September 18, 2019

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 414

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: The Mundane World versus the Magical World (http://darkmythology-dark234.blogspot.com/2011/05/monster-of-yoruba-mythology.html)

A Library to rival the one at Alexandria is nearly done in the center of the Sahara in the Erg of Bilmah. The dark forces of America: Jersey Devils, Yuma Skeletons, Wampus Cats, Bigfoot, Headless Horsemen, Mosquitoes, Trickster Coyotes, Maids in the Mist and Pecos Bill and his legions have been unable to stop the mundane efforts of a young man in America as he makes his way to the Library with a powerful book of spells. It’s now us to the forces of the legendary Sahara: mummies, Ewaipanoma, monster scorpions, giant Desert Rattlers, raging sandstorms, the Kelb-el-Khela and an abiku sent to steal him before he gets old enough to stop him from bringing to book to the Library and locking it away for all time…

Na’Rodney Jones Castillo-Vargas Daylight Hatshepsut – known as Na’Rodney to his friends...when he had friends. He shook his head. He had a mission. He hiked his pack up on his shoulders. They’d escaped the dearrs outside of Ely. They’d eventually made it to what remained of the city of Duluth. Selling a first edition copy of Stephen King’s novel, CARRIE had gotten them enough to pay their way as they hitchhiked south to the future Vertical Village of Minneapolis St Paul

Angelique Mary Ozaawindib, longtime friend of his great uncle’s and now the bane of his existence, muttered, “I thought we were supposed to buy transportation south.”

“We’re going south. I think we should save our money.”

“That’s because you have a good pair of walking boots.”

“You could have brought yours. G’uncle had a pair of them in the shelter.”

She snorted as they crunched through pile of dried leaves. Farther north, where they’d started, the burned-out remains of the home he’d grown up in lay on the outskirts of Ely. Farther behind them, silent but obedient, his brother Payne – not really his brother, his second cousin or something like that, G’uncle Bruce had never been real clear on their relationship – had walked tirelessly. Na’Rodney shot a look over his shoulder. Angelique said, “He’ll be all right, Rod.”

“I don’t know what I’m going to do with him,” he said faintly. The last thing in the world he wanted to do was appear weak in front of Angelique. Not because he cared what she thought of him, but because somebody had to lead their group and it sure as heck wasn’t going to be Payne or Angelique! He said, “I don’t know where he got all those wild ideas about wampus cats, Pecos Bill, and...”

Though he’d been silent for miles, Payne spoke up now, “They’re all real, Na’Rodney! They’re out to get us! To get you! They don’t like the books you’re carrying. They don’t want us to go to the Erg of Bilma!”

Na’Rodney and Angelique stopped in their tracks and turned slowly to face Payne. He was looking at both of them. His eyes were wide; the pupils nearly black. Rod stepped back  to Payne, holding out his hands. “What did you say, Payne?”

“They don’t want us to go, Na’Rodney! They want us to go back home.”

Na’Rodney looked back at Angelique, then at Payne, “Payne. Listen to me. Bruce is gone.”

“When will he get back?”

“He won’t be coming back,” Na’Rodney said, hanging  his head. How could he make Payne understand?

Suddenly, Payne said, “G’uncle’s dead, Rod. I know that. But the things – the American ghosts and monsters – they don’t want us to go. They want to kill us.” His eyes grew wider momentarily, seemed to glow and abruptly a darker, deeper, gravelly voice came from his mouth and said...

Names: ♀ French, Hebrew, Ojibwe; ♂ African American, English, Mexican, English, Egyptian

September 15, 2019

WRITING ADVICE: Can I Use “Old” Ideas To Create New Stories? Aladdin, From A THOUSAND AND ONE ARABIAN NIGHTS (sort of…)


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”.

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!

Today, I thought I’d say something all on my own, unsupported by my published or unpublishable works

My grandkids, daughter-in-law, wife, my son’s mother-in-law, and I watched the recent DVD released Disney’s “Aladdin”. The tale itself is old, though not part of the original Arabic “One Thousand and One Nights” which was recorded in Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age though “not being part of the original Arabic text. It was added to the collection in the 18th century by the Frenchman Antoine Galland, who acquired the tale from storyteller Hanna Diyab. Historians consider Diyab the original author of ‘Aladdin’, with the tale partly having been inspired by Diyab's own life.” The story has been done dozens of times in venues ranging from the original story written some time before 1688 and told by its author, Syrian Diyab; to a British pantomime in 1788; to a Canadian video game in 2016.

Aside from the fact that Will Smith is a hero of mine – for all his body of work, not just his speculative fiction parts (“Independence Day”, “Men In Black”, “Hancock”, “I Am Legend”, the pre-production “Gemini Man”, and “I, Robot”, even “The Legend of Bagger Vance” – “Ali” was great and I love “In Pursuit of Happyness”. At any rate, I remember hearing speculation about whether or not he could pull off a part automatically associated with the late Robin Williams – Genie.

I think he did, but that’s not where I’m really headed today.

After watching the movie, I commented to my wife that while Disney had managed to retain the magic of the cartoon version, they’d made a subtle change that I applauded even more: Jasmine went from a strong-will Daughter Of The Sultan to a savvy – even brilliant – politician who had her eye on the throne of the mythical Arabian Sultanate (as opposed to a caliphate and an emirate (as in United Arab Emirates) because she both loved the land and people – in fact, she meets Aladdin because she’s going about among them in disguise. The story, which I’m sure originated as one of the :

“A caliphate is an Islamic state under the leadership of an Islamic steward with the title of caliph, a person considered a political-religious successor to the Islamic prophet Muhammad and a leader of the entire ummah (Muslim community).”

“An emirate is a political territory that is ruled by a dynastic Arabic or Islamic monarch-styled emir. The term may also refer to a kingdom…Etymologically emirate is the quality, dignity, office, or territorial competence of any emir (prince, commander, governor, etc.)…The United Arab Emirates is a federal state that comprises seven federal emirates, each administered by a hereditary emir, these seven forming the electoral college for the federation's President and Prime Minister…Furthermore, in Arabic the term can be generalized to mean any province of a country that is administered by a member of the ruling class, especially of a member (usually styled emir) of the royal family, as in Saudi Arabian governorates.”

Sultan is a position with several historical meanings. Originally, it was an Arabic abstract noun meaning ‘strength’, ‘authority’, ‘rulership’…it came to be used as the title of certain rulers who claimed almost full sovereignty in practical terms (i.e., the lack of dependence on any higher ruler), albeit without claiming the overall caliphate, or to refer to a powerful governor of a province within the caliphate. The adjective form of the word…[is] the dynasty and lands ruled by a sultan are referred to as a sultanate…The term is distinct from king, despite both referring to a sovereign ruler. The use of ‘sultan’ is restricted to Muslim countries, where the title carries religious significance…”

(all above are taken from the entry in Wikipedia)

At any rate, the idea of a prince, princess, king, queen, etc. going out to hobnob with commoners isn’t new or singular to any culture (https://www.reddit.com/r/history/comments/87ve5x/did_kingsqueens_ever_dress_up_as_commoners_and/) and has become a trope (https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RoyalsWhoActuallyDoSomething) actually it’s a SUB-trope of this one: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/KingIncognito), though apparently now the live-action Jasmine has her own category (along with Princess Leia Organa): https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/PoliticallyActivePrincess. (Which actually doesn’t surprise me at all as Disney owns both of them.

The fact that Jasmine changed from a passive character (while falling in love with Aladdin, of course) to a politically active one is a definite improvement to the movie. I enjoyed the secondary love interest between genie and Jasmine’s maid servant as well, mostly because I like that “old romantic” aspect of him (he’s FIFTY!!!!!)

I have no doubt that while the heart of the story has remained the same for over three centuries and survived the telling through countless translations – minimally from Arabic to French to English – it has also changed through the telling. I found a hint that someone, somewhere is going to take Aladdin, Jasmine, and the genie to the 35th Century in “Aladdin 3477 – 1: The Jinn of Wisdom”. Could be interesting, certainly…

But what if I used that story heart to write a completely different story. The 1995 movie “Clueless” was loosely based on Jane Austen’s masterpiece, EMMA though the resemblance is only noticeable to people who have read Jane Austen. Even though it was barely recognizable, it made bank. I think I could use “Aladdin” to write a science fiction story that might not be recognizable, either, yet owe its life to the tale. I’ll keep you posted.


September 10, 2019

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 413


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: Alien artifacts

Hans Bonhoeffer and Sa’Niah Green pursed their lips as they leaned over the Plexiglas box protecting the ‘Pseudo-Tibetan Nazi Buddha’ under the lights of the University of Minnesota’s Weisman Art Museum.

His voice heavy with a German accent, Hans said, “Why would they carve it out of meteorite iron?”

“You’d think they’d just sell it. I’ll bet they coulda got twenty grand on ebay,” said Sa’Niah.

Hans snorted, straightening up. “Even so, it’s strange. Why would anyone go to the trouble carving it and then pretending it was collected by Himmler?”

Sa’Niah straightened up as well and looked at her friend. They were about as opposite as possible – he had blonde hair, blue eyes, almost two meters tall, lanky to the point of skinny with hands large enough to grip a basketball with just five fingers (if he cared, he was a European football fanatic). She was barely a meter and a half tall, her grandparents had come from Sudan, she was squat and round (her friends called her Black Winnie – after Winnie the Pooh) and she wanted nothing more than to play on the Minnesota Lynx.

Good thing he was gay, otherwise she’d live one frustrated life. They were also both history majors. Which reminded her, “Hans – how’s your book?”

He looked up and arched an eyebrow, “Why do you think I’m standing here with you discussing pseudo-Nazi alien artifacts?”

She snorted softly, “Because we’re best friends?”

“No, because you’re the only person I know of who’s read Harry Turtledove.” She grinned. They’d met in the Wilson Library during finals first semester of their freshman year the year before. They’d gotten into an argument over who would be able to check out the newest Turtledove novel. Ultimately Hans had won because he held the book over his head and there was no way for her to get at it. She said, “It’s a good thing you decide to share it with me at Caribou.”

He grinned at her and said, “Speaking of which.” He lifted his chin and made a motion toward Dinkytown proper.

She nodded and said, “I’ll even walk outside.”

Mock-amazed, he said, “What’s wrong? Have you contracted some spinal fungus you haven’t told me about and you are preparing to die?”

She laughed. Several other arts patrons glared at her. The Weisman wasn’t for giggling college sophomores. They headed for the exit then started up East River Parkway, heading for Southeast Fifth Street. Sa’Niah said, “So, what’s the story?”

Hans fell into one of his brooding moods. They’d almost reached Dinkytown when he said, “It’s not a story.”

“What?”

“It has to do with my family,” he said, his accent thicker than usual. She’d noticed that happened when he got emotional – which happened every time he broke up from his current love interest. She just listened and walked, huffing slightly. When he wasn’t paying attention, he took long, long strides and it was hard for her to keep up.

“What would a fake Nazi-Buddhist made out of meteorite iron have to do with your family?”

They reached the Caribou, ordered their favorites and settled in a booth that allowed him to stretch his legs before he said, “My family were Nazis.”

She blinked in surprise. “What?”

“My grandparents – both sides, except for one of my father’s uncles. His name was Dietrich and he was executed by the Nazis.” She didn’t know what to say. He continued, “They also dealt with the regime in antiquities.” He paused, scowling then said, “The Nazi Buddha? It’s legitimate.”

“How would you know?”

“Because I have a picture of my great-great-great grandfather holding it. And he does not look Human.”

Names: American, English/Irish; German
Image:

September 8, 2019

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: Am I A Scientist Who Writes Science Fiction? It Depends, I Guess...


Using the Program Guide of the World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin, Ireland in August 2019 (to which I will be unable to go (until I retire from education)), I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. The link is provided below where this appeared on page 5…


When scientists write science fiction
Write what you know. That bit of advice has been handed down to new writers with great regularity, but what does it mean for writers whose day jobs are in the science and technology fields? What advantages or challenges do they face when writing with a science background? What does it take to walk in both worlds?

Dr Douglas Van Belle: SF author, children’s author, and author of the world's bestselling introduction to politics textbook.
Kali Wallace: PhD in geophysics, author of speculative fiction, YA and children’s novels.
Corry L. Lee: science fiction and fantasy author, physicist, award-winning science teacher.
Dr David L Clements: astrophysicist, SF writer.

OK – so I sort of know something about this, because I’m a scientist, too. And an award-winning science teacher. Hmmm…WHOA! I wanted to see if I qualified as a scientist and discovered that it all depends on WHO makes the definition:

Merriam Webster – “…a person learned in science and especially natural science : a scientific investigator.”
Wikipedia – “…someone who conducts scientific research to advance knowledge in an area of interest…In classical antiquity…philosophers engaged in…natural philosophy…[since] the 19th century (coined by the theologian, philosopher, and historian of science William Whewell)…[today]…many scientists have advanced degrees…and pursue careers in…academia, industry, government, and nonprofit environments…”
The Science Council – “…someone who systematically gathers and uses research and evidence, making a hypothesis and testing it, to gain and share understanding and knowledge….[in addition, their]…use of statistics (Statisticians) or data (Data scientists); what they’re seeking understanding of…where they apply their science…However all scientists are united by their relentless curiosity and systematic approach to assuaging it.” They DO note: “If you’re professional scientist, click here to find out about becoming a Registered or Chartered Scientist, Chartered Science Teacher, or Registered Science Technician.” (https://sciencecouncil.org/about-science/our-definition-of-a-scientist/)

Maybe THIS is why we’re having so much trouble with “commoners” connecting with the science community. The definitions are so different (and even contradictory – according to the Science Councils first definition, I’m not a scientist; but they toss me a bone in the addendum…

There’s even a separate classification called “citizen scientist”, defined as “…public participat[ion of individuals who volunteer] in the scientific process, addressing real-world problems in ways that may include formulating research questions, conducting scientific experiments, collecting and analyzing data, interpreting results, making new discoveries, developing technologies and applications, and solving complex problems. In crowdsourcing, organizations submit an open call for voluntary assistance from a large group of individuals for online, distributed problem solving.”

I do NOT have any PhDs (though I do have a MS in School Counseling) and 30 or so years of teaching science, including several projects where I and my classes gathered data for research organizations both public and private; and I have participated in two studies – one regarding familial heart disease and one as an experimental subject in a study looking at Vitamin D3 and the onset of diabetes.

Am I a scientist? Some would say, “Yes!”; some would say, “Well…”; some would say, “Absolutely not.” Citizen scientist, for certain.

So, would I qualify as a scientist writing SF? I think so. I use concepts from current science sites as well as established classical science and speculative science (FTL for example). For example, in a story in the current issue of ANALOG, I posit genetic engineering advancing to the point at which not only do we engineer Humans into what we want (Lois McMaster Bujold did this with Taura in the VORKOSIGAN Universe), we manufacture entirely unlikely life forms from a patchwork of unrelated organisms.

CHEAPALIN is made from the genes of    different organisms:

Cellulose – “…[an] organic polymer or biofilm, a syntrophic consortium of microorganisms in which cells stick to each other and often also to a surface. These adherent cells become embedded within a slimy extracellular matrix that is composed of extracellular polymeric substances (EPS)…which are typically a polymeric conglomerations of extracellular polysaccharides, proteins, lipids…”
Heme – iron “gripping” protein to hold the metal in a stable matrix.
Eel – from electric eel cells to create a current passing through the iron microfines.
Ameba – allow the generation of a heavy “shell” protecting the surface.
Peat moss – survives well in wet soils and also produces oxygen and absorbs water,  the cells create a tightly knitted organic pad to hold the CHEAPALIN components together.
Alfalfa – bacteria in the roots fix nitrogen in the soil rather than the road depleting soil beneath it.
Achromobacter –marine members of this species are capable of degrading hydrocarbons. While they lack some important enzymes related to glycometabolism of carbohydrates, they contains abundant proteins directly related to petroleum hydrocarbon degradation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5552670/)
Leukocytes – a cell circulated in the body that “eats” foreign substances; all are amoeboid with a nucleus.
Iron microfines – microscopic iron bits
Notothenioidei – fishes able to survive Antarctic water temperatures because of the presence of an antifreeze glycoprotein in blood and body fluids.
Noctilucan – a costal bioluminescent species consisting of one member (that glows when disturbed).

“Once they begin to grow, they’re programmed to organize into layers, some metabolizing the asphalt’s hydrocarbons, enhanced chlorophyll and alfalfa genes creating energy through photosynthesis and roots that grow through the road to return nitrogen to the soil and pull up micronutrients. A semi-transparent cellulose skin protects the whole thing while remaining flexible. The Notothenioidei genes keep cellular fluids from freezing during Minnesota winters. Noctilucan genes make it glow at night. Leukocytes digest roadkill, leaves, branches and old pizza boxes. Modified electric eel cells create a current passing through the iron microfines in the road. The whole thing forms a black organic pad organism.”

That was the science. Has it been done? Nope – but the Human insulin my wife used to take is “…biosynthetic recombinant ‘human’ insulin or its analogues. Recombinant insulin is produced either in yeast (usually Saccharomyces cerevisiae) or E. coli.” Relatively speaking, it’s an easy process. Engineering/synthetic biology is “…the ability to genetically modify biological organisms [in order to]…to harness the power of living systems for a variety of manufacturing applications, such as advanced therapeutics, sustainable fuels, chemical feedstocks, and advanced materials. To date, research in synthetic biology has typically relied on trial-and-error approaches, which are costly, laborious, and inefficient.”

It is “now mature enough to provide solutions to a range of societal problems…” in such ways as creating “Genetically engineered trees that provide fire-resistant lumber for homes. Modified organs that won't be rejected. Synthetic microbes that monitor your gut to detect invading disease organisms and kill them before you get sick.” (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/06/190619134832.htm).

A review of the story noted, “It's hard to accept the premise of a living chunk of road wandering off in search of iron, but the story is a pleasant enough thing to read, if you don't take it too seriously.” Which is fine – no beef from me!

HOWEVER, as a scientist (at least a citizen scientist), I believe that our ability to create something like CHEAPALIN is virtually certain, especially in the eventual post-petroleum world (for which I created my chimera-creature). I DID have the pleasure once of instructing a student who recently got his PhD in physics with his doctoral thesis: “Elucidating the structural dynamics of SERCA-PLB regulation by electron paramagnetic resonance”; as well as and another who presented a few years ago on the subject of “The effect of Garcinia kola extract on the T-cell composition and
function in experimental type 1 diabetes”. She has since entered her PhD program…

So, I had a small hand in fostering two “real” scientists; I know of at least two other MDs who also passed briefly through my science class. Does that make me a scientist? Not, but it certainly makes me an ACCESSORY to a scientist!

The session would certainly have been interesting, but its value for me has been in sparking deep thought about me and my role in the world of science.

One last thought, I HAVE seen at least one scientist who became an award-winning writer succumb to the opinion that anyone who ISN’T a PhD on his level is an idiot – and who has, after allowing his politics to completely overtake his “story”, dropped off the map of “award-winning” scientist/SF writers…

A cautionary tale if ever I saw one.

Image:  Using the Program Guide of the World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin, Ireland in August 2019 (to which I will be unable to go (until I retire from education)), I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. The link is provided below where this appeared on page 5…

When scientists write science fiction
Write what you know. That bit of advice has been handed down to new writers with great regularity, but what does it mean for writers whose day jobs are in the science and technology fields? What advantages or challenges do they face when writing with a science background? What does it take to walk in both worlds?

Dr Douglas Van Belle: SF author, children’s author, and author of the world's bestselling introduction to politics textbook.
Kali Wallace: PhD in geophysics, author of speculative fiction, YA and children’s novels.
Corry L. Lee: science fiction and fantasy author, physicist, award-winning science teacher.
Dr David L Clements: astrophysicist, SF writer.

OK – so I sort of know something about this, because I’m a scientist, too. And an award-winning science teacher. Hmmm…WHOA! I wanted to see if I qualified as a scientist and discovered that it all depends on WHO makes the definition:

Merriam Webster – “…a person learned in science and especially natural science : a scientific investigator.”
Wikipedia – “…someone who conducts scientific research to advance knowledge in an area of interest…In classical antiquity…philosophers engaged in…natural philosophy…[since] the 19th century (coined by the theologian, philosopher, and historian of science William Whewell)…[today]…many scientists have advanced degrees…and pursue careers in…academia, industry, government, and nonprofit environments…”
The Science Council – “…someone who systematically gathers and uses research and evidence, making a hypothesis and testing it, to gain and share understanding and knowledge….[in addition, their]…use of statistics (Statisticians) or data (Data scientists); what they’re seeking understanding of…where they apply their science…However all scientists are united by their relentless curiosity and systematic approach to assuaging it.” They DO note: “If you’re professional scientist, click here to find out about becoming a Registered or Chartered Scientist, Chartered Science Teacher, or Registered Science Technician.” (https://sciencecouncil.org/about-science/our-definition-of-a-scientist/)

Maybe THIS is why we’re having so much trouble with “commoners” connecting with the science community. The definitions are so different (and even contradictory – according to the Science Councils first definition, I’m not a scientist; but they toss me a bone in the addendum…

There’s even a separate classification called “citizen scientist”, defined as “…public participat[ion of individuals who volunteer] in the scientific process, addressing real-world problems in ways that may include formulating research questions, conducting scientific experiments, collecting and analyzing data, interpreting results, making new discoveries, developing technologies and applications, and solving complex problems. In crowdsourcing, organizations submit an open call for voluntary assistance from a large group of individuals for online, distributed problem solving.”

I do NOT have any PhDs (though I do have a MS in School Counseling) and 30 or so years of teaching science, including several projects where I and my classes gathered data for research organizations both public and private; and I have participated in two studies – one regarding familial heart disease and one as an experimental subject in a study looking at Vitamin D3 and the onset of diabetes.

Am I a scientist? Some would say, “Yes!”; some would say, “Well…”; some would say, “Absolutely not.” Citizen scientist, for certain.

So, would I qualify as a scientist writing SF? I think so. I use concepts from current science sites as well as established classical science and speculative science (FTL for example). For example, in a story in the current issue of ANALOG, I posit genetic engineering advancing to the point at which not only do we engineer Humans into what we want (Lois McMaster Bujold did this with Taura in the VORKOSIGAN Universe), we manufacture entirely unlikely life forms from a patchwork of unrelated organisms.

CHEAPALIN is made from the genes of    different organisms:

Cellulose – “…[an] organic polymer or biofilm, a syntrophic consortium of microorganisms in which cells stick to each other and often also to a surface. These adherent cells become embedded within a slimy extracellular matrix that is composed of extracellular polymeric substances (EPS)…which are typically a polymeric conglomerations of extracellular polysaccharides, proteins, lipids…”
Heme – iron “gripping” protein to hold the metal in a stable matrix.
Eel – from electric eel cells to create a current passing through the iron microfines.
Ameba – allow the generation of a heavy “shell” protecting the surface.
Peat moss – survives well in wet soils and also produces oxygen and absorbs water,  the cells create a tightly knitted organic pad to hold the CHEAPALIN components together.
Alfalfa – bacteria in the roots fix nitrogen in the soil rather than the road depleting soil beneath it.
Achromobacter –marine members of this species are capable of degrading hydrocarbons. While they lack some important enzymes related to glycometabolism of carbohydrates, they contains abundant proteins directly related to petroleum hydrocarbon degradation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5552670/)
Leukocytes – a cell circulated in the body that “eats” foreign substances; all are amoeboid with a nucleus.
Iron microfines – microscopic iron bits
Notothenioidei – fishes able to survive Antarctic water temperatures because of the presence of an antifreeze glycoprotein in blood and body fluids.
Noctilucan – a costal bioluminescent species consisting of one member (that glows when disturbed).

“Once they begin to grow, they’re programmed to organize into layers, some metabolizing the asphalt’s hydrocarbons, enhanced chlorophyll and alfalfa genes creating energy through photosynthesis and roots that grow through the road to return nitrogen to the soil and pull up micronutrients. A semi-transparent cellulose skin protects the whole thing while remaining flexible. The Notothenioidei genes keep cellular fluids from freezing during Minnesota winters. Noctilucan genes make it glow at night. Leukocytes digest roadkill, leaves, branches and old pizza boxes. Modified electric eel cells create a current passing through the iron microfines in the road. The whole thing forms a black organic pad organism.”

That was the science. Has it been done? Nope – but the Human insulin my wife used to take is “…biosynthetic recombinant ‘human’ insulin or its analogues. Recombinant insulin is produced either in yeast (usually Saccharomyces cerevisiae) or E. coli.” Relatively speaking, it’s an easy process. Engineering/synthetic biology is “…the ability to genetically modify biological organisms [in order to]…to harness the power of living systems for a variety of manufacturing applications, such as advanced therapeutics, sustainable fuels, chemical feedstocks, and advanced materials. To date, research in synthetic biology has typically relied on trial-and-error approaches, which are costly, laborious, and inefficient.”

It is “now mature enough to provide solutions to a range of societal problems…” in such ways as creating “Genetically engineered trees that provide fire-resistant lumber for homes. Modified organs that won't be rejected. Synthetic microbes that monitor your gut to detect invading disease organisms and kill them before you get sick.” (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/06/190619134832.htm).

A review of the story noted, “It's hard to accept the premise of a living chunk of road wandering off in search of iron, but the story is a pleasant enough thing to read, if you don't take it too seriously.” Which is fine – no beef from me!

HOWEVER, as a scientist (at least a citizen scientist), I believe that our ability to create something like CHEAPALIN is virtually certain, especially in the eventual post-petroleum world (for which I created my chimera-creature). I DID have the pleasure once of instructing a student who recently got his PhD in physics with his doctoral thesis: “Elucidating the structural dynamics of SERCA-PLB regulation by electron paramagnetic resonance”; as well as and another who presented a few years ago on the subject of “The effect of Garcinia kola extract on the T-cell composition and
function in experimental type 1 diabetes”. She has since entered her PhD program…

So, I had a small hand in fostering two “real” scientists; I know of at least two other MDs who also passed briefly through my science class. Does that make me a scientist? Not, but it certainly makes me an ACCESSORY to a scientist!

The session would certainly have been interesting, but its value for me has been in sparking deep thought about me and my role in the world of science.

One last thought, I HAVE seen at least one scientist who became an award-winning writer succumb to the opinion that anyone who ISN’T a PhD on his level is an idiot – and who has, after allowing his politics to completely overtake his “story”, dropped off the map of “award-winning” scientist/SF writers…

A cautionary tale if ever I saw one.

Image: Using the Program Guide of the World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin, Ireland in August 2019 (to which I will be unable to go (until I retire from education)), I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. The link is provided below where this appeared on page 5…

When scientists write science fiction
Write what you know. That bit of advice has been handed down to new writers with great regularity, but what does it mean for writers whose day jobs are in the science and technology fields? What advantages or challenges do they face when writing with a science background? What does it take to walk in both worlds?

Dr Douglas Van Belle: SF author, children’s author, and author of the world's bestselling introduction to politics textbook.
Kali Wallace: PhD in geophysics, author of speculative fiction, YA and children’s novels.
Corry L. Lee: science fiction and fantasy author, physicist, award-winning science teacher.
Dr David L Clements: astrophysicist, SF writer.

OK – so I sort of know something about this, because I’m a scientist, too. And an award-winning science teacher. Hmmm…WHOA! I wanted to see if I qualified as a scientist and discovered that it all depends on WHO makes the definition:

Merriam Webster – “…a person learned in science and especially natural science : a scientific investigator.”
Wikipedia – “…someone who conducts scientific research to advance knowledge in an area of interest…In classical antiquity…philosophers engaged in…natural philosophy…[since] the 19th century (coined by the theologian, philosopher, and historian of science William Whewell)…[today]…many scientists have advanced degrees…and pursue careers in…academia, industry, government, and nonprofit environments…”
The Science Council – “…someone who systematically gathers and uses research and evidence, making a hypothesis and testing it, to gain and share understanding and knowledge….[in addition, their]…use of statistics (Statisticians) or data (Data scientists); what they’re seeking understanding of…where they apply their science…However all scientists are united by their relentless curiosity and systematic approach to assuaging it.” They DO note: “If you’re professional scientist, click here to find out about becoming a Registered or Chartered Scientist, Chartered Science Teacher, or Registered Science Technician.” (https://sciencecouncil.org/about-science/our-definition-of-a-scientist/)

Maybe THIS is why we’re having so much trouble with “commoners” connecting with the science community. The definitions are so different (and even contradictory – according to the Science Councils first definition, I’m not a scientist; but they toss me a bone in the addendum…

There’s even a separate classification called “citizen scientist”, defined as “…public participat[ion of individuals who volunteer] in the scientific process, addressing real-world problems in ways that may include formulating research questions, conducting scientific experiments, collecting and analyzing data, interpreting results, making new discoveries, developing technologies and applications, and solving complex problems. In crowdsourcing, organizations submit an open call for voluntary assistance from a large group of individuals for online, distributed problem solving.”

I do NOT have any PhDs (though I do have a MS in School Counseling) and 30 or so years of teaching science, including several projects where I and my classes gathered data for research organizations both public and private; and I have participated in two studies – one regarding familial heart disease and one as an experimental subject in a study looking at Vitamin D3 and the onset of diabetes.

Am I a scientist? Some would say, “Yes!”; some would say, “Well…”; some would say, “Absolutely not.” Citizen scientist, for certain.

So, would I qualify as a scientist writing SF? I think so. I use concepts from current science sites as well as established classical science and speculative science (FTL for example). For example, in a story in the current issue of ANALOG, I posit genetic engineering advancing to the point at which not only do we engineer Humans into what we want (Lois McMaster Bujold did this with Taura in the VORKOSIGAN Universe), we manufacture entirely unlikely life forms from a patchwork of unrelated organisms.

CHEAPALIN is made from the genes of    different organisms:

Cellulose – “…[an] organic polymer or biofilm, a syntrophic consortium of microorganisms in which cells stick to each other and often also to a surface. These adherent cells become embedded within a slimy extracellular matrix that is composed of extracellular polymeric substances (EPS)…which are typically a polymeric conglomerations of extracellular polysaccharides, proteins, lipids…”
Heme – iron “gripping” protein to hold the metal in a stable matrix.
Eel – from electric eel cells to create a current passing through the iron microfines.
Ameba – allow the generation of a heavy “shell” protecting the surface.
Peat moss – survives well in wet soils and also produces oxygen and absorbs water,  the cells create a tightly knitted organic pad to hold the CHEAPALIN components together.
Alfalfa – bacteria in the roots fix nitrogen in the soil rather than the road depleting soil beneath it.
Achromobacter –marine members of this species are capable of degrading hydrocarbons. While they lack some important enzymes related to glycometabolism of carbohydrates, they contains abundant proteins directly related to petroleum hydrocarbon degradation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5552670/)
Leukocytes – a cell circulated in the body that “eats” foreign substances; all are amoeboid with a nucleus.
Iron microfines – microscopic iron bits
Notothenioidei – fishes able to survive Antarctic water temperatures because of the presence of an antifreeze glycoprotein in blood and body fluids.
Noctilucan – a costal bioluminescent species consisting of one member (that glows when disturbed).

“Once they begin to grow, they’re programmed to organize into layers, some metabolizing the asphalt’s hydrocarbons, enhanced chlorophyll and alfalfa genes creating energy through photosynthesis and roots that grow through the road to return nitrogen to the soil and pull up micronutrients. A semi-transparent cellulose skin protects the whole thing while remaining flexible. The Notothenioidei genes keep cellular fluids from freezing during Minnesota winters. Noctilucan genes make it glow at night. Leukocytes digest roadkill, leaves, branches and old pizza boxes. Modified electric eel cells create a current passing through the iron microfines in the road. The whole thing forms a black organic pad organism.”

That was the science. Has it been done? Nope – but the Human insulin my wife used to take is “…biosynthetic recombinant ‘human’ insulin or its analogues. Recombinant insulin is produced either in yeast (usually Saccharomyces cerevisiae) or E. coli.” Relatively speaking, it’s an easy process. Engineering/synthetic biology is “…the ability to genetically modify biological organisms [in order to]…to harness the power of living systems for a variety of manufacturing applications, such as advanced therapeutics, sustainable fuels, chemical feedstocks, and advanced materials. To date, research in synthetic biology has typically relied on trial-and-error approaches, which are costly, laborious, and inefficient.”

It is “now mature enough to provide solutions to a range of societal problems…” in such ways as creating “Genetically engineered trees that provide fire-resistant lumber for homes. Modified organs that won't be rejected. Synthetic microbes that monitor your gut to detect invading disease organisms and kill them before you get sick.” (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/06/190619134832.htm).

A review of the story noted, “It's hard to accept the premise of a living chunk of road wandering off in search of iron, but the story is a pleasant enough thing to read, if you don't take it too seriously.” Which is fine – no beef from me!

HOWEVER, as a scientist (at least a citizen scientist), I believe that our ability to create something like CHEAPALIN is virtually certain, especially in the eventual post-petroleum world (for which I created my chimera-creature). I DID have the pleasure once of instructing a student who recently got his PhD in physics with his doctoral thesis: “Elucidating the structural dynamics of SERCA-PLB regulation by electron paramagnetic resonance”; as well as and another who presented a few years ago on the subject of “The effect of Garcinia kola extract on the T-cell composition and
function in experimental type 1 diabetes”. She has since entered her PhD program…

So, I had a small hand in fostering two “real” scientists; I know of at least two other MDs who also passed briefly through my science class. Does that make me a scientist? Not, but it certainly makes me an ACCESSORY to a scientist!

The session would certainly have been interesting, but its value for me has been in sparking deep thought about me and my role in the world of science.

One last thought, I HAVE seen at least one scientist who became an award-winning writer succumb to the opinion that anyone who ISN’T a PhD on his level is an idiot – and who has, after allowing his politics to completely overtake his “story”, dropped off the map of “award-winning” scientist/SF writers…

A cautionary tale if ever I saw one.



September 4, 2019

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 412


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: creepy basements

 Mattie Capp Washington – I hated her. She was cute where I was ugly; she was short where I was tall; she was light where I was dark; she was popular where the world loathed me.

Everyone mourns her passing which the police and the rest of the country suspected was a murder. I’m the only one who actually saw anything, but if I talk about it, then I’ll be a suspect and even though their suspicions wouldn’t be entirely true, it would probably be enough to convict me.

It would certainly be enough to get me sent to the electric chair (if they had one any more) in the courtroom of public opinion.

I suppose I should back up a bit. I could probably start at the part where the world loathed me. I’m pretty sure you think I’m exaggerating when I say that, because there’s pretty much nothing that the world uniformly loathes. On the other hand, a paper I read once stated, “In virtually every culture there has existed some word for evil, a universal, linguistic acknowledgment of the archetypal presence of ‘something that brings sorrow, distress, or calamity...’”

So if every culture has a word for it, then the word must have been invented to describe something – ‘cuz that’s what Humans do. We put labels on stuff as soon as we want to get a handle on it. It’d be interesting to see which came first – the word for “evil” or the word for “God”.

I’m it – the thing that every culture has named. And almost without exception, I live in dark places. In the middle of the 21st Century, while there aren’t many caves left, there are lots and lots of basements. That’s where you’ll usually find me – evil lurking in basements.

It’s funny, ‘cuz bad guys always act like they’re looking for me. The real nut cases say that they’re seeking me to worship me. Those are the ones that amuse me the most because no matter how hard they tried to find me, no matter how many millions of dollars they spent or how many people they murdered to come to me face-to-face, the second they look at me, they completely lose it and beg to leave; they grovel, roll around on the ground, mess themselves and volunteer to sacrifice to me anything and everything they have.

And I’m not even Incarnate – I’m excarnate. I’m the one who DOES the dirty work because I am the one who is Unmade flesh. I was alive on Earth at one time and when I joined the ranks I became excarnate and now I serve. In basements. All the time.

Someone came down the stairs: thud, thud, thud; male heaviness. The young Ms. Washington was here, too. But there might have been a surprise or two in the offing.

I smiled an excarnate smile and opened my mouth.


September 1, 2019

Elements of Cron and Korea #10: “Feelings! Whoa, whoa, whoa, FEELINGS!”


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 to feel something, from the first sentence to the last; and what the reader feels is what the protagonist feels.”

Like the 70s song of the same name, my writing should be all about evoking feelings in a reader. If I’m absolutely honest, I need to admit that not only should I manipulate my reader, I need to manipulate myself.

My time in South Korea with son, daughter-in-law, and grandkids was really wonderful – but it was wonderful NOT only because I was with them, but because we shared truly unique times together.

For example, while we were there, we went several dozen meters underground to walk in a lava tube. We experienced a “5D” movie which was – in the round, with 3D glasses, and included wind, mist, and “fish darting at you”. We stared into outer space with small telescopes while a massive radio telescope loomed over us. We clambered down steep stairs to walk along preserved dinosaur footprints (the Korean people believe in LIVING their history. There were very few gates or fences to keep us from experiencing something.) I touched stones that had survived 1300 years of war – both ancient and modern – and that influenced the astronomical (not, emphatically, the “astrological”) practices of both ancient Japan and China. I touched it as I touched the floor of a Roman temple to the Roman/Indo-Iranian Mithras which was 2000 years old in a deserted courtyard in downtown London.

I FELT something because we shared something, sometimes that “thing” was as simple as a meal. Eating is something they do well in South Korea! We had lunch in the “pig market” one day – after passing through recently butchered pig parts. Another time, we went to MacDonald’s and I had the weirdest hamburger I’d ever had – with an egg on top. We went to another restaurant where there were freezers full of beef, pork, fish, and chicken as well as a dozen different vegetables and another dozen sauces. You gathered what you wanted, then went to your “grill” table to cook your meal! We had cool apple tea in the library of a man who sold traditional medicinal herbs and cures. We had “dancing tuna” on noodles, and heavenly cream puffs from Paris Baguette (ironically a South Korean chain store!), and triangle kim bop while we travelled. All of these evoked emotion through memory.

Other times it was emotional – I climbed Hill 303. It took me four hours, but with my son and grandson, we went to a place I could never have imagined. I could see down onto a place where the EXISTENCE of the country we all know as South Korea (and enthusiastically support with our purchase of Samsung, Kia, Hyundai, LG, an amazing list of beauty products, and POSCO Steel (a joint venture between Warren Buffet and South Korea). I’m sure there are more, including the export of the aforementioned Paris Baguette now open in 80 cities and growing (hopefully soon to Minneapolis where I live!)

In a story that will be in the November/December issue of ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact, “Kamsahamnida, America” (the first story in my Korean Solar Expansion (planned) series), I had a great deal of trouble writing the end of the story because I somehow got emotionally tied up in it.

“Road Veterinarian” (it’s part of the Vertical Village/Unity series I’ve been writing in for a number of years now) also caught me up because there was a bit of romantic teasing going on between my two genetic “sport” characters. I plan on pursuing that as well – though I’m not sure if that will ever come to any kind of conclusion because they’re so different and shy. So far, the two reviews I’ve seen LIKE that part of the story, though one of them thought the science was mostly unbelievable…

I just finished another story that takes place on an alien world in a universe inhabited only by Humans and the plant-descended WheetAh. I only managed to finish it while waiting for my grandson to be born because the emotional state I was in (restrained joy!) counterbalanced the deep reluctance I was facing in having the main character die, though he was both disagreeable and obnoxious…and I came to  like him by the end of the story.

At any rate, I’ve discovered that if I’M not emotional about a story, then I can hardly expect a reader to become emotionally involved with a story, either.

Lisa Cron concludes, “Ask yourself: Have I given the reader my protagonist’s train of thought, in the moment, as she struggles to figure out what the heck to do in each scene?”

Thus far, I’m more-or-less sure I have given my reader something emotional; and I can continue to work on doing that.


August 25, 2019

Slice of PIE: Robot and Nonhuman Intelligence – and Mental Health

Using the Program Guide of the World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin, Ireland in August 2019 (to which I will be unable to go (until I retire from education)), I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. The link is provided below where this appeared on page 4.


Robots talk in a metallic voice, speak in a staccato rhythm, and walk in awkward movements. Right? That may have been true in the 1950s, but robots have evolved. So what does it mean today to be a robot? How have they changed over the years and how might they change still? How do we write one in a convincing way, and can we apply these same ideas to writing other nonhuman intelligences?

Martha Wells: author of fantasy and SF, SF novellas, won Nebula, ALA/YALSA Alex Award, Locus Award, and has appeared on the Hugo, Nebula, Philip K. Dick Award ballots, USA Today Bestseller List, NYT Bestseller List
Charles Stross: author of seven Hugo-nominated novels; won three Hugo awards for shorter work, translated into 12+ languages; pharmacist; first code monkey
Christopher Husberg: fantasy author
Mika Koverola: working on PhD in cognitive science. Knowledge of philosophy of science like consciousness, evaluative biases and the neuropsychology of language; coauthored 2 scientific peer-reviewed papers; fan of SF&F

Yeah, weird juxtaposition, but as I’m preparing to go back to work as a HS counselor; and because my daughter was asked to contribute art of a peel-and-stick for the fund-raising efforts of Bring Change to Mind (https://bringchange2mind.org/get-involved/high-school-program/) – I started thinking.

If we create artificial intelligence and robots more mobile, stronger, and faster that us…will they also be subject to mental health issues?


There are even specialists in robot-human interactions: http://www.robot.md/

It also appears that we have been sabotaging our future with robots: https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/science-fiction-to-blame-for-robots-bad-reputation

There’s also no shortage of “mad/crazy robot” stories, either: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/KillerRobot (which probably accounts for the diatribe above).

But I can’t find much about robotic/AI mental illness – you know, schizophrenia, paranoia, hoarding, stuff like that. Though they are typically grouped according to type of issue – anxiety disorders, mood disorders, psychotic disorders, eating disorders (we can probably eliminate that one, though, come to think of it, what if a robot or an AI had problems with its power source – like some setting their “nuclear/anti-matter/handwavium” power source to feed them more and more power…and then they blew up? I don’t know, that one may require some thought!), impulse control and addiction disorders (the mind boggles! (Mine does, anyways!)), personality disorders. OCD, PTSD (this could present some fascinating story ideas…), stress disorders, dissociative or factitious disorders, sexuality/gender disorders (possibly eliminated, but there might be an entire NEW can of worms that opens there – what about a robot who wants to physically reproduce? (What if it the robot wasn’t as matter-of-fact as Data (ST:TNG) when his “daughter” Lal in “The Offspring” died? Is there such a thing as robotic or AI “depression”? What if a scientist who created an AI had depression issues herself and when her AI started emulating them (it of course, reflected its creator), she just programmed he depression away? There are all KINDS of directions such a story could go! [I’m considering NOT posting this so I don’t give away any great ideas!]), and somatic disorders (or what about body image disorders????) (https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/mental-health-types-illness#2)

Whew!

That was an unexpected storm!

Final question, what gives Humans the right to create another entire set of intelligences designed to be like us…and SUFFER like us? Many scientists would design their robots to have no wasteful “spiritual dimension”. Yet, in anger and suffering, won’t there be ONE robot or AI who asks the question, “Why did you create us to suffer?”

Now there’s a “god-question” that would be fascinating to tackle in a story...