February 25, 2020

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 435


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.

Fantasy Trope: Fantastic Comedy

Aarav Tlak shook his head and said, “Horses don’t talk.”

Kyla Das sniffed and said, “Shows what you know.”

“There’s no such thing as magic; there’s no such thing as a talking ani...”

“To reiterate what I said, you’re showing your ignorance by making such a categorical and sweeping statement. Are you including animals who have been trained or recognize commands?”

“Of course not! Animals can be smart and trainable, they just can’t talk.”

She gave him a long look then said, “So you’re saying that no animal on Earth can communicate?”

“No! You’re twisting my words. Animals communicate in a thousand different ways – some we can’t comprehend, like elephants talking below our level of hearing. But you’re talking about...about...about...talking like we’re talking and animals don’t do that.”

“How do you know?”

“You know what I’m talking about!”

“I could say that you’re a bit of an animal,” Kyla said with a smirk.

“I am not!” Aarav exclaimed.

She snorted then said, “You’ve never had to deal with yourself after you and your gf haven’t had a chance to make out.”

Sputtering, Aarav exclaimed, “That’s not fair!”

“That’s what criminals all say.”

He glared at her, took a deep breath, glared a while longer and finally said, “Proof would be you introducing  me to some animal and then me and the animal having a conversation.”

“You’d accept that as proof?”

He gave her a funny look and she burst into laughter. Blushing furiously, he said, “Of course I’d accept it as proof! I’d hardly be a dispassionate scientist if I ignored an actual animal actually speaking to me.”

“Any animal?”

Aarav scowled, “I don’t like the direction this conversation is taking. What do you mean by that?”

She held out a stethoscope and said, “Put these into your ears.”

His eyes grew wide, he took them in hand, and said, “This isn’t funny anymore.”

“It’s not supposed to be. Warm up the end of that thing and put it on my belly – and prepare to be amazed.”

Names: ♀Philippines, Bangladesh; ♂ India, Croatia

February 22, 2020

Slice of PIE: Creating Alien Aliens, Part3: Looking at Original Aliens


NOT using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin, Ireland in August 2019 (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…

Part 2 -- https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2020/02/slice-of-pie-creating-alien-aliens-part.html                                           

I’m going to dissect, so to speak, an alien that is less…um…alien than it is exaggerated.

From the universe created by Dan O'Bannon, Ronald Shusett, how the aliens look (as envisioned by H.R. Giger), are less important to me than how they act.

In the original three movies (which spawned (ironically), an entire franchise (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alien_(franchise)), the aliens appear to be simple monsters; a giant-sized version of rats.

While the aliens here weren’t new, nor was the tone of the movie: “…the Doctor Who serial ‘The Ark in Space’ (1975), in which an insectoid queen alien lays larvae inside humans which later eat their way out, a life cycle inspired by that of the ichneumon wasp. He has also noted similarities between the first half of the film, particularly in early versions of the script, to H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness, ‘not in storyline, but in dread-building mystery…’”

Being a biologist, I’m most interested in the connection between the Aliens and the wasps. They’re part of a very small family of the order of Hymenoptera (ants, bees, wasps, sawflies) of which there are some 150,000 species. Within their suborder, they are a secondary branch described as parasites. Though this group is only unofficial, within the rest of the Hymenoptera, we have the insect superfamily that inspired the Alien franchise.

The Ichneumonidae, of which there are some 100,000 species, mostly unidentified, are distinguished by the quintessential characteristic of the Alien species – they lay eggs inside of living caterpillars. The young hatch, and eat the insides of their host on their way out. Then they go on with their lives.

So, the problem with creating aliens and THE Aliens, is that the writers had tow ways they could have gone. They could have left the aliens as animals or they could have made them intelligent; with a society, morality, and thoughts to think.

Instead, they chose to make them MOSTLY animals with just enough brains to appear to threaten the Humans. They don’t speak, just hiss and drool a lot. They aren’t particularly intelligent. The implication is that they are mostly an “infestation”. When the NOSTROMO crew first discover them, their hosts were immense humanoids who apparently piloted the ship. They find a hold full of eggs, which is where the horror begins to grow.

I’m not the only person who’s noticed this: “In Alien Vault, the excellent account of the first film’s creation by Ian Nathan, the nature of the creature is briefly discussed by its creators. ‘It’s never been subject to its own culture,’ said screenwriter Dan O’Bannon. ‘The alien is not only savage, it is also ignorant.’”

“Savage and ignorant the alien may be…in Alien, the creature uses the ship’s darkness and hiding spaces to its own advantage, turning a tatty old mining vessel into a hunting ground – abilities you’d expect from a natural, highly-evolved predator. But later on in the film, the alien begins to do things you wouldn’t expect of a mere animal.”

Hmmm…I expect dogs, cats, and monkeys to hide. I expect these animals to seek out the warmest, safest place to hide their young. Ryan Lamble uses this instinct to imply intelligence: “In Aliens… Ripley points out that the creatures' lair is located right beneath a reactor, meaning any stray gunfire could destroy them as well as the aliens…Did the aliens choose this spot for their nest as a tactical advantage, or was it merely the coziest spot in the base?” Another question is that using other life forms as hosts, do they also need exposure to outside sources of energy to complete their metamorphosis into adults? Or do they get that energy from eating both the host and anyone else around the host?

They bring up another point, “Ripley…threatens to torch the alien Queen’s eggs if the latter doesn’t restrain her soldiers – a moment of bargaining that probably wouldn't work with mere animals.” Consider though that even wolves and other animals might back off when a Human threatens their litter. “…and echoing the events at the conclusion of Alien, Ripley later discovers that the Queen has snuck aboard the Sulaco, avoiding destruction on LV-426 in an almost identical fashion to her predecessor on the Nostromo decades earlier. To do this, the Queen had to work out how to operate a lift, and then, we're guessing, hide itself away in the landing gear of the dropship...”

But as the kid’s movie “Homeward Bound” shows, even Earthly animals are capable of amazing feats. Higher animals like the elephants and dolphins are capable of self-sacrifice. I understand that people always argue that animals are people, too, but I think part of that is a ploy to get their puppy a seat on the jet and a table at a five star New York restaurant, rather than to preserve the elephants and dolphins…

At the end, animals are animals no matter how much caviar you feed them.

Speaking of eating tasty delicacies, “…[a] proposed final scene would have revealed that [after eating Ripley’s brain, a] xenomorph is capable of rational thought - or, more chillingly still, it's somehow capable of imbibing the intellects of its victims [implying that xenomorph is much like we humans in certain respects: it's a creature of its environment as well as its breeding…[they also have an] uncanny ability to anticipate their prey’s movements, and even manipulate machinery…unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality…”

Given all of that speculation, the Aliens in the franchise are severely short-changed and left to stew in their own highly corrosive juices. We’re never given a chance to find out what they might have become. Rationality implies at least a possibility of rational thought. Even the leftist of the left and the rightest of the right can’t imply that their far distant counterpart isn’t Human and capable of all of the other assumptions we make about Humanity. In the Alien franchise, the Xenomorphs aren’t given a chance to show their “Human” side (to be specist!)

Would hive intelligences be inherently our enemies? How SHOULD they react – besides skulking about in dark starships and murdering Humans right and left and lashing their pointy tails (have you ever noticed how they are more-or-less an “alienized” version of our image of Satan?)? Do the writers ever give them a CHANCE to do anything but be…monstrous?

What about their dreams? Bizarre, no doubt; but would they be any more bizarre than an elephant dream? David Brin took time to develop the personality of dolphins in his UPLIFT books. What if the purveyors of the Alien franchise took the same amount of time with the Xenomorphs? (They may have as I’ve never read an Alien original novel…of which there are a dozen or more…) has anyone ever tried to imagine what it would be like to be an intelligent colony of Ichneumonidae?

Maybe I should read one of the books!


February 18, 2020

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 434


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: Isaac Asimov’s Three Kinds Of Science Fiction: “Gadget sci-fi: Man invents car, holds lecture on how it works.”

Khünbish Qureshi said, “Once we drill through the ice, we can begin extract the uranium. But we have to do it fast.” He tapped the wide pipe with his heavily armored hand. While there was no true atmosphere and the surface of the moon was exposed to the radiation sleet from Jupiter, they both wore flexible suits and had ridden to the surface on little more than a hovering plate.

“You think extracting a few metric tonnes of uranium from this moon would have any kind of effect at all?” asked Yelizavta Zaya. She bounced a few meters back after stomping her foot.

“I can’t say for sure.”

“Why not?”

“I’m a geologist...”

“You mean a Eurologist?”

“That makes me sound like a bladder specialist!”

“Well, it’s not Earth, so you can’t be a ‘geologist’.”

“There’s not a bladder in sight, either!”

Beneath their feet, the ice sang. On any other world, it would have been a quake, but here the ice vibrated, shifting, sliding along cracked edges. Immense crevasses sang bass that shook the world like a drum head; smaller ones sang faint hymns of joy; the smallest sang beyond the hearing of Humans.

Khünbish slapped the pipe again and said, “If there were living things under the surface, maybe my sucking the lifeblood from the water will make them sit up and take notice.”

“I doubt there’re sitting beings under our feet, Khun.”

He grimaced at the diminutive – Americans and Loonies made a habit of lopping parts of people’s names off willy-nilly – and said, “Whatever they’re doing, I’m hoping they notice.”

“And if there’s nothing under our feet but ice, water, uranium?”

“Then we stand to make a fortune and retire wherever we want to.” He bounced back as the ice began to sing again. As he fell to the surface, he grimaced and said, “Can you hear that?”

Names: ♀ Russia, Mongolian; ♂ Mongolian, Pakistan
Image:

February 16, 2020

POSSIBLY [not] IRRITATING ESSAY: An “Other” Point of View When Writing Speculative Fiction, Young Adult, and Middle Grade Fictions

Using the Program Guide of the World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin, Ireland in August 2019 (I am (finally!) going to DisCon III in Washington, DC, Aug 20-25, 2021!!!!), I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. The link is provided below where this appeared at 2 pm on August 16, 2019…

Cultural appropriation: a product of a shrinking world?

White SFF authors have historically appropriated other cultures to add depth and excitement to their characters: The Wheel of Time takes the culture of POC and gives it to the Aiel, and Frank Herbert appropriates Islam and applies it to the Fremen. With relatively easy access to travel and digital information these days, how can we make use of a range of influences while avoiding cultural appropriation?

Dr Wanda Kurtcu: Moderator, wrote Star Trek: The Next Generation episode 'A Matter of Honor', recently retired Curriculum and Technology Integration Specialist in the San Francisco Bay area
Michi Trota: Editor at SFWA, four-time Hugo Award winner, British Fantasy Award winner, and the first Filipina to win a Hugo Award
Fulvio Gatti: Italian journalist
PRK: Australian reviewer, Aurealis Award judge
Jeannette Ng: From Hong Kong and UK writer of gothic fantasy with a theological twist

This subject has implications to both my speculative fiction stories and my YA/MG stories.

It may be that a YA novel I wrote with a biracial teen boy as the viewpoint character was unsellable because I’m a big, old, fat, white guy (a bofwhig). No proof, just that my name most likely belongs to someone like me rather than hinting at or actually being a name from another culture. I’ve heard that the YA market currently is very militant in protecting the rights of cultures often pirated by white men and women or people outside of a community they’ve written about. (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jun/15/torn-apart-the-vicious-war-over-young-adult-books) I actually considered asking one of my beta readers, Abbas Noor, if I could put his name as my “nom-de-plume”. He could go to any award banquets or accept awards in my name – for a cut of the profits! (jk)

I agree that cultural appropriation has been rampant for centuries and that it’s imperative to examine all of our writing for cultural bias.

However…there are issues in the room that are somehow “overlooked” by the same field when an author has a large following. Two examples that come to mind immediately I will frame as questions.

In children’s literature, the novel THEN AGAIN MAYBE I WON’T, famed author Judy Blume’s main character is a pre-adolescent boy who (among other things) falls into being a window-peeper. The question: what does Judy Blume know about the sexual awakening of boys and how can she authentically portray a boy like this? She did and no one ever questioned her right to do so. In fact, she’s celebrated for doing it, and her book remains in print .

In speculative fiction, author Tobias Buckell is a writer who was born and lived in the Caribbean (whose first novel, CRYSTAL RAIN I loved!) However, as far as I can find out, while he grew up on Grenada, he is not a person of color and while his characters don’t appear to be POC either, he has also appropriated the Aztec culture. He is celebrated and unquestioned for doing so.

In 1997 science fiction story by me, I wrote from the viewpoint of a girl (illustrated as a black young adolescent, though I hadn’t mentioned anything about how she looked) in “Mystery on Space Station COURAGE”. There were no protests. In fact, the story was one of CRICKET Magazine’s nominations for the Paul A. Witty Short Story Award…

(The publication dates may have something to do with these books, 1971 for Blume’s; 1997 for mine; and 2007 for Buckell’s. It was a different publishing world, that is for certain.)

My question – for once I’m not interested in being irritating – I’m wondering how I can populate my story with young people and men and women of color and not appropriate their culture? I have on my “to read” pile WRITING THE OTHER: A Practical Approach by Nisi Shawl & Cynthia Ward.

Amazon summarizes the short book like this, “During the 1992 Clarion West Writers Workshop…one of the students expressed the opinion that it is a mistake to write about people of ethnic backgrounds different from your own because you might get it wrong—horribly, offensively wrong—and so it is better not even to try. This opinion…struck Nisi as taking the easy way out and spurred her to write an essay addressing the problem of how to write about characters marked by racial and ethnic differences…she realized that similar problems arise when writers try to create characters whose gender, sexual orientation, and age differ significantly from their own. Nisi and Cynthia collaborated to develop a workshop that addresses these problems with the aim of both increasing writers’ skill and sensitivity in portraying difference in their fiction as well as allaying their anxieties about ‘getting it wrong.’…It discusses basic aspects of characterization and offers elementary techniques, practical exercises, and examples for helping writers create richer and more accurate characters with ‘differences.’”

I’ll be starting it this week and will likely use it to do a few other essays.

Until then, let me know your thoughts about my question: “How I can populate my story with young people and men and women of color and not appropriate their culture?”

Image: https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/41vnYSnzs9L._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

February 11, 2020

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 433


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: Ghost Towns

Mary Croft may have been the only certified dredge operator on the North Shore of Lake Superior – but she hadn’t expected to be the ONLY operator in the abandoned town of Taconite Harbor.

The dredge she captained was mostly operated by an “artificial intelligence idiot”, which was why she was required by Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company to actually direct the floating suction dredge boat. The harbor was a small one, the taconite loads mostly taken out by rail, and the robots inside did most of the work in the town.

Her job would take a week and the company wanted her to work as much time as possible, so they’d given her one of the floating suction dredgers with an actual bed, galley and deck. “Henry?” she said.

“Please call me Hal,” said the idiot.

She shook her head. “I’d rather not. I have an original DVD of the old movie 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.”

“You can’t,” said Henry.

“I can’t what?”

“Have an original DVD. The movie 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY was filmed in 1967 and premiered in 1968. The first true DVD was not manufactured for movies until 1995.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I do not.”

She sighed and shook her head. “Let’s call it a day and shut down operations,” she said, tapping the shutdown key on the flat screen.

“Very good, ma’am.”

Mary rolled her eyes toward the ceiling and stepped out on the deck. Henry would take it from here until the actual docking procedure which she would do in the gloaming. She loved that word, she thought, unfolding and dropping into the lawn chair she kept carefully stored until the end of the day. No one would have said anything if she’d lounged about all day, issuing orders to Henry via her cellphone, but that had never worked for her. When she did a job, she wanted to actually DO something. For the time being, however, Henry was working hard pulling in and storing the collapsible pipe they used to siphon sediment from the floor of the harbor. It was pumped to a barge where it was dried and shipped down to Duluth for further processing or shipment to central North American markets.

The sun had fallen behind the steep shoreline to her left. It was a calm evening, a choice night on the cool waters of Superior. Such a night was rare enough to make her sigh.

Farther out across the water, to her right on the lake, waves rippled like a thin band of diamonds reflecting sunset light.

What was left of the town was now invisible as was the power plant. It had once operated on coal and had had a solar conversion during the third term of America’s first black president. There was no one left living there.

When the three remaining streetlights farther up the shore, intermittently lining the stretch of road that had once been the main street of the long-abandoned town, abruptly lit, she frowned.

When lights on either side of the abandoned basketball court at the near end of the street, close to Taconite Harbor itself, suddenly lit, the hairs on the back of her neck stood up. She went into the boathouse and grabbed a pair of digital binoculars, took them out and scanned the shoreline.

The lights were gone.

Frowning, she lowered the binoculars and rubbed her  eyes. When she looked again, the lights were on and in the distance was the slow, faint thup-thup-thup of a basketball bouncing...

Names: Hebrew, English; ,    

February 9, 2020

Elements of Cron and Korea #15: From 10% to 30%...Applying Lisa Cron’s Wisdom Consistently


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

I’m done with iterating what I’ve learned and applied from Lisa Cron’s “A Reader’s Manifesto: 15 Hardwired Expectations Every Reader Has for Every Story”. The list is below here and I’ve put links to each essay in the series below.

So, now what?

I practice. I’ve been working hard to use this methodology since I read the article and then the book – which all started April of 2018. Since then, I’ve written nine stories and sold three – two of them to my dream market of ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact.

My usual number of published stories has run about ten percent for decades. Since reading Lisa Cron’s article and book, the percentage has jumped to 33 percent. A third of what I write.

That’s significant. It shows that I’ve started to internalize the ideas she presented in the book and article. It shows to me that they’re an effective way to look at writing stories.

The reader expects…

  1. …that the story will start making a very specific point, beginning with the first sentence.
  2. …the story to revolve around one, single plot problem that grows, escalates and complicates, which the protagonist has no choice but to deal with.
  3. …a glimpse of the big picture from the very first page.
  4. …that there will be a protagonist.
  5. …that the protagonist will be flawed and vulnerable – never, ever “perfect.”
  6. …the protagonist to not only have a past, but one that affects the future.
  7. …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.
  8. …the protagonist will have a longstanding misbelief that has kept her from easily achieving that goal.
  9. …that the plot will force the protagonist to confront and overcome her misbelief, something she’s probably spent her whole life avoiding.
  10. …to feel something, from the first sentence to the last; and what the reader feels is what the protagonist feels.
  11. …a clear, present and escalating force of opposition, with a loudly ticking clock.
  12. …that there will be something crucial at stake in every scene, continually forcing the protagonist’s hand.
  13. …that as the protagonist tries to solve the plot problem, she will only make things worse, until she has no choice but to face her misbelief.
  14. …that everything in the story is there strictly on a need-to-know basis.
  15. …that at the end of the story the protagonist will emerge changed, seeing the world through new eyes.

So, I’m working on a new story that combines my veterinarian and South Korea. The working title is “Dinosaur Veterinarian”. In the reviews of “Road Veterinarian” (ANALOG, September/October 2019), while people had trouble believing that a road covering could be a living substance and given enough prodding (starvation) it could actually move, reviewers did like the interaction between my genetically modified soldier and a veterinarian with a genetic disorder called “piebaldism”. I suppose my message is that just because people are genetically changed, they’re still people. Also, the message is that we have a choice: we can take something wonderful and make a weapon out of it; or we can just take in something wonderful. In this case, it’s wildlife – we can take it in (obviously not something like bubonic plague, coronavirus, or other diseases that cause suffering – though I’ve heard that there has been discussion of the philosophy of microbial rights (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3059913/, https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-016-0702-7) or we can turn wildlife into weapons.

The metaphor is carried in my characters, Thatcher is a deliberately modified Human; Javier is an “accidentally” modified Human. The antagonists in the story have not only modified an influenza virus (one of a series of iterations of the H1N1 virus that caused the 1918 Flu Pandemic) to make it more virulent, they have altered the genes expressed in certain species of birds who are the most closely related to prehistoric velociraptors (Microraptoria), in this case, the red-legged and black legged seriemas (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seriema) though they are the sole survivors of the small bird family of Caramidae and represented by these two separate species. One, the red-legged seriemas is a runner and often captured in its South American niche and domesticated as a “guard bird”; like a carnivorous form of farm geese in Europe and North America.

A “flock” or pack of these “terror birds” is infected with an avian flu and released in the DMZ. It’s up to my main characters with the help of two others to figure out what’s going on and stop it.

While maintaining the romantic tension between the two mains. If I can execute Cron’s methodology and meet the reader’s expectations, I may be able to sell this story as well.

As always, I’ll keep you posted.


February 4, 2020

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 432

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 is Evil, at best relatively neutral. Often The Corruption. There is a good chance it's directly obtained through a Deal with the Devil, powered by Blood Magic or involves Human Sacrifice and Forsaken Children. (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DarkFantasy)

Martina Felipe el Bueno scowled at the ancient video tape cassette where it rested under glass that perfectly screened out UV and cosmic rays and lowered the intensity of visible in near vacuum. She said something in Spanish.

“Why don’t we just use English. I can’t even understand your Peruvian accent,” said Álvaro Villa softly.

“Fine,” she said. “The problem remains, whether we say it in Spanish or English – or even Spanglish – the occult rites of a former national leader are there for the viewing. But we can’t see them.”

“Why does it bother you so much?”

“The tape is a century old and preceded the collapse of his government before it accomplished anything.”

“You’re saying if he didn’t do the animal sacrifices, he’d still be in power?”
She laughed, “No, he’d still be dead. I don’t think even Brazil is ready for a zombie president.”

“That’s for sure.” They stood side-by-side, staring at the artifact.

“I got in touch with you because I think we can get the images off this, but I think we need to merge science and magic.”

His breath caught in his chest. He’d heard of it from abuelo. “Oil magic?”

Martina nodded, paused, then said, “The college has a supply.”

“It’s illegal for any of us to even touch it,” Álvaro said. “Even if we touch it, we would be instantly expelled right after we were arrested, tried and sentenced.”

“If we do it physically, I suppose you’d be right.”

“What other way is there to steal oil?”

“Magic,” Martina whispered. “Black magic.” Álvaro barked a laugh and Martina spun to face him, snarling, “What do you know about black magic?”

He held his hands up in surrender and said, “Nothing – as in ‘magic is fine in dumb stories like THE GOLDEN COMPASS, but this is real life’. Abuelo was my favorite person on Earth, and when it came to story-telling, he was the best. But he was old – his generation used ‘it’s magic’ to explain something it didn’t understand.” He shook his head, “First time he saw a cell phone 3D projection when I was talking to my girlfriend one night, he said, ‘esto es la magia negra’.”

“What if I told you a way to use the sacrifice of black gold to create a magical field we would protect the cassette…”

Image: http://www.skyscrapernews.com/images/pics/6255CaernarfonCastle_pic1.jpg

February 2, 2020

Slice of PIE: Creating Alien Aliens Part 2

NOT using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin, Ireland in August 2019 (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’ve ended up going on with the idea of creating “alien aliens” by reading some classic short stories in which alien aliens were front and center. So far:

“Can These Bones Live?” by Ted Reynolds (ANALOG, March 1979) – in which a Human has to plead for the resurrection of a race of extinct aliens after dreaming about the greatness of the aliens. She also ends up asking questions about the aliens who have the power and eventually about an alien people who the powerful ones respect. This gives a fascinating view of what different sapients might find important. (Nominated for several awards)

“Slow Life” by Michael Swanwick (ANALOG, December 2002) – in which astronauts are exploring the oceans on Saturn’s moon, Titan. A perfectly rational scientists gets into trouble and starts to have weird dreams, eventually believing that some form of intelligent life who live in black smoker type stacks in the methane oceans of the moon are communicating with her through dreams. (Won Hugo for best novelette of that year)

“Camouflage” by Joe Haldeman (ANALOG, March-May 2004) – Two aliens landed on Earth a long, long time ago and eventually take on Human form and live a small portion of their eternal lives on Earth. (Won James Tiptree, Jr award and 2005 Nebula for best novel)

“Blood Music” by Greg Bear (ANALOG, June 1983) – A scientists injects himself with his own cells, enhanced and transformed into colonial sapient beings, alien in every way but origin. In the magazine story, they might have been stopped; in the novel, they weren’t. (Story: Hugo 1983, Nebula 1984; novel nominated for both plus British Science Fiction Award).  

Recently, I have read all of David Brin’s UPLIFT books and stories, which are full of aliens of every variety. Julie Czerneda works with aliens in all but her fantasy novels with various levels of “out-there-ness”. CJ Cherry has spent 20 years exploring the society of the “alien” atevi.

What ALL of these have in common may seem obvious to you, but it was a startling surprise to me. I finally figured out that aliens are best presented and realized when they are metaphorical representations of the Humans they interact with.

Of course, this raises the question: “Is this what REAL aliens will be like?”

The answer (also “Of course!”) is “Are you kidding?”

 They won’t be like Shram, T’Pol, The Horta, Alien, Jar Jar Binks, Solaris (though this one comes close to being really “alien”), ET, or even Esen-alit-Quar, who, while physically alien, has a personality that’s as Human as mine.

They’ll be alien. Most likely incomprehensible. Alien.

So, once we reach the year that we make Contact, what do we do? Probably spend forever trying to figure it out. It’s unlikely that there will be a Federation we can join; probably not an Evil Empire to fight or even a Rebellion we can join; we’ll probably continue on the same way we are going today. They won’t be our Alien Saviors or our Alien Enslavers. They probably won’t even notice us.

So the function of aliens in science fiction is to explore HUMANS; us. Not figure out what will happen at First Contact. Nothing will happen. It’ll hit the headlines, then vanish from our normal navel gazing life. Even the ones who SWEAR they’re ready and are smirking at the rest of us will move on to the next "interesting thing".

So. How do I create aliens to explore Humans? They have to interact with Humans and be a metaphor of something profound that I’m trying to say. Something related to my themes: Education. First contact. Faith in God. How we interact with very alien. Domestication. Technological solution to problems today. Self-sacrifice.

Humor.

I do NOT have these down yet. In fact, I’m not even certain these are the themes I’m working on. But, I AM working on them. It’s just going to take time to learn to focus!

Image: https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/memoryalpha/images/1/12/Horta.jpg/revision/latest/scale-to-width-down/340?cb=20110626014559&path-prefix=enhttps://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/memoryalpha/images/1/12/Horta.jpg/revision/latest/scale-to-width-down/340?cb=20110626014559&path-prefix=en

January 29, 2020

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 431


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: Humans are NOTHING special in the universe
Current Event: “The apparent size and age of the universe suggest that many technologically advanced extraterrestrial civilizations ought to exist.
However, this hypothesis seems inconsistent with the lack of observational evidence to support it.” [Editorial comment: “‘Suggest’?????? ‘Seems inconsistent’???????]

There is no evidence that there is life anywhere in space – oh, there are hopes, dreams, protestations that “we can NOT be the only ones in this ENTIRE UNIVERSE” (this shriek is followed by a childish tantrum-like stomp of a foot. It has been uttered by the most distinguished of scientists and science fiction writers ever to walk this Earth – from Carl Sagan to David Brin) and frantic attempts by those who do not believe that Humanity is unique.

But there is NO PROOF that there is anyone of any sort anywhere in the universe but HERE.

Perhaps the best thing would be to just admit that we’re all there is and go from there.

Two paths are possible, the first one was followed to its logical conclusion by Isaac Asimov in his FOUNDATION classic tales – from FORWARD THE FOUNDATION through FOUNDATION AND EARTH.

The second seems to be happening before our very eyes:

Claudie Nicollier and Wubbo Fugelsang shielded their eyes against the glare of the rising sun. Claudie said, “Do you have any idea how ridiculous this looks?”

Wubbo snorted, rubbing the beard he’d allowed to grow over the last two weeks of the Human space program. He said, “They’re trying to fool themselves into believing that space belongs to the mechanical.”
Claudie grunted, grabbing his shoulder to steady her own hand. She said, “I joined the ESA to stop this. I did it for the glory of France!” Her shouted sounded more choked than triumphant. “Six years of training flushed away by an accident and bureaucratic panic.”

“You started training when you were ten?” he said, smiling. “I was born dreaming of space. My parents conceived me on the night of the last American shuttle launch on July 21, 2o11.”

“How romantic!” she whispered.

“And extremely uncomfortable, my older brother told me.”

“What?”

“They were laying on a blanket on a beach in Florida about five kilometers from the Cape Canaveral launch pad.”

She slapped his shoulder, “We’re talking about the end of an era, Rub. How can you joke at a time like this?”

“Sorry.”

From their hiding place, they watched an Ariane VI rocket hurtle into space. Built entirely by robots, crewed by robots and guarded by robots, it was the International Space Union’s first shot since bringing the ancient International Space Station back to Earth. For the first time in eighty years, no Human lived anywhere but on the surface of the Earth.

The ISU and all its member nations had declared that space exploration could now begin in earnest with Humans safely at the center of a web of spidery lines of destinations from the first interstellar probe on the eighth year of its journey to Alpha Centauri B to the buckshot spheres of picobot satellites in orbit around all eight planets and fifteen moons.

“It’s not me I’m worried about,” said Claudie.

Rub lifted an eyebrow, standing up, stretching – they’d been crouched here since the night before, hiding in the jungle west of the Launch Center. “Who are you worried about then?”

“Noah and Natalie and Waqas and Chris...”

“The Americans?” he snorted, “What are you worried about them for? They had their chance to go to the stars. They blew it.”

“Agreed.”

He waited then said, “I hear a ‘but’ in there.”

She stretched as well, quite aware of his interest in her calisthenics. She said, “I’m worried because I heard them talking the other day. They have something – how do they say it – they’ve got something ‘up their sleeves’.”

Rub shook his head, “They don’t have the power to do anything anymore. They can’t even work themselves out of their Second Great Depression.”

“What I heard from them doesn’t require power just a little remodeling…”
                                                                       
Image:

January 26, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 21, 2020

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 430


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. Change of pace for a bit – I’m going to look at elements of EXTREMELY popular SF, F, and H; break them apart and use each element as a jumping of point for a story idea…

Sometimes we forget that adolescents can be parental abuse victims, too...
800-273-8255   OR TEXT '273TALK' TO 839863


  
H Trope: Abusive Parents

Austin Ventura stood in his room. What should he do? What could he do? Carlos Rodriguez Cruz – his best friend since kindergarten – had run off somewhere. Worse yet, he’d been gone for anywhere from a few minutes to four hours. Austin texted Carlos’ sister, Paulina, “You still there?”

“Not going anywhere. Really.”

“Can I come over?”

“Here?”

“Where?”

“Meet me at the school.”

“I can get there in ten.”

“No car. Give me an hour.”
“Why?”

“Walk.”

“I can come and get you,” Austin clicked. He waited. His screen dimmed to dark. She wasn’t going to answer. Shaking his head, he left the house, walking out the
front door. Mom and Dad had long ago given up trying to keep him in the place – he’d “escaped” so many times…and they’d had to pick him up from the police station for curfew violations so many times, that they’d finally said if he was going to go out whenever he felt like it, he could pick himself up.

They refused. He tested their resolve exactly once. That was the night he had to walk home from down town Minneapolis. His parents insisted the cops turn him out. The also lied about how far away they lived – they said they were staying in a nearby hotel. It had been just before Christmas. Austin was twelve.

When a cop car stopped to nab him, it turned out it was the same one who’d grabbed him the first time. The lady had said, “Your parents made you walk home?”

Miserable – even in his fancy Columbia ReflectiveHeat Brand – in just his jacket and Converses, the cop relented and gave him a ride home. When he dropped Austin off in front of the mansion, he’d leaned forward, looked at the entryway and said softly, “I can file for child abuse if you want...”

“No!” Austin had exclaimed. The publicity would ruin Dad. Mom would never speak to him again. “I’ve learned my lesson.”

The cop had made a face, shrugged and said, “Suit yourself, kid. But if you ever change your mind,” he’d squirted a contact email to Austin’s cellphone then went on his way.

Austin-in-the-present shook his head and sighed, the only lesson he’d learned that night was that he had to be a helluva lot sneakier from then on. And he’d learned exactly how mad Dad could get. He set off to meet Paulina.

Names: ♂ Mexico, Mexico; ♂ Minnesota, Italy (= “baby in the woods”, “foundling”); ♀ Spanish form of French name