially dropped off the shelves and the used bookstore I frequent has several dozen of them on hand all the time…

Back to the advice though, Cron’s wisdom is illustrated exactly by what I was talking about.

Readers don’t want to enter a story in which the main character’s only reason for wanting to reach the goal is because the writer desperately wants ME to have the same goal as the character. That goal is whatever the writer’s current axe is to grind. When that happens, there no sense of history. The character is just a walking sandwich board:

When I read a story, I want to feel like this character has always wanted to…say, fight poverty…and that they’ve tried and been thwarted, and now have a chance to do it – at the possible cost of their lives.

This is the message I’ve been trying to integrate into the story I’m currently working on. In it, I’ve made Human charity a deciding factor in being able to enter into an interstellar union. But ARE we charitable? How charitable ARE we? I’ve been doing research, and my wife suggested I see if there was a correlation between charitable giving and homicide (the results of which are actually interesting, though the data don’t match up in terms of the years they were gathered…)

At any rate, I’ve gone over the beginning of the story for a couple of months now first altering the point of view from third person to first, and now trying to rebuild the character so that his life goal has always been to fight poverty (whether he THINKS he’s fighting poverty or not is a different issue…) It’s been frustrating, but it’s clear illustration of what Cron is talking about here. She writes: “…the protagonist will enter the story with a longstanding agenda…”

That means to me that the main character of a story isn’t ONLY a construct painstakingly engineered by the writer to be a mouthpiece of his or her (very, very important!!!) golden word, but is a person themselves. I confess to some irritation here – to me, this is what is “bad” about Hollywood. Actors have somehow taken on the importance of characters they’ve played and that the public has connected with and make pronouncements that have nothing to do with the characters for which they are known…but that we HEAR in the voice of their CHARACTER’S voice.

For example, if Patrick Stewart suddenly began to appear in commercials about adopting homeless chihuahuas, which is a passion of the ACTOR, I wouldn’t be hearing the actor. I’d be hearing Jean-Luc Picard, captain of the flagship of Starfleet in the 23rd Century. I would take him very seriously because to me, he’s a person worthy of my trust. I’ve seen him make difficult decisions, be brave, and be passionate. Captain Picard is someone I trust, therefore I will listen to his opinion and adopt a homeless chihuahua.

Readers are looking for characters to connect with – but they have to connect before they’ll listen to what they have to say. The writer I used to favor seems to have become an blatant advocate of their own (highly regarded) opinion and that’s all. I’m no longer interested in their writing because it seems that its sole purpose is to manipulate me.

And I don’t even like it when GOD tries to manipulate me! (I just realized I didn't talk about Korea this time, but I have a story in submission right now that DOES and that I tried to keep the message subtle, wrapped in an entertaining story...)

April 11, 2019

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 144: Paolo From Burroughs, 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 image I'm using for Paolo is actually Brazilian astronaut, Marcos Pontes.)

Paolo Marcillon and the marsbug’s AI waited for the mars buggy that had been following them since leaving Burroughs, came to a complete halt not far from them. The four passengers got off. Three stood alongside the vehicle while one walked toward them. It vanished from their view. There was a knock at the airlock door. Paolo said, “You may let them in.”

“These individuals may be your enemies whose sole purpose is to murder you.”

Paolo grinned, “Why MB, I didn’t know you cared!”

“MB is a diminutive of my official designation of marsbug. I do not like it.” It paused, adding, “I can’t care.”

Paolo shrugged, “Then I’ll call you Bradbury registry Mars Surface Transportation Vehicle 1202195405111957.”

There was a longer pause, “You may call me Fifty-seven. Shall I let the individual in?”

“Please activate the airlock.”

“Your wish is my command.” Fifty-seven began the airlock cycle.

The exterior lock opened, then closed. Fifty-seven pressurized it then said, “You’re certain about this?”

“I am.”

“It is completely without logic. Everything you have told me and what I have gathered from the Martian database suggests that these people are here to kill you.”

Paolo shrugged, “I’m not an AI. I reached a point long ago where I simply trust my God.”

Fifty-seven actually said, “Harrumph,” then opened the inner airlock.

An artificial Human walked through. He stood up and said, “My name is DaneelAH. My vatmates and I believe that you’ve been manipulating us.”

Paolo’s eyebrows shot up. “Why would you think that?”

“There are many forces at work on Mars which appear to be aimed at creating a revolution. While this is really no different from revolutions in the past. There are individuals in this world who do not have the same rights and privileges as others and in the Twenty-third that seems a curious return to the sociopolitical framework of mid-Twentieth Century United States. As that country no longer exists because of violent revolution and absorption into a larger society, it’s clear that someone or something is manipulation the politics and science here. Your name comes up an inordinate number of times. Therefore, we have come to the conclusion that you are more than you appear to be.”

Paolo shook his head slowly. “Who are some of the people I’m being accused of manipulating?”

DaneelAH shook his head, saying, “My vatmates are outside and have a limited amount of breathable air. May I invite them in here?”

“May I point out that at this point, if you were to decide to kill me, I would stand some small chance of fighting you off one-on-one. With four of you, being Artificial Humans with higher than natural born Human muscle density, you could not only overpower me but toss me out the door without a spacesuit and not even break a sweat.”

DaneelAH shrugged, “I could do that myself, if I were to be honest with you.”

“My vehicle would lend a hand. It’s an Artificial Intelligence marsbug.” DaneelAH looked startled. “But I’m going to go with my gut feeling and invite you and your vatmates into this vehicle. I can’t wait to hear what I’m doing to bring about revolution on Mars.”

The Artificial Human gave him a long look, then put his helmet over his head, spoke and then took it off again. Paolo saw the other three move toward the marsbug. Eventually they all stood inside, cramped now in a space typically large enough for two to travel comfortably. They’d introduced themselves and immediately the small of the two males, HanAH, had taken a seat and said, “There’s a persistent rumor that not only is Natan Wallack still alive – he’s a Christian convert.”

DaneelAH lifted a hand, adding, “It’s a rumor; unsubstantiated and ephemeral…”

HanAH snorted, “That just means that there aren’t a lot of people talking about it where your spies can eavesdrop – and that could be for reasons both mundane and criminal.”

AzAH said, “I assume that despite your casual mention, you’ve done a thorough analysis of the history of the Hero of the Faith Wars?”

The one who’d been identified as the youngest sister smiled faintly. MishAH said, “I have, but this time I’m more interested in the connections I’m seeing here.”

“Such as?” Paolo said. They all looked at him as if he were a bug on a pin. He smiled, “You’re the ones that wanted to talk to me and suspect me of masterminding a Martian revolution. But what you’re saying is news to me. But pretend I’m lying and already know this and am secretly trying to get you to tell me what you know.”

MishAH studied him, glanced to DaneelAH who pursed his lips and nodded. She said, “I’ll tell you that Natan Wallack’s survival would alleviate certain tensions in the pattern of his life and that there are both enough certainties and questions to make me think he might be here. That being said, his involvement with you would make sense as well. Also, he doesn’t use the name he got during the Faith Wars. He goes by Stepan Izmaylova…”

She paused, watching him as if she expected a strong reaction. Paulo shrugged, “I’ve never met anyone by that name.”

HanAH exclaimed, “You must have! You were in Burroughs! That’s where Stepan works. He’s a religious preacher and liberal activist on The Rim! We just came from there!” Paolo shrugged. HanAH stopped then scowling, said, “You aren’t part of the Free Martians?”

“I don’t know anything about them except what I’ve heard on the news. I don’t have anything to do with politics on Mars. I’m…I guess you’d say I was an apostle of Jesus Christ.”

“Well, Stepan knows about you,” said MishAH with a glance at her brothers, “At least he will soon.” She looked back at Paolo. “He’s found a piece of ancient technology that never belonged to Humans – of any sort.” Paolo seemed unconcerned and waved away her words. She added, “There’s also a woman, the Consort of the Mayor of Opportunity who is a well-known sympathizer of Christian beliefs. Her father has been classified as a radical. There’s evidence to suggest that the Mayor himself knows about her connection to her father.”
Her brother looked up from the marsbug’s computer screen and said, “He does, and in a public statement he made shortly after he took her to the Pylon, he mentions that while some may find her support of such radical religiosity repugnant, he does not believe that she, herself is a christian and therefore sanctions against christians, molesters, jews, rapists, buddhists, murderers, muslims, thieves, hindu, embezzlers, and…” always the drama king when he suited him, he paused for effect, then said softly, “us.”

DaneelAH looked at Paolo, “We think you’re manipulating all of these pieces. The fact is that you may actually have our best interests at hand. All of us in the marsbug – including the Artificial Intelligence that runs it – are on the same list of proscribed entities legally included in the term ‘non-human’?”

AzAH spoke finally, “I cannot go so far as to say that we should make common cause with you, but you do seem to have similar goals as we do.”

DaneelAH looked at Paolo and said, “I’ve been reading the file of holy books the Dalai Lama of Mars gave us.” AzAH raised a deep purple eyebrow. He sniffed, “They are instructive if for no other reason than to give insight into the reason Mars outlawed all forms of devotion but to Humanity…”

AzAH added, “Which notably does not include us.”

DaneelAH said, “I don’t have any sympathy for religion, per se. I do object to the exclusion of any group merely because someone has decided to exclude it.”

She made a face, “That doesn’t fit into the pattern.” Her brother opened his mouth, so she held up her hand, adding, “Yet. This Paolo Marcillon seems to be manipulating us; but his involvement with the Free Martians and Natan is by no means clear right now. There might also be other players involved.”

HanAH shook his head and dropped into an open seat. “Great! Now you’ve just implicated all Martians – both Natural and Artificial – in a conspiracy. Might a well...”

“It’s not that complicated,” MishAH cut off his rant. “I’ve seen other things stirring on this rusty pinball.” DaneelAH sat as well, looking up at her with interest. He couldn’t remember the last time she’d turned her considerable skills to a problem outside of agriculture, population studies, and local politics. She smiled at him, shot a superior look at her other brother and said, “There’s something going on in Opportunity.”

Paolo looked thoughtful then said, “I’d probably go back to Burroughs just to meet your friend Stepan; maybe take a side trip to Opportunity.” He leaned forward suddenly and all four vatmates leaned away as he said, “Except that I’m headed for Cydonia – because I’ve found more evidence that your friend Stepan seems to have added to. There were aliens on Mars long ago, when the North was still covered by an ocean, and I think they may be a key to a Martian reformation.”

April 9, 2019


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

April 7, 2019

WRITING ADVICE: What Went RIGHT #44…With “Robotic Space Killer. Autonomous. Broke.” (Submitted 2 times with 0 revision, sold to ANALOG Science Fiction & Fact, May/June 2019)

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! The story's on page 166!

My second-most-recent sale to ANALOG was more…lark…than serious after I saw this:

Speculation started soon after that, some positing that it was some sort of starship come to visit Humanity…https://www.wired.com/story/is-oumuamua-an-alien-spaceship-sure-except-no/

So I indulged in speculation as well.

But I had to take it farther than mere speculation. I had to create a REASON that this interstellar visitor (it IS confirmed to be that) wasn’t just a rock ejected from a distant star system that perchance flipped through this inhabited star system (it’s PROBABLY that); a system inhabited by intelligent life (please exclude the past century or so…) that has learned how to slip off its birth rock and shoot laser beams (and other electromagnetic radiation) into the space surrounding it.

What was it doing here? (I’m saving that for later!) This is a question we can’t answer IF it is a starship or space probe or something of that order.

I did find it interesting that the trajectory of Oumuamua had it arriving here from Solar north – which just so happens to be on the ecliptic of the Milky Way galaxy
(https://www.physicsforums.com/attachments/motion-of-earth-and-sun-around-milky-way-eso_-10oct2016-jpg.107278/). In other words, our North Pole points more-or-less toward the Center of the Milky Way, so if an interstellar civilization wanted to make an “easy” path for, say, searching for extra[name of their planet]strial life, they’d aim straight along the ecliptic (the disk) of the galaxy…

So, we didn’t detect any electromagnetic emissions, or the glow from a decelerating star drive, or gravitational waves (which we JUST learned how to detect a few years ago, though Einstein predicted them, https://www.space.com/38471-gravitational-waves-neutron-star-crashes-discovery-explained.html), astronomers just found Oumuamua one day, and the games were afoot.

So, why IS Oumuamua here? Like I said, the object is interesting enough just as a chunk of rock thrown out of its home star system to fend for itself in the dark of space. As the article above points out, while it’s not going to usher in a revolution, it IS going to allow us to scratch off a few theories of planetary system formation from the list. You could probably just answer, “Because physics.”

But what if it’s NOT just a very interesting rock? We may never know. Oumuamua is traveling so fast that that after it passed through the Solar system, whipping around the sun and accelerating more, it’s already well on its way into interstellar space. (https://cdn.spacetelescope.org/archives/images/thumb700x/heic1813b.jpg)

But…the realm of science fiction is all about speculating on current science. So we have current science, stir in “What if Oumuamua really IS a starship from somewhere else?” That’s what people were semi-seriously speculating, so my speculations were neatly aligned with the fun. My explanation though, had to be different. I threw in a few elements, put the speculation and NASA data collection into an interesting (and intentionally diverse group – about as diverse as the near-urban high school I work at as a counselor) and then stirred the whole thing with a bit of conflict and a dash of humor.

I’d LOVE to tell you the story, but the whole thing was only seven hundred words long. I sent it to NATURE-Futures first for a couple of months of evaluation, where I got: “Thank you for submitting your story Robotic Space Killers, Autonomous. Broke to Futures. Although I enjoyed the story, I'm afraid that it didn't make it into my ‘yes’ pile this time around. Sorry to disappoint you. I nevertheless look forward to reading your next submission.”

Personalized rejections always mean that you had a near-miss. Without changing anything, I sent it to my favorite magazine in the whole world – ANALOG. After six months, they accepted it and it will be in the May/June 2019 issue.

So, what did I do right?
1) The idea was straight from current astronomy.
2) I had a cast of characters who were, to be honest, caricatures of real people.
3) There was conflict from the word “Go!”
4) There was lots of “Talk. Talk. Talk.”
5) I stayed with a brief script – one incident, one UNEXPECTED solution.

It was a long Probability Zero, which is a series of short-shorts ANALOG used to run regularly with that title. I’ve noticed that the magazine is running more flash fiction that they used to and that the PZs are gone. I’ve also taken to reading an issue straight through and have seen that the editor has minor themes, which is both helpful and UNhelpful for me. I can’t really write for the theme because they don’t know ahead of time what the theme will be, but it’s also freed me up in that I write what I have to “say” and then the editor can fit it in as each issue coalesces.

Last comment: I’ve also noted that certain types of SF are “getting the awards”. Aliens are disappearing and SF is drifting more toward the “near-future” rather than far space. Current Hugo Awards ( http://www.thehugoawards.org/2019/04/2019-hugo-award-1944-retro-hugo-award-finalists/) include titles like: “The Court Magician”, “The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society”, “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington”, “The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat”, “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies”. Four are out-and-out fantasies, one is a sort-of “dinosaur/alternate history…thing”, and one is about AIs.

No aliens. I wonder why? What’s wrong with aliens? Hmmm…I guess we’ll see. At any rate, I’m going to be continuing, “Robotic Space Killer. Autonomous. Broke.” I’ll keep you up to date!