June 28, 2012

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 31: Stepan on the Rim

On a well-settled Mars, the five major city Council regimes struggle to meld into a stable, working government. Embracing an official United Faith in Humanity, the Councils are teetering on the verge of pogrom directed against Christians, Molesters, Jews, Rapists, Buddhists, Murderers, Muslims, Thieves, Hindu, Embezzlers and Artificial Humans – anyone who threatens the official Faith and the consolidating power of the Councils. It makes good sense, right – get rid of religion and Human divisiveness on a societal level will disappear? An instrument of such a pogrom might just be a Roman holiday...To see the rest of the chapters, go to SCIENCE FICTION: Martian Holiday on the right and scroll to the bottom for the first story.

“The HOD!” Stepan exclaimed. Looking at Blue in the dim warehouse light, he could make 
out the boy’s smirk. “How exactly could I get into the HOD?”

Long pause, then Blue said, “There’s ways to get anywhere in the B.”

“You’ve been to the HOD?”

Longer pause. “Maybe.”

“Because you wanted to do…what?”


“Ah.” Neither one spoke for a long time then Stepan said softly, “If I get caught in the HOD, I might go to jail?”

“If you call from the HOD and don’t get caught your cred on the Rim’ll flicker high enough to 
get a meet with the Mafioso.”

“Not who I’m called to talk to.”

Blue snorted. “You make one of your church things and they’ll be wantin’ to talk to you.”


“Mafioso – ‘e own ebbyting.”

“Mafioso don’t own Jesus Christ. He owns them.”

The boy looked up at Stepan, studying him then said, “You really ain’t afraid of the ‘So?”

“The God I serve is greater than anything made by Humans.”

Blue grunted and said, “Couple years ago, one of the old men found a broken antigrav plate. 
It’s just a piece, but OM Gillad hooked it up to a new power cell and got it to float. People borrow it alla time.”

“You know him?”

“I can. OM Gillard, he’ll let me use it. He says he’s been saving it for something special. Seems like you want to do something special up on the roof.” He paused. “You got seeds?”

“In my back pack.”

“You didn’t bring a back pack.”

Stepan laughed. “I’m a believing man, not a stupid one.”

Blue nodded, saying, “Nicely played, mister.”

“Should we go to the HOD?”

“Sure. We’ll pick up the antigrav plate from OM Gillad on the way back then we can go up to the roof.”

“Maybe we could ask your friend if he has any rope so we can make a ladder and don’t always have to use his antigrav and its power cell.”

“Let’s go,” Blue said. Stepan followed Blue. Outside of the warehouse, they headed for the center of Burroughs Dome.

“Are we just going to hop a train down to City Halle?”

“More ways than that to get into the center of the Dome,” said Blue. They walked some distance before they came to a closed up, windowless column.

“Isn’t this a seismic station or an atmospheric monitoring pod?”


“You can’t,” Stepan began, following Blue around the curve. He almost tripped over the boy who had dropped to a squat and was flinging aside dust and debris. “What are you doing?”

Blue ignored him until, squirming like he was trying to reach a handle underground, he grunted. Straining upward and groaning, he kept at it until a seam appeared. The pitted, filthy surface slid up then stopped with a shriek of metal about sixty centimeters from the bottom. Blue looked up at Stepan and grinned, saying, “We’re gonna take the subway.

June 26, 2012


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: Horrible nights

(DISCLAIMER: I don’t believe any of this, but the horror is that some people DO! And the ones that do…are more than likely the ones who will launch a “pre-emptive”…to make sure “the government” doesn’t “get them” first…)

Matt Ringsonn and Elianna Daboh are active in their churches in an urban high school as well as in an early-morning school Bible Study. Their parents aren’t QUITE as active as they are, and are sort of worried about how “fanatical” their kids have become…but they are OK with it. Both sets of parents keep giving them time to get to know each other by leaving whenever both the kids are at one of the houses…

Matt and Elianna are called to the principal’s office one day and warned that their Bible Study group is getting “a little too pushy” with their religion and several people have complained about intolerant behavior on the part of the Study. Their supervising teacher has been removed and another teacher, one who has a more congenial belief system will be leading them.

The new teacher leader tries to take over the group and brings copies of THE RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE OF MANKIND by Ninian Smarth for them to use instead of their Bibles – “a much more eclectic and educational endeavor”. The kids try it, but eventually ask to go back to their Bible Study. The teacher refuses and report to the principal that they are recalcitrant, insulting and generally unruly and should be disbanded because they don’t represent the true cosmopolitan attitude of the high school.

The kids start meeting to study the Bible – and the group grows.

Then one day the police liaison officer shows up at their early morning meeting and issues tickets for meeting in an unsanctioned place in a public building and conducting “hate meetings”.

A week later, all of the Bible Study kids are called out of class and put on a bus early one morning. They are taken out of the city. Matt says to Elianna, “I think this might be illegal. Mom never signed a permission slip for me to do this.”

“I KNOW it’s illegal. I don’t even know where we’re going and I can’t imagine what ‘educational experience’ this is supposed to be…” Elianna begins.

Then the teacher who took over their Bible Study stands up in the front of the bus and says, “We’re just taking you to a camp outside of the city. We’ll be meeting with some people who can help you broaden your view of the world. Oh, and all of your parents signed the permission slip the first day of school – when they signed the gray discipline cards…”

Matt and Elianna look at each other, then at their friends, as the bus keeps going and going and going and the sun goes down. Hours later, in the middle of the night, they pull up to a barbed wire/ten-foot-tall cyclone fence. The sign outside the guard box reads as it does above. The teacher says, “I’ll be taking your Bibles now…”

June 24, 2012

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: Wild Dividers on the Information Superhighway and the Coming of the Information Apocalypse

Driving north from Minneapolis a few days ago, we took a brand-new spur off of a major highway that will eventually intersect the northernmost east–west Interstate Highway, connecting the Great Lakes and Intermountain regions of the United States.

The new highway is clean, slick, crack-less, smooth, stark and every bit the poster child of what a 21st Century highway should be.

In addition, the empty spaces between the asphalt and concrete superhighways have been seeded with prairie grasses. Some of those grasses are nearly extinct and while we pour all of our affection, attention and accusation on the bald eagles, timber wolves and passenger pigeons, the fact is that there are GRASSES, TREES, MOLDS and FUNGI that are becoming extinct as well. That’s what the Department of Natural Resources in this state has decided to do – restore bits and pieces of the ancient Great Plains.

Be that as it may, I was caught that day by a metaphor – a superhighway is what our First World likens its transmission of information to. In the writing world, ebooks are a sort of motel on that information superhighway – a place to stop, kick your shoes off and relax or learn something new. Downloadable off the fast-as-light database, ebooks are The Future and with the downfall of the brick and mortars (old-fashioned bookstores like Barnes and Noble, and Powell’s as well as libraries for those of you not “in the know”), ebooks are the ONLY way we will be reading in fifty years.

At least this is the expectation for those of us who live in First World, technologically advanced dependent countries. So say the experts.

But even on the new, physical superhighways, there are dividers filled with prairie restoration projects and dirt and simple weeds and invasive garden escapees. There’s earthworms in that dirt and if I had a hankerin’ to, I could plant me some taters and corn on the cob in some of the bigger places between the asphalt and concrete modernities stretching from horizon to horizon. Up close enough, those interstices are little different from the raw prairie of the ancient world.

What’s the purpose of the weedy areas on an Interstate? Aside from the belief that You Can’t Pave Over Everything, the reason for those restored prairies is that you need to keep water, wind and waves from eroding the foundation on which the superhighway rests.

Those of us who live in Minnesota quip, “We have two seasons in Minnesota, Winter and Road Construction.” We all know that EVERY highway in the US has to be patched and repaired and that a highway – even a SUPERhighway can only be patched and repaired so many times before it has to be totally and completely ripped up and rebuilt from the ground up. You heard me – rebuilt from the ground up. The superhighway. Rebuilt. Ground up.

So when the Information Superhighway has to be rebuilt, from WHAT will it be rebuilt? From paper books, physically retrievable data and oral histories. From ledgers, account reports and year-end reviews filed in paper drawers. The Information Superhighway has already experienced blowouts and break ups – it’s already been patched and resurfaced. What I’ve never seen before is the plan for rebuilding the Information Superhighway FROM THE GROUND UP.

Are you ready for the Information Apocalypse?

June 20, 2012


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.

F Trope:  curses, curses, curses

Apparently Soviets removing the skull of the Great Khan, Timur caused the Germans to invade Russia in World War II. When the Soviets returned the skull to the Tomb, it caused the Germans to be crushed in their attempt to flee Stalingrad and lost the rest of the war.

There are people who think that that is a curse.

Some people think it was a hoax.

It is now 2038. Hans Diefenbaker and his father are in Samarkand, Uzbekistan to look at both the Tomb and the history of the supposed curse.

Leonid Omelchenko and his parents are also in Samarkand, Uzbekistan doing the same thing – studying the Tomb and its Curse.

Both them are there with the 3D cameras and production money from DreamWorks and Lucas Films that are being poured into the investigation – because in three years it will be the 100th Anniversary of Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi invasion of Russia in 1941. The largest, deadliest and most horrific battle ever fought in human history, the coming anniversary has sparked wild claims and commentary in the blogosphere – and taking the blame off of Adolph Hitler is one direction that has become increasingly popular. The death of the last surviving WWII soldier had happened in 2037 in Maine. He was 97 and had joined the Army in May of 1945 at 17, so there is, in fact no one left who personally witnessed the fighting. The film makers want to change that.

They also want to see if the Timur Curse is real. Leo and Hans are standing in the Tomb with their parents when the skull is lifted from its base. They are all standing there when, what they think is an earthquake shakes the ground. It wasn’t a big one. Nothing was knocked over except for one of the cameras. No one was hurt. At least not in Uzbekistan.

No one they could see, anyway.

No one Human, for sure…

In far off Stalingrad, another ancient tomb is stirring and a guard at Lenin’s Tomb is knocked off his chair by an earthquake. Another earthquake causes the Biederitz River east of Magdeburg, Germany to slosh between its banks and a heavy fog to raise from the water in the middle of the night.

In Uzbekistan, Hans and Leo end up together outside in the darkness as the power in the city fluctuates. As they talk in English – both young men have been to the US for their first year of college – they are suddenly struck dumb, frozen in the darkness then abruptly fall to the ground as if they are having seizures.

But they aren’t important. No one notices them. Not yet, anyway…

June 17, 2012

WRITING ADVICE – SL Viehl #5: Virtual Safeguards and a Site Recommendation…that vanished…

I stumbled across the writing of Sheila Kelly (aka SL Viehl, Gena Gale, Jessica Hall, Rebecca Kelly and Lynn Viehl) about eleven years ago with the publication of her first novel, STARDOC. I was looking for a the work of a current writer to replace one of my favorite kind of science fiction – human doctors in a space hospital working on aliens. I discovered this genre as an adolescent in Alan E. Nourse’s STAR SURGEON, followed it into James White’s SECTOR GENERAL books and A.M. Lightner’s DOCTOR TO THE GALAXY. S.L. Viehl’s books satisfied that itch – but I learned about a year ago that she is so much more than just a “space hospital” writer! The bits of writing advice in this new ten part series are used with her permission. This one is from: http://pbackwriter.blogspot.com/2012/05/virtual-safeguards.html

One thing you gotta say about this writer is that her interests a varied and her essays wide-ranging.

It took me a while to figure out what to do this blog on because I’m in the midst of a paradigm shift. The changeover from Regular School to Summer School has always been “traumatic” for me. I go from a large public high school with 2000 ninth through twelfth graders in it to a large public middle school with about 600 little kids from first through eighth grade in it – the numbers being heavily skewed toward little kids from first through fourth grade.

This year, the paradigm is shifting even farther as we make ready for the departure of our daughter to New Zealand for 5 months of study abroad (she’s going Down Under for Winter Semester…just as we transition to the hottest part of the summer…). Also, as I am no longer a classroom teacher, stepping from my guidance office into the classroom again is a massive shift.

One of the things I had to do on set up day last Friday, was discern whether or not I still had my SmartBoard files stored somewhere. Last summer when I started up Summer School, I discovered that the files I’d thought I’d stored indelibly on the district server had instead been stored on the individual computer – which was wiped clean after my departure in July...I lost everything and had to rebuild as I went along.

This summer when I showed up, I was pretty sure I’d stored my files on the permanent (called the “H”) drive in the district I usually work in. There was only one file out of four there. Resigned to reinventing the wheel and transferring the information I needed from my old-fashioned overhead transparencies, I later found a jump drive to which I had saved them. Subject closed.

Skimming Sheila’s website this morning, I stumbled across the anecdote about saving information on hard copy and/or in numerous places. Oh, and making a “back up copy”, whatever that is...

At any rate, a few entries down, I came across an intriguing website she’d found and clicked on the link. It took me to a Ma Bell/Quest/Century site that collected a whole bunch of sites that it was absolutely certain I would LOVE. I scrolled down and clicked on the one I was interested in – and nothing happened.

After trying a few more things, I came to the conclusion that the site is dead.

Talk about ironic.

What does this have to do with me and writing and Christianity? Nothing except to note that it has everything to do with a fiction world that came about from my answering a question from my “mentor writer” about creating a NON-Apocalyptic Future involving the depletion of fossil fuel resources links into the back up and dead websites phenomenon in an odd way. In my new short story, “Invoking Fire”, I postulate a world where people still live technological lives albeit in an unusual way – the ten billion live in 20,000 4-mile-tall Vertical Villages, the rest of the land either for farming or Wild, and one in which a group of Saharan countries are gathering paper books to fill a Post-Information-Apocalypse Library in the Erg of Bilma. The Information Apocalypse occurred when people began to change basic online documents to fit their world view – and few people had anything against which to compare if the veracity was challenged. In the story I have my two teen characters read the first two paragraphs of Stephen King’s CARRIE and compare a first run paper book to an ebook version. There are changes – minor, of course and in a work of fiction – but it sets up the story.

Sheila’s concerns intersected some of my own – and those concerns have sparked my writing as well as set off a string of thoughts about being a People of the Book. Perhaps a “paperless society” would be a DANGEROUS thing.

Then again, maybe you have an opinion about if a totally digital document world is good or bad or somewhere in between. I invite you to share your thoughts below!

June 14, 2012


The idea for this starts with a story I tried to write about a thieving monkey who took keys and used them to unlock its cage. That was it. The story was called BRIGHT FLASH THE MONKEY’S PAWS. It was my third or fourth attempt at writing a picture book – and it was really bad. With the advent of the genre of steampunk, I started rethinking the story. Here it is – it will shortly replace my last picture book manuscript, SNAPPER XING…

Clementine did not sneeze! And did not sneeze. And did not sneeze.

She said, “Hello, Monkey.”

Monkey’s ears shot steam into the cold morning air. It hopped on her bed. Tipping back and forth, back and forth, it walked to her knees.

It sat down, bright eyes looked at her, and its metal mouth smiled as it whistled softly in greeting.

June 13, 2012


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: cross-species love interests

First thing I think of here is Spock’s parents, Amanda (the Human) and Sarek (the Vulcan). Granted, they’re humanoid – which means they are built along the same general lines. Star Trek was famous for this with half-breeds popping occasionally in all of the series.

But what if we throw in teenagers here? What if we throw in “forbidden” relationships, aliens and tension?

What if…

Eliana Hotu’a is of Hitorangi descent and works for Earth Government on Rapa Nui. Her people sold the island to Earth’s government when it offered an unbeatable price because they wanted to place the Human capitol there to remind all Humans of…well, lots of things. She is all for the new capitol being on Rapa Nui and has been to school on the mainland in Santiago, Chile at Universidad de Santiago de Chile where she’s majoring in astrophysics. She just finished her first year there and returned home to DRAMA. Her parents are pro-development of the island, but neither went to school beyond upper elementary school. Both of her older brothers – neither of whom did online school past graduation, are hunting and fishing guides. They are vehemently against it: “We’ve been pushed around by Euros for millennia! It’s time we made our own choices and decided our own destiny!” She argues that the stars are the destiny of ALL Humanity. Her brothers laugh her out of the house.

A young !clash!, One Scale Branded With High Academic Achievement, is with its parents who are on Earth as liaison with the physics community to develop fusion power, is on Earth to LEARN as much as it can. It is also under strict orders to NOT fraternize with Human young.

Eliana and One Scale meet several times and escaping elders and other boring people, begin to develop a relationship that begins with “hanging out”, proceeds to fishing together and then talking tattoos and then proceeding to space. They discover their mutual interest in astrophysics, but when she asks what he wants to be after his education is finished, he doesn’t understand the question. He will be a nuclear fusion physicist like his parents.

Among his people, vocation is predetermined and a matter of breeding as well as education. She feels sorry for him. He feels sorry for HER – not to know exactly how one’s life is going to spin out. One night while fishing, they overhear Eliana’s brothers and some of their friends – and an obviously alien influence – plotting to murder some of the aliens on the island. The capitol is still in the throes of being established and security isn’t perfect...

When they are captured, One Scale smacks a few heads together and accidentally kills one of Eliana’s brothers.

The incident comes to the attention of the Shabe and the Department of Off-Earth Affairs and then grows into an interstellar incident. It also ruins Eliana’s and One Scale’s budding relationship.

Or does it? Also – WHOM is using WHOM?

June 10, 2012

Slice of PIE: Wimpy Excuses for Dark Teen Lit -- "Life is so grim in the 21st Century!"

Popular opinion on the “book circuit” – ie public & school libraries and Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble, as well as among The Big & Small Publishers Of Both Paper Books And Ebooks – appears to be that teenagers love to read the following because teenagers are responding to the grimness of “life”:

The TWILIGHT series
The GONE series
The HIDDEN series
The HUNGRY CITY chronicles

Lisa Belkin, a New York Times online writer, is quick to say, “Why are all these book so dark? Then again, isn’t dark what teens do best?” http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/05/17/what-your-teens-are-reading/

Of course, the instant assumption is that teenagers in the early part of the 21st Century have much more horrible lives than any teens in any other time in history.

I beg to differ and postulate that what teenagers face today is different in specifics but not in substance. In order to give some brackets to my defense, I will limit my timeline to the era with identifiable “teen literature”, beginning with the early 1800s.

The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss (1812): US declares war on England; Napoleonic wars in full swing; US invades Canada; bubonic plague in Egypt, Istanbul, Bucharest, and Malta; Felling mine disaster

Waverley by Sir Walter Scott (1814): War of 1812 continues; Napoleonic wars continues; Britain burns down Washington, D.C.

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (1838): Rioting in Mexico; Cherokee Indians begin Trail of Tears; Central American Civil War begins; Boors slaughter Zulus in South Africa; women allowed to vote somewhere in the world for the first time; major smallpox typhus plagues in the US; (Dickens depicts deplorable conditions in central London, in particular child labor, death and poverty)

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1844): USS Princeton explodes; Jews allowed to return to Jerusalem for the first time in hundreds of years; massive flooding of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers; French invasion of Algeria continues in bloodshed; Paraguayan dictator ascends to his office; yellow fever has ravaged the South

Tom Brown's Schooldays by Thomas Hughes(1857): Major US earthquake; Second Opium War breaks out in China; largest slave auction in US history and slaves declared not people in the US; Tokyo earthquake kills 100,000; the India Rebellion; Panic of 1857 causes financial tremors all around the world; Mountain Meadows Massacre (120 Arkansas settlers passing through Utah are slaughtered by Mormons); SS Central America sinks with all hands (425); Reform Wars of Mexico begin; the end of the Third Bubonic Plague Pandemic; yellow fever in Portugal, smallpox in Australia, influenza in Europe, North America, South America

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1860): assassination of Venezuelan leader; massive strike of 20,000 in New England; settlers massacre 60 native people in California; First Taranaki War in New Zealand, Maori revolt; Qing army of 180,000 destroyed in China; record-breaking storm sinks 100s of boats, kills people on east coast of England; wars of formation in Italy; PS Elgin rammed and sunk in Lake Michigan, 100s die; Ecuadoran and Peruvian wars; Christians and Druzs kill each other in Damascus; there are 4 million slaves in the American South; influenza in S, N America, Europe

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865): US Civil War breaks out; Abraham Lincoln assassinated; steamboat Sultana explodes on Mississippi, 1700 dead; Brazilian and Paraguayan navies clash; cholera epidemics in Egypt and the Middle East; rebel uprising in Jamaica, British execute 600;

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (1876): defacto slavery; poverty; Batak, Bulgaria massacre of some 5000; war in Turkey; Indian Wars; Serbia and Montenegro declare war on Ottoman Empire; tornado in India kills 200,000; samurai banned from carrying swords in Japan

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884): defacto slavery; poverty; siege of Khatoum, Sudan begins; Colchester earthquake, UK’s worst; Germany takes possession of Togoland and Cameroon; earthquake shakes US from central Virginia to southern Maine inward to Cleveland; Sino-French War continues; terroristic Texan cowboys attempt to murder deputy sheriff for arresting one of their pals; Korea succumbs to rebellion bankrolled by China and Japan; economic depression in US; Japan established police training schools in every prefecture; India, Germany cholera pandemic

Kidnapped by Robert Lewis Stevenson (1886): country of Myanmar (Burma) presented to Queen Victoria as a birthday present; German parliament objects strenuously to deportation of Prussian Poles and Jews; anti-Chinese riots in Seattle; 20 blacks murdered in Carrollton, Miss; Haymarket Riots in US; fire burns Vancouver, BC to the ground; hurricane destroys Indianola, TX; earthquake levels Charleston, SC; Montreal, Canada smallpox epidemic

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling (1894): first significant protest of unemployed Americans, Coxey’s Army; May Day Riots in Cleveland; president of France assassinated; Japan and China go to war; women allowed to vote in Australia; Korean Donghak Peasant Rebellion ends with Japan and Chinese “assistance” fighting each other; Osage Indians become the richest people on Earth; Bubonic plague in Hong Kong; Russian flu winding down around the world

Moon Fleet by J. Meade Falkner (1898): Spanish-American War begins with the explosion of the USS Maine; Massacre of protesters in Milan, Italy; Philippines declare independence from Spain; Turks slaughter 700 Greeks and Brits in Heraklos, Greece; Brits take over Sudan; Empress of Austro-Hungary assassinated; Chinese Empress overthrows government; British conquer and burn Benin City in Africa; tripanosomiasis epidemic in the Congo

I would observe that while SOME of these books are indeed grim reflections of their times; not ALL of them are. I'm fairly certain that the balance of "dark" to "light" books is skewed to dark in the 21st Century where the 19th Century skewed to hopeful.

It’s my considered opinion that we need more positive literature for teenagers to read. The supply of that literature is CONTROLLED lock, stock and barrel by the adults who write, publish, market, buy, suggest, check out and assign books to young people.

Perhaps it is time to wake up and smell the coffee and quit excusing our adult angst by telling ourselves that “isn’t dark what teens do best?”

I’d counter that ridiculous assertion (after 32 years of teaching 3rd graders through 12th graders who were special education, gifted-and-talented, English Learners; and average kids in a first ring suburban high school that is ½ non-white and 75% free-and-reduced-lunch) with this: “HOPE is what teens do best!”

It’s about time for adults to stop pandering to their own sense of failure at bringing the utopic vision they were sure they’d been gifted with and start giving young people the tools to create THEIR OWN vision of the future. That includes SF, F and Contemporary fiction that offers solutions and hope instead of the angsty attitude of "accept that things are crap and do the best you can".

June 8, 2012

The Reconstruction of Mai Li Hastings 38

I read the play version of Daniel Keyes’ FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON when I was in eighth grade. It has stayed with me for decades, a haunting symbol for both the overwhelming possibilities of the human intellect and the overwhelming impossibilities faced by a profoundly challenged human mind. I’ve started and stopped this novel a half a dozen times in eleven years. I want to bring the original idea into the present millennium. To read RECONSTRUCTION from beginning to here, click on the label to the right and scroll four pages back until you get to the bottom.

“So your intelligence is going to die?” CJ said.
Mai Li look at him then nodded slowly. “In the end, I’ll be the same person I started as.”
CJ dragged his hand over his forehead and said, “That’ll be a relief.”
Mai Li looked startled. Mom and Job looked at him like he was crazy. Mom began, “Christopher John…”
Mai Li busted out laughing, clamped a weak hand over her mouth then eyed him from behind her hand gag.
Mom’s scowl had lost its fierceness so CJ said, “I just mean that after the cranky genius she’s been for the past few months, it’ll be nice to have her be nice again!”
Mom snorted. Mai Li’s eyes twinkled and a nurse leaned in to shush them and say, “Visiting hours are over except for family,” she added her fierce look to Mom’s and said, “But we still expect moderation and decorum in here, so I’ll thank you to keep it down!”
CJ nodded. Job hid behind him and Mai Li uncovered her mouth, the grin slowly fading as she leaned back into the pillows, her eyes partly closing. Mom put out a hand to stop CJ when he started for her bedside. “She needs to sleep. One of us will stay awake at all times to let the others get some sleep.” He pointer finger moved to Job and she said, “Call your parents, tell them what’s going on and then tell them I want to talk to them.”
Job’s eyes bulged but he did as he was told and then handed the phone over to Mrs. Hastings. She made shooing motions to chase the boys out and they went into the hallway. CJ led the way to the Family Lounge at the far end of the corridor.
He said, “What’s going on at school?”
“Well, you know we won the Middle School Championship…”
CJ rolled his eyes. “I KNOW all that stuff! What’s going on since I left yesterday?
“Nothing. School’s out in four days. We’re going to Valley Faire on the last day. Mr. Jalfroun is relieved you’re staying in the school district and not going to some smart-ass school…”
CJ’s eyes bulged.
Job said, “I know HOW to cuss – I just choose not to.” CJ nodded as his friend continued and they talked on into the night until both boys dozed off.

“Christopher! Christopher John! Wake up!”
CJ swatted Mom’s hand away then sat bolt upright. “What’s wrong,” he said, rubbing his eyes. They felt like they had dirt in them.
“Nothing. I can’t stay awake anymore and you’ve got to sit with your sister.”
He stood up, nodded and started down the hallway. He looked back to see Mom watching him as he pushed the door open to Mai Li’s room. She waved then disappeared around the corner. CJ tip-toed in and sat down on the chair by the bed, checking the virtual monitor that hung suspended in the air over Mai Li’s bed. Her vital signs were good even though her electroencephalogram was wildly vibrating like her mind was going crazy. As soon as he sat down, he felt sleepy. Suddenly, Mai Li said, “I couldn’t wait much longer for Mom to leave.”
“You have to go home.”
Laying on the bed, Mai Li’s long black hair fanned out under her head, looking like the negative of a halo of light. She smirked and said, “Are you as stupid are you are ugly?”
“Sh! Keep it down. You have to go home and get my last chance.”
“Last chance at what?”
“The last chance I’ll ever have to keep my mind and not lose everything I’ve become.”

June 6, 2012


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: Halloween horrors

It’s All Hallows Eve – or Hallowe’en – in Minneapolis, inside the city, not far from a park, though EVERY place in Minneapolis is not far from a park.

On the city’s north side, there’s a doctor’s clinic; it bears the stamp of approval of Planned Parenthood, most of the insurance companies operating in the state – and recently had a new addition put on.

Kehlanna McGee is a young graduate of the Minneapolis Community and Technical College with a new degree in nursing – she just turned ninetnne. She’s a voracious reader and takes on the night shifts at every clinic and hospital she’s ever worked in because it gives her more time to READ. She recently bought the collected works of Stephen King and has entertained the idea that now that he’s dead, she might like to take over his spot! With a couple of publications in small emagazines, she spends what time she’s not working or reading…writing.

Trayvon Dehvahn is also a nursing school graduate, but he’s got med school in him plans. In particular, he’s really interested in cloning and biotechnology. He’s a reader, too, but has been working his way through the classics like DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, FRANKENSTEIN, DRACULA, THE TELL-TALE HEART AND OTHER WRITINGS, SOMEETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES and the host of others.

When the new addition opens, they both get a job there and taking the training, both choose the new night shift in the ER. That’s where they meet the doctor who usually works that shift, Dr. Edgar B. Stevenson. He’s quiet, efficient – but when Trayvon and Kehlanna – who’ve started talking and seeing each other after work in the morning – start to notice that virtually all of the women who come to the clinic for abortions have one at 24 weeks, they wonder about it.

One night, a woman who is obviously farther along than 24 weeks comes in. Trayvon later enters the absurdly inaccurate records and talks to Kehlanna. They return to the clinic during the regular day shift and take an elevator down to Dr. Stevenson’s office and surgery. There, they discover a room. From the room, they hear noises. Noises that sound like voices. Voices crying out, not as infants cry, but as children cry out to be set free…

June 3, 2012


Every year at this time, I teach a science fiction and fantasy writer’s workshop for 5th-8th grade gifted and talented students.

I came away from the sessions today deeply disturbed.

This year I’m focusing on how a novel is built from words that are chosen carefully and laced into sentences. Those sentences are woven into paragraphs which stitched together make pages of story. Pages grow to form chapters and chapters finally tie into a novel.

As an initial ice-breaker/exercise, I projected the phrase “List as many science fiction words as you can” in sixty seconds. Then I popped up the thirty or so words I’d come up with on my own and we talked about the power of the correct choice of words in story.

Once everyone had crossed off the words I’d written, I went around the class and had them read the lists of the left over words.

In every session, at least four students said, “APOCALYPSE”.

When did this word become so closely associated with science fiction?

My own personal, crotchety-old-man opinion is that it had its origins in the veritable flood of dystopian “science fiction” that 21st Century adult angst has foisted off on the young people of today.

Angst, the “feeling of deep anxiety or dread, typically an unfocused one about the human condition or the state of the world in general” or a “A feeling of persistent worry about something trivial” is the definition that’s typically tagged with the prefix “adolescent”.

Yet it’s as if the adults writing books like THE HUNGER GAMES, UGLIES, AMONG THE HIDDEN, THE CITY OF EMBER, THE GIVER, LIFE AS WE KNEW IT and dozens of others have all decided to loudly cry out in print, “We couldn’t bring about a new Golden Age of Science…and neither can you! Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, boo, boo!”

Charles Stross, British hard science fiction author, wrote: “In recent decades SF has been spinning its wheels. In fact, in the past 30 years the only truly challenging new concepts to come along were cyberpunk and the singularity. Both of which amount to different attempts within the genre to accommodate the first-order implications of computers and networking as the defining technology of the near future (as opposed to rockets! for! everyone! a la ‘Space Family Stone’) — cyberpunk…a future derived from the 1970s and 1980s weltanschauung(“a particular philosophy or view of life; the worldview of an individual or group”)…the singularity was the chew-toy of those members of the hard SF brigade who actually understood computers….What we call ‘hard SF’ today mostly isn't hard, and isn't SF: it's fantasy with nanotech replicators instead of pixie dust and spaceships instead of dragons. Explorations of Singularity teeter dangerously on the precipice of a tumble into Christian apocalyptic eschatology…[there are] too many questions about the nature of intelligence to make a convincing stab at artificial intelligence… those people who are doing the ‘big visionary ideas about the future’ SF are mostly doing so in a vacuum of critical appreciation…constructions out of the raw stuff of quantum mechanics, visualising entirely different types of universe…the impact of quantum cryptography on human society…cyberpunk…the New Space Opera…hard-SF steampunk…global climate change…none of these seem to engage with the future in the way hard SF supposedly did in the 1940s to 1960s...”

This seems like a strong pronouncement from an authority. He concludes his essay with this: “…the traditional response of traditional-minded SF readers to the rigorous exercise of extrapolative vision tends to be denial, disorientation, and distaste. So let me pose for you a different question, which has been exercising me for some time: If SF's core message (to the extent that it ever had one) is obsolete, what do we do next?”

While I agree that we need to figure out “what do we do next”, my question is this: what is it about the dystopian futures we get with “the rigorous exercise of extrapolative vision” that makes it any more correct than the juvenile futures Heinlein played in, or that Brin populates, or that Czerneda explores? Stross believes – and rightly so – that “the big idea” wasn’t necessarily what hard SF was all about.

An analogy might be useful here: I’ve been a science teacher for 32 years, teaching mostly earth science, physical science and biology. I HAVE taught sciences from Astronomy to Zoology for students who are special education, gifted and talented, whose second, third or fourth language is English, and who are perfectly average in every way. While it has always been my intent to teach the facts of chemistry, physics and biology, I cannot say that that was WHAT I taught. For students who are 12-18 years old, more than anything else, I teach the LOVE OF SCIENCE.

Perhaps our intent in writing hard science fiction should not be to extrapolate realistic futures and present them in brutal clarity – 1984 is a methodology that springs to mind. Perhaps our intent should be to write hard science fiction that inspires a future we cannot possibly imagine. It seems to me that a belief that early 21st Century society and technology is the epitome of scientific accuracy and endeavor is mild hubris at best. Jules Verne, for all his dreaming of monstrous submarines and giant moon cannons could not have possibly extrapolated or in his wildest dreams imagined the cell phone or robotic, binocular automobiles driving around Mars taking 3D pictures and beaming them back to Earth for humans wearing funny-colored glasses to look at. Perhaps our job should be to inspire HOPE FOR THE FUTURE?

Last of all, I stumbled across an article by none other than Neal Stephenson (http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/Dear-Science-Fiction-Writers-Stop-Being-So-Pessimistic.html). This author is emphatically NOT a “lightweight”. With Locus, Hugo, BSFA, Clarke, Nebula, Campbell, and Prometheus nominations and awards, he is best known for his books CRYPTONOMICON and SNOW CRASH. Read the whole article, but I think it is summarized in this statement that he: “fears that no one will be inspired to build the next great space vessel or find a way to completely end dependence on fossil fuels when our stories about the future promise a shattered world.”

I will be voting for with my debit card – and writing – hard science fiction that INSPIRES a future we might not be able to extrapolate, but we certainly might be able to dream.