January 31, 2010

Slice of PIE: To Whom is “CE” Common?

For the past few years, I’ve been running into the machinations of silent historical revisionists.

What is historical revisionism? Wiki has this to say: “For the denial and distortion of well-established historical facts…that is part of the academic field of history, historical revisionism is the reinterpretation of orthodox views on evidence, motivations, and decision-making processes surrounding a historical event. The revisionist assumes the interpretation of a historical event or period, as accepted by the majority of scholars, needs significant change.”

Where have I noticed these silent changes? Textbooks have started to call the current year 2010 CE. The “CE” stands for “Common Era” and replaces what the Gregorian calendar used, “AD” or “Anno Domini”, which means “Year of Our Lord”. The “Lord” referred to in the Gregorian calendar is of course, Jesus Christ, Savior and Lord of all humanity.

As well, all BC dates are rendered BCE, which stands for “Before Common Era”. The original BC stands for “Before Christ”.

I’ve never seen this addressed let alone discussed, but here’s my question: To whom is CE common? All I see is an attempt to cut Christ out of history – again. No one is discussing it. No one is speaking of it. The silent revisionists are simply changing history to get rid of Christ (whom they intensely dislike).

“Oh, we aren’t anti-Christian!” they may shout, stomping their revisionist foot. “We’re just trying to make…” Um, what exactly ARE you trying to make, my dear revisionist?

Let’s look at this logically. A TRUE revisionist would suggest that we restart the calendar entirely. Several SF writers chose an important date and restarted the calendar from August 6, 1945 – the US atomic bombing of the Japanese city of Hiroshima and called that year 1 of the Atomic Era. I wouldn’t have any problem with that. If we’re going to rewrite history to our religious preference, then let’s just DO IT.

So, today would be (for convenience’ sake) January 31, 55 AE. Cool.

But what about the Chinese? There are more of them than anyone else on Earth. Surely THEIR calendar should be used to indicate a truly Common Era! Today, then? The Year of the Metal Tiger, 4707 (98th year, 12th month, 17th day). (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_calendar)

Perhaps the Muslims should have something to say here as well. There are 1.2 billion believers. That date should certainly be considered a possibility for a “Common Era”. Today, then? 16 Safar, 1431. (http://www.islamicfinder.org/Hcal/index.php)

How about the Hebrew calendar? Today is Shevat 16, 5770.

Persia? Bahman 11, 1388.

Certainly India, with a current population of 1.1 billion could present a case for candidacy to be the basis of a “Common Era” calendar. Today would be Magha 11, 1931.

(These last three dates come from http://www.fourmilab.ch/documents/calendar/)

But no, my a-revisionist friends. I’m persuaded that the evidence indicates that historical revisionists intend NOT to find and name a “Common Era”, but rather to GET JESUS OUT OF HISTORY, and to get Him out as quietly, sneakily and safely as possible.

Unfortunately, they don’t realize that even if they disappear Him from history, He will still be there, forgiving them of their sins and inviting them in to be one with Him.

January 30, 2010


A combination of working at a Young Author's Conference; grading finals and posting those grades and teaching a new semester left me FAR behind in my enjoyable writing. Here's Thursday's entry. If you want to read the story from beginning to end (I know, I know, this isn't exactly flash fiction...) go to the right and click on the link to get all of the episodes...

“Why are we still walking?” Freddie Merrill said.

“Because you look like you’re insane and people don’t pick up insane hitchhikers,” said Tommy Hastings.

“I don’t look insane!” Freddie exclaimed. He spun around and took as swing at Tommy. A car that had been slowing down behind them picked up speed again and roared past.

Tommy stared at Freddie without saying a word.

Freddie hung his head. The hot sun beat down on them as they rounded a bend in the road that ran alongside the Mississippi. Tommy was pretty sure the tops of his ears were going to be sunburned by the time they got to Anoka. He said, “At the rate we’re going, the fireworks will be over by the time we get there.” He walked past Freddie and grabbed the sleeve of his grimy T-shirt. They’d spent most of the day walking, only getting a ride as far as Camden once they’d left Minneapolis. At three o’clock, they’d spent an hour watching the trains and wondering if they should jump one and just ride it north to Duluth. But Freddie refused and even Tommy was a little hesitant after he saw an raggedly old man catch the lip of a boxcar and swing himself in.

Freddie walked behind Tommy until they came to the spot where the road curved closest to the river. Freddie stopped and looked over steep railing and down the sheer drop off. “Maybe I should just jump.”

Tommy yanked him back. “Don’t be stupid. Now c’mon or we’ll miss the fireworks and we’ll have to sleep in jail.”

“Jail!” Freddie spun around, a look of horror on his face. “If I get thrown in jail, Dad will just leave me there!”

Tommy shook his head and started walking, saying, “You’re not gonna get arrested unless you waste the rest of the afternoon staring over that stupid cliff. Now, come on!”

They walked for hours as the sun started to sink toward the horizon and reached Father Hennepin Park on the south side of Anoka just as the shadows had started to lengthen. As they did, a pick up truck pulled alongside them. Six older boys rode in the back, sitting on the edges of the box. One of them, a pack of cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve of his T-shirt, stood up and came to the tailgate. “Where ya headed?”

Freddie and Tommy looked up at the boy – young man – and cringed. Freddie had managed to get behind Tommy. The other boys in the pick up laughed and two of them upended bottles of beer then threw them out on to the shoulder of the road. They shattered on the gravel. Another boy threw two full bottles after the empties. More laughter. Tommy was pretty sure they were drunk and felt Freddie pressing against his back. He had lots more experience with drunks that Tommy had, even though they sometimes rolled winos in Loring Park.

Tommy pointed past the little white chapel and said, “My grandma’s house is over there.”

The young man laughed and vaulted the tailgate. When he landed, he staggered, “That’s the Father’s chapel. Your grandma ain’t gonna live there!” He took another step toward them.

Tommy grabbed Freddie’s T-shirt. But white as a sheet, Freddie ripped free and raced like a bat out of hell into the park. Tommy couldn’t catch up until they reached the bank of the river. When his friend finally stopped, he was barely winded. Tommy was panting as Freddie said, “We don’t need to do that again.” He paused. “Can we walk to Duluth?”

Tommy shook his head. Upstream from them the Rum River split off from the Mississippi. A bridge just short of the confluence rose up. It was the only way to cross into Anoka and a path led up from the conglomeration of driftwood, rusted cans, newspapers and a river buoy tangled in rope. “The path goes up to the bridge…”

“They’ll see us!”

“Nah, they’re gone. There’s a place I heard about where we can hide. Maybe even sleep.”


“The amphitheater. It’s on the river an open air. We’ll hide and stay there tonight then head out in the morning. We should be able to see the fireworks from there.”

January 24, 2010

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: A Victim of Universal Truths – Take One

You read before you the musings of a victim of Google Chrome.

Realize, I have nothing against the internet. I LOVE the web. I love being able to look up anything about anything any time I feel like it.

For example, when I was looking to write better stories for teens, adults and children, I read how all of the best stories contain Universal Truth. That is, apparently, WHY they are popular bestsellers. If a truth is universal and you read it in a story, you resonate with that truth. So I went online to find Universal Truth.

I came upon this website: http://truths.omniseek.com/list.html

On thirty pages of printout, you can read 9999 Universal Truths. I was amazed! Surely, here was a goldmine of information guaranteed to launch me into the stratosphere of award-winning publication. All I had to do was incorporate these Truths into my writing and voilĂ !, I would have “arrived”.

Imagine my disappointment when upon first reading, I came upon these gems:

“Feet taste better with ketchup” (UT#5)

“Mornings would be much easier to handle if they happened later in the day” (UT#1200)

“Reality is what you make of it” (UT#5335)

BTW – these are randomly numbered as well. There are NOT 9999 – more like a couple hundred. *sigh*

I read them anyway and while they were usually not profound and sometimes downright stupid, there WERE a couple…

So every once in a while, I’ll be ruminating on the Universal Truths presented on this site. The first one connects with my opening sentence:

Universal Truth #9: No matter what you do, someone will ask for more features. (mimick@chia.net)

This is clearly what happened with Google Chrome. Not only did they rearrange the page, they simplified it! Now, instead of that pesky “reading” thing, I can click on pictures! I don’t have to do that dang “search” any more, all I have to do is click on the bright and shiny pictures and *poof*, there I am, right back where I was yesterday.

Personally, I find Google Chrome insultingly patronizing. As well, they have hidden the controls to change it back to the way it was. I am the victim of Universal Truth #9 because I’m sure that there were people who complained that “googling” things from the old format took WAAAAYYYYYYYYYY too much time and if Google would just fix it so it would be EASIER, then everyone (of course, everyone has the same feelings as the complainers) would be happy.

The problem is reflected in Google’s choice of name for this “upgrade”. Any elementary science student can tell you that silver, platinum and gold are high up on the periodic table, with atomic masses of 107.8 (Atomic # 47), 195.08 (At# 78), 196.9 (At# 79). Chromium’s atomic mass is 51.9 (At#24) and is LOWER than the others, hence it implies a STEP BACKWARD for Google to name their “new” program “Chrome”. I would concur with the fact that this “new” Google is clunky, inefficient, insulting and actually ugly.


Even from a practical standpoint, “chrome” is associated with old-fashioned cars, particularly cars of the 1950s. So in order to move forward, Google has taken a step backwards and made everything supposedly simpler. I suppose you can’t please all of the people all of the time. I’m sure I’m just a minority squeaking away out there, whining for the “way things used to be”. However, I CAN say that I have never had more “wait” warnings with that ridiculous image of a computer screen sucking on a thermometer! So either I’m just picky or the “new” Google Chrome is having more trouble connecting than the “old” Google Google did.


Call me when they introduce Google Einsteinium!

January 17, 2010

WRITING ADVICE: JACK MCDEVITT 9: Introduce Characters Who Don’t Really Do Anything

(The Twelve Blunders are used with permission of Jack McDevitt, from his webpage:http://jackmcdevitt.com/Writers.aspx)

This is one of my problems. I frequently create characters in my stories for EFFECT. For example, the short story I’m working on now had an Egyptian-trained, Inca doctor in it initially because I needed a little comic relief.

He WAS a cool character. At present, he still IS a cool character, but his head is on the chopping block. Or it was until he became NECESSARY to the plot. Now I’m not so sure. McDevitt is saying here: “…every individual in a narrative should have an explicit function.”

How do we figure out if that character is necessary?

I typically don’t put characters in stories because I don’t like them! (OK – I do…did…put a character in a story so I could name him after an adolescent nemesis and then have something bad happen to him. I was cured of this new habit when a young lady in a class to whom I was reading the story raised her hand and said she had an uncle who had that name. Turns out, her uncle WAS my adolescent nemesis. Needless to say, I have not named characters after people I know since.) Characters pop into my first drafts all the time. Sometimes I can use them. Most of the time they have to be eliminated. Jack McDevitt suggests that, “It’s far easier to combine the functions [of four characters] in one or two characters if there’s no pressing reason not to do so.”

When reading through a first draft, I look specifically for “special effect” characters. These are characters who serve a bit part, have a name attached to them and then disappear. When I have a couple of them, I look to see if I switch a scene here and add a bit there, I can combine two (or more) effects into one character, then rewrite the scene. This slims the Cast of Characters down and has the added advantage of making the story move faster.

This past week I took advantage of a submission opportunity for my adult, hard SF novel INVADER’S GUILT. This is the novel that started life at 150,000 words and had five main characters and seven or eight minor characters. (I discussed it briefly in a previous blog entry -- http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2009/12/writing-advice-jack-mcdevitt-7-major.html).

After realizing my mistakes, I eliminated the plot lines of two characters and combined important scenes they had with the plot lines I was keeping. I also attributed things they’d done to the characters I kept. The end result was the novel I sent out: at 110,000 words! It now has three main characters and four minor ones as well as only four plot lines – one of which has become the overarching storyline for the (I hope) series.

McDevitt’s last word: “…if the character is just along for the ride, get rid of him.”

January 14, 2010


Daniel Keyes’ FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON: the story has stayed with me for decades, a symbol for both the overwhelming possibilities of the human intellect and the overwhelming impossibilities faced by a profoundly challenged human intellect. I’ve started and stopped this novel a half a dozen times in eleven years. I think I’m ready to tackle it and to do two things: bring the original idea into the present millennium; and look at a FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON type of story from the viewpoint of someone who loves the one changing.To read RECONSTRUCTION from beginning to here, click on the label to the right and scroll to the bottom.

Two weeks passed since Mai Li had screamed for CJ.

Two fast weeks.

Two weeks that changed everything.

The rest of his life started on the fifteenth day, right after school. In the kitchen. Mom was at work and he was alone with his sister.

His former sister, as he’d started thinking of her.

“Don’t be stupid, Christopher,” said Mai Li, balled fists on her hips. Tapping her foot, she leaned back, swinging long, lustrous black hair. It had grown as fast as her intellect had. Spending one of the two weeks in front of the computer, she’d stood up one day, told them to take her outside and she hadn’t stopped moving at light speed since.

“What…” CJ paused, glaring and trying to blink back the tears. He turned away.

She said, “Oh, don’t be infantile! I don’t mean literally stupid. I mean don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about.”

He shrugged, “But I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

She tapped her foot and looked up at the old ceiling fixture then said slowly, “I said, ‘I need to leave this dump. Where does Mom keep her credit cards?’ Which part don’t you understand?”

Crossing his arms over his chest, he said, “What do you mean by ‘this dump’?”

She swung an arm, sweeping the entire split-entry, two story house. “This place. It’s a dump!”

CJ glared at her then said, “‘This dump’ is the house you spent your entire life in.”

She snorted, “My first life. I’ve got a new life, now. I’m meaning to live it. So where does Mom keep her credit cards.” She looked down at her clothes. “I need to look the part of a genius fashion model if I’m going to be one.”

CJ busted out laughing. Mai Li swung at him angrily. He ducked and skipped backwards and she stumbled, collapsing to the floor. While her intellect had developed, her muscle tone and growth was substantially behind normal for a 29-year-old-woman. She started weeping.

Instantly contrite, CJ knelt beside her and reached to pick him up.

She punched him in the face and drew her fingernails down his upper arm, digging them in and drawing blood.

Stunned, CJ fell backwards as she scrambled unsteadily to her feet. “That’ll teach you to underestimate me, brat!” She went to the knife drawer and jerked it open, spilling its contents on to the floor. She reached down and grabbed the biggest knife she could and stepped forward, pointing it at CJ. “Now, tell me where Mom keeps her credit cards or I’ll dissect you her and now and leave your organs laying on the floor for Mom to find when she comes home from work!” She jabbed forward to emphasize her point.

Blood dripped from his nose to his white T-shirt. Blood ran down his upper arm from the scratches. He stared up at Mai Li and his eyes started to water. He couldn’t keep the quaver from his voice as he whispered, “Give me my sister back…”

January 10, 2010

Slice of PIE: Science Fiction for Teens – THE COMET’S CURSE by Dom Testa

If you're interested in seeing a discussion generated by this post on a different website, try this:



We are part of our past in everything we do and are. Most of us recognize and acknowledge this.

For example, the science fiction I write comes out of forty years of reading. Starting in sixth grade with THE SPACESHIP UNDER THE APPLE TREE by Louis Slobodkin (http://www.amazon.com/Space-Ship-Under-Apple-Tree/dp/0689717415), I moved on to CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY by Robert A. Heinlein (http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Citizen-of-the-Galaxy/Robert-A-Heinlein/e/9781416505525/?itm=1&usri=Citizen+of+the+Galaxy) by the time I was in junior high. This past spring, I read WALLS OF THE UNIVERSE by Paul Melko (http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Rift-in-the-Sky/Julie-E-Czerneda/e/9780756405601/?itm=2&usri=julie+czerneda) and even more recently, RIFT IN THE SKY by Julie Czerneda (http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Rift-in-the-Sky/Julie-E-Czerneda/e/9780756405601/?itm=2&usri=julie+czerneda).

The Jesus I believe in was prophesied thousands of years ago, long before He was born on Earth in order that we could live forever in Heaven. I am a believer just as the Apostle Paul, Martin Luther, Martin Luther King, Jr., Billy Graham and the band SWITCHFOOT were before me and along with me.

People have been alarmed by the “dumbing down” of kids in school for years. John Taylor Gatto laid out the phenomenon with crystal clear logic in his book, DUMBING US DOWN (http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Dumbing-Us-Down/John-Taylor-Gatto/e/9780865714489/?itm=1&usri=dumbing+us+down) written nearly 20 years ago.

Why all this background?

Because there are few things that irritate me more than people who act as if they have discovered something new. There are even fewer things that make me steaming mad. One of those is when someone acting like they've discovered something new appears to make no effort to credit others – and then produces a bad product which they hawk on the virtue of "celebrity credibility".

We’ve all seen it. At its worse, you get Linus Pauling’s book VITAMIN C, THE COMMON COLD AND THE FLU in which he advocates massive doses of vitamin C in order to ward off these common diseases. His authority? Two Nobel Prizes. But you have to dig to find out that one was a Nobel Peace Prize -- laudatory but it has nothing to do with the healing powers of vitamin C. The other was a Nobel Prize in Chemistry "for his research into the nature of the chemical bond and its application to the elucidation of the structure of complex substances". While this is impressive it has little to do with the effect of vitamin C on colds and flu.

He was neither qualified nor knowledgeable enough to make the claims he made.

At its best you get Jamie Lee Curtis writing cute books for kids.

So, I’ve found another person to add to my pantheon of well-intentioned people who use their celebrity to hawk merchadise: Dom Testa. A twenty-year radio personality in Denver, he wrote THE COMET’S CURSE and self-published it and two other novels. The story delineates the adventures of a group of 251 teenagers aboard a starship escaping a plague on Earth induced by the planet’s passage through the tail of a comet and effecting ONLY people over 18 with an ultimately lethal respiratory infection. The books were recently picked up by Tor and published with new covers and typesetting. COMET is the first of a six part series called THE GALAHAD books.

I love teen fiction. I write teen fiction. I typically promote teen fiction to my students, and I am ESPECIALLY excited about good teen science fiction. Among the books I’ve recently touted are Scott Westerfeld’s PRETTIES series; HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins (haven’t read its sequel yet, CATCHING FIRE) and the classic series, THE WHITE MOUNTAINS by John Christopher. I have also been a tireless advocate for critical thinking among teens and preteens. I’ve been a classroom teacher for 28 years, Science Teacher of the Year and a writer and guidance counselor.

And along comes Dom Testa with his message: don’t act like you’re stupid, teens! Good message. I agree. I’ve preached it for decades. His website and interviews make it sound like he discovered the concept and is alone in encouraging teens to not act like they’re stupid. And he’s making headlines! VOYA used him as a guest speaker earlier last year. His website (http://www.domtesta.com/bio.cfm) is extensive and while it’s encouraging, it grants little credit to those of us who have invested our lives in living and working with teens – while he was a radio show host (which, BTW, isn’t even aimed at teens. The demographic of station KIMN which hosts his Dom and Jane Morning Show in Denver is “Hot Adult Contemporary” (http://blogs.denverpost.com/ostrow/2008/10/17/denver-radio-ratings/)).

Worst of all, the first book THE COMET’S CURSE is written in a less-than-stellar style. Filled with the tropes beginning writers of SF assume are “new ideas” – planet-wide plague, interstellar escape mission, artificial intelligence, genius teens, interstellar colonization – Testa doesn’t even manage eloquent writing. Rough sentences like: “He was amazed at the deception, how the gentle appearance concealed the despair that weaved it way throughout the population.” (p 173) and “Tears returned to Channy’s eyes, the emotion of the incident still evident on her face.” (p 217) will hardly endear his work to English teachers in America. The ancillary inclusion of cultureless Canadians, Mexicans and Swedes on the GALAHAD’s leadership Council won’t take this book to the top of the Foreign Rights sales list, either. But because he’s a “Celebrity”, has a slick website and a well-managed and funded marketing campaign, other, much better books for teens will be lost in the glitter of this media blitz. The only thing we’ll see is how great Dom Testa is and how worthy he and his books are of praise. The people who came before him (he never once mentions reading SF as a kid or an adult) and those whose lives are spent “in the trenches” with teens will continue to work hard – and without an advertising campaign.

January 3, 2010

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: PunchFace or, Why Do We Like Our Heroes Better When They’re Beat Up?

In the new JJ Abrahamson reboot of STAR TREK, skidrow bum/cadet/PunchFace/captain Kirk is slugged by his enemies sixteen times (as opposed to only being slugged by people who would become his friends later four times); shot at with hand weapons, ship weapons and missiles innumerable times; strangled or thrown by his enemies nine times (as opposed to being injected, pushed, slapped, thrown or strangled an additional nine times by his friends); he hurts himself twice, is chased (by security officers, a furry thing and a lizardy thing) three times and mind-melded against his will once. Total number of countable physical and mental injuries in one movie: 40 (allergic reactions are being counted here as one and the same as involuntary injections…)

Kirk in the original series was pummeled as well because of his attitude or by chance or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was always wiping a trickle of blood from his chin and was frequently the punching bag of friend and foe alike.

Lest you think I’m a STARWARS-o-phobe, while I don’t have episodes IV, V and VI on DVD yet and can’t do an actual PunchFace count, I recall Luke Skywalker taking an unnatural number of hits as well. Perhaps even more than Han Solo did; though certainly more than those meted out to Princess Leia.

Nevertheless, and in keeping with my theme of exploring the intersection of faith and science fiction, I’m going to throw Jesus into the mix as well. The Bible even prophesied that he was going to be a PunchFace. Isaiah 53:5 says, “ But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.” It’s well-known that He was crucified on a cross after being scourged and humiliated.

While according to the internet, both Muhammed and the Buddha died of poisoning it’s clear that they suffered at the end. While Hindus never die and are either reincarnated or achieve Nirvana, many Hindus have suffered and died in their service as well. It is the ones who suffer that we remember best.

Is it any surprise that our heroes and heroines are the ones who suffer most either before they die or at death? Is it a subconscious Human condition that in order to achieve greatness, someone must suffer and die for their cause? Is it something we’re hard-wired to respect and revere? We even have a saying that can be applied to anything from weight-lifting programs to monastic ascetism: “No pain, no gain”.

So, it is any surprise that our SF heroes and heroines also suffer and die in spectacular ways?

Not to me, it isn’t! How about you?

PunchFace to Eternity anyone?

image: http://pics.livejournal.com/65pigeons/pic/000a3faa/s320x240