October 30, 2018


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!

Snow-dusted, dark alpine slopes reminded Nazar Ionescu of a tidal wave frozen solid an instant before capsizing a crowded luxury liner on the North Atlantic. The TITANIC, perhaps. He said, “This is not going to end well.”

Giorgia Lukić shook her head and said, “Sad sack.”

Nazar looked over at her, frowning. “What does that mean?”

“Nineteen forty-three, World War Two, an old comic book character whose name was a euphemism for a much more vulgar term. But you’re someone whose very presence lowers the tone in the room – a sort of the human equivalent of Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh.”

“I am not!”

She swept an arm to include then entire four hundred kilometer long range of mountains. “They’re moody this morning. Yesterday morning, they were divine. How can a conference in the Alps...”

“These are not THE Alps. They are Alps – and do you know it’s a Latin word that means a place in the mountains where cows eat?”

“It does not!” she exclaimed pushing him away from her. “It can’t. It’s got to be more romantic than that!”

He shrugged. “I was born not far from here and shipped out about ten hours after when the Soviet Union shattered. This is not a romantic place.”

Giorgia took a deep breath, exhaled then said, “All right. It’s November and miserable. But we’re not here for romance, are we?” She fixed him with a long look. He blushed and turned away. “We’re here for an experiment that has the potential to change the face of physics…”

“Or open a gateway to another realm,” he said. She shot him a quelling look. They’d had the conversation before. Many times. With many people. He was well-known for his beliefs. Some had even named him ‘Marburger’ – as well as a having a fast food named after him at a nearby restaurant – after the early 21st Century report1  that nudged a controversy just before the first activation of the Large Hadron Collider.

“You cannot be really serious, Nazar. Really?”

He stared up into the mountains for a long time before saying, “Science is full of unexpected developments, Giorgia. No one working at Bell Labs in 1958 could have predicted that their device would be used to play movies in people’s home. Certainly no one watching Enewetak would have predicted the Bussard probe on its way to Alpha Centauri. No one...”

“I get it. We test a new application of a scientific law and don’t necessarily know exactly what will happen.”

“I’m not talking about the purely physical results. There is another dimension, something beyond what we...”

She held her palm out to him and turning around, headed back to the lab where a team of nearly a hundred scientists from all over the world had gathered at the foot of the iron-rich mountain range to create a microscopic wormhole that would take power generation to the next level.

“Giorgia! Wait for me!” She stopped but didn’t turn around. When he caught up with her, he said breathlessly, “If nothing happens with the first power up, you’ll never hear another word from me.”

The sunlight faded as clouds drifted over the Transylvanian Alps. Giorgia shivered as she nodded. “Make sure of it.” Still without turning around, she headed for the lab.

Padding footsteps made by his rubber-soled, signature blaze orange Converse All-Star high top tennis shoes followed after her. She said, “They should be powering up right around now.”

Under their feet, the ground trembled. Giorgia squeaked in surprise and Nazar grabbed her elbow to steady her. She was looking directly at the lab, slightly upward so that she could see the archaic crenellations of the roof. Something appeared over the building. Immense, winged, it appeared to be hovering over the lab and for the briefest instant seemed to coalesce into an apparition that she could only call a ghost dragon...

Names: ♀ Italian, Serbian; Ukraine, Romania
Image: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_OCWXw6InF70/TKigMBk87NI/AAAAAAAAAy4/tL7MhIfL9CM/s1600/2212_1025142570.jpg

October 28, 2018

Slice of PIE -- Michael Shaara: Wishing for The Killer Aliens

Guest Columns: The Ranting Room (Bruce Bethke) (December 13, 2008) http://rantingroom.blogspot.com/2008/12/guest-column-michael-shaara-wishing-for.html

Guest Column

"Old friend Guy Stewart regularly blogs at Possibly Irritating Essays. A while back I gave him an unusual book and a challenge. Herewith, the result."

He never won any awards with us. No Hugo, no Nebula (oh, that’s right, he’d stopped writing SF by 1966 and gone on to pen seventy stories for people who read those silly magazines like RedbookCosmopolitanPlayboy, and The Saturday Evening Post), no Locus Poll (oops, those didn’t start until 1971, and Shaara was long gone by then); he left us almost nothing to remind us that we’d had a great writer doing his apprenticeship among us, the SF community. Somewhere around 1954 he wrote a story that GalaxyF&SF, and Astounding rejected out of hand after publishing seven other stories of his; Shaara himself thought, “…this may be the best I’ve ever done.” But we didn’t want it. Published finally, grudgingly, in Fantastic Universe in 1957, Shaara had already started moving toward people who enjoyed what he was writing.

That story, “Death of a Hunter”, wasn’t the best he could do. Twenty years later, the world saw the publication of his Civil War novel, The Killer Angels

An intimate novel of the Battle of Gettysburg in the style of Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of CourageAngels became his best. Winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1975, the award came as a stunning surprise because the book had been a commercial flop — and then went on to become a full-length feature film after his death in 1988, and has been required reading for more military organizations than you can shake a stick at ever since.
The SF world lost Michael Shaara because in part, the editor at Galaxy thought his readers wouldn’t like “Death of a Hunter”. They wouldn’t like it because he thought it was, “too serious, too gloomy.” Of course, the SF of the time tended toward the positive salvation of humanity through the application of technology. Shaara’s work didn’t flow in that vein — it wasn’t about glittering machines and conquering the planets, the stars, and the galaxies. His work was about people and their responses to the forces in their lives. That phase of popular SF didn’t arrive for another twenty years.

Admittedly, Shaara also wrote better after 20 years of practice. Compare these two descriptions of the alien:
“It was a great black lump on a platform. The platform had legs, and the thing was plodding methodically upon a path which would bring it past him. It had come down from the rise and was rounding the gorge when Dylan saw it. It did not see him. If he had not ducked quickly and brought up his gun, the monkey would not have seen him either, but there was no time for regret. The monkey was several yards to the right of the lump on the platform when he heard it start running; he had to look up this time, and saw it leaping toward him over the snow.” (p. 32, “Soldier Boy”, 1954)
“To be alien and alone among white lords and glittering machines, uprooted by brute force and threat of death from the familiar earth of what he did not even know was Africa, to be shipped in the black stinking darkness across an ocean he had not dreamed existed, forced then to work on alien soil, strange beyond belief, by men with guns whose words he could not even comprehend. What could the black man know of what was happening? Chamberlain tried to imagine it. He had seen ignorance, but this was more than that. What could this man know of borders and state’s rights and the Constitution and Dred Scott? What…” (p. 180, The Killer Angels, 1974)
Both passages are one hundred and eleven words long, but it is clear that Shaara had come into his own by the time he wrote Angels. The prose vibrates like a quartet’s string bass played in an intimate curtained chamber, while “Soldier Boy” twangs like a banjo in a clapboard dance hall.
Is there anything we could have done to keep him with us — perhaps allowing the growth of an early Mary Doria Russel, or Stanislaw Lem? Unlikely. SF hadn’t matured enough by then to admit to literary aspirations. Shaara himself alludes to this in the afterword of Soldier Boy, the only collection of his science fiction ever printed. He says, “Very little I wrote has ever moved me so much as being with Neilson when he killed those two in the mountains. I felt for the first time in my writing life, that maybe I was growing up, and maybe I’d done something truly worth doing…”
Fifty-eight years later, Shaara’s work has stood the test of time, as The Killer Angels enjoys consistent sales and continues to illuminate one of the bloodiest battles in American history. As good as it is, though, I cannot help but wonder what Michael Shaara might have given the SF community, had we encouraged him to explore the darker reaches of humanity’s battle with technology.

October 25, 2018

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 134: Stepan of Burroughs

On a well-settled Mars, the five major city Council regimes struggle to meld into a stable, working government. Embracing an official Unified Faith In Humanity, the Councils are teetering on the verge of pogrom directed against Christians, Molesters, Jews, Rapists, Buddhists, Murderers, Muslims, Thieves, Hindu, Embezzlers and Artificial Humans – anyone who threatens the official Faith and the consolidating power of the Councils. It makes good sense, right – get rid of religion and Human divisiveness on a societal level will disappear? An instrument of such a pogrom might just be a Roman holiday...To see the rest of the chapters, go to SCIENCE FICTION: Martian Holiday on the right and scroll to the bottom for the first story. If you’d like to read it from beginning to end (100,000+ words as of now), drop me a line and I’ll send you the unedited version.

“Sorry. I forget you’re not a normal person,” QuinnAH, an artificial boy who may or may not have become a Christian convert, hung his head,

Stepan Izmaylova laughed and stood up. Gently toeing the rigidly frozen spacesuit, he said, “We have to move this, probably bag it up, and send it to DaneelAH and his vatmates. They have the cetacean spacesuit now, and one of them has access to a Virtual Reality unit that fits it. I have no doubt that there are other artifacts scattered over Mars.” He pursed his lips then leaned down to QuinnAH, “And I think something big is brewing on Mars. Something that will change everything on the Red Planet.”

“You mean like what your god did to Earth?”

Stepan met his defiant gaze then slowly nodded, saying, “He did change Earth. But people grabbed what he said, twisted it and used it for personal gain.” He sighed. “It’s what Humans do as easily as breathing.”

“Ain’t only Humans do that,” Quinn muttered, then squatted, staring at the suit. “You want me to help you carry it down?”

Stepan sniffed, sneezed, then said, “Yeah,” Quinn reached out and Stepan said, “Hang on.” Quinn didn’t move. A moment of thought later, he said, “I think we’d better get a body bag and put the suit. Then we can move it down to the office…”

“…an’ hide it.”

Stepan raised an eyebrow then nodded, “You have Rim-stincts.”

“You bet your…” he paused, looked up at Stepan in the dim light, and revised his exclamation, “Backside I have ‘em. If I didn’t, I’d be dead now.” He raised both eyebrows, “You’d be dead now.”

“Good point. Do you know where the place has…”

“…body bags? Yeah.” He started down the stairs, halted and said, “I’ll get ‘em. I don’t want you getting hurt coming up and down these things, they’re liable to…” The step he was standing on snapped with a crack like an old-fashioned rifle. The lower gravity of Mars – about four tenths that of Earth – made him fall in slightly slower motion. Slow enough that Stepan had just enough time to lay spread-eagle on the remaining steps and grab the boy’s hand as he fell. Quinn screamed as Stepan’s grip tightened like a vise and kept him from falling through.

Stepan cried out, “Grab the edge with both hands!”

A scrabbling few moments later, the boy had done as he’d been asked and started to pull himself out of the void beneath the steps. After what seemed like an eternity to both, he sat beside Stepan back up on the landing, their knees pressed together. His gasping breaths were loud in the enclosed space and after a few moments began to stutter. Stepan put his arm around Quinn, conscious that the boy was not Human in the eyes of the Dome. Conscious that he’d never before touched an Artificial Human to comfort them. Conscious as well at the same moment of his own, appalling bias. His prejudice against artificial life. At first Quinn shrugged him off, but even as his shoulder jerked, he grabbed Stepan’s hand and held it in a crushing grip. His voice shuddered as he said, “I wasn’t afraid.”

“I know. You’re a tough young man. Nothing scares you.”

There was a long pause then Quinn began to shake, exactly as if he were crying. Stepan didn’t move, just keeping his arm lightly across the boy’s shoulders – as if he could move his arm, the grip Quinn held him with as hard as his own when he’d grabbed the blue hand just before it vanished into whatever lay at the bottom of the darkness. Finally, Quinn said, “Nothin’.”

“Good. It’s best to ignore all of the scary things in your life. That way they can’t…”

Quinn turned, through his arms round Stepan and began to sob, squirming until he sat on Stepan’s lap. The pastor didn’t pat him, or murmur, or do anything but hold him tight. As the sobs decreased and Quinn wiped his very Human, snotty nose on Stepan’s shirt, he finally said, “Good thing I didn’t fall all th’ way, huh.”

“A really good thing.”

Long pause. “‘Cause if I’d-a-died, I couldn’t o’ told you that I think I’m gonna follow your God.”

Stepan didn’t leap to his feet to thank his God. Instead, he held his breath, counted to ten then said, “Yep, then. It was a good thing. Should we go back up to the roof and take the disk down like we came up?”

Quinn wiped his nose on Stepan one more time, then stood up – though he held tightly to the pastor’s hand – and said, “Smart man. You learn quick. Make a Rimmer of you yet, I think.” They walked up the stairs, hand-in-hand, reached the stop, stepped lightly along the edge of the roof, then lowered themselves to the floor of the warehouse.

Outside, the sounds of riot were growing louder. Quinn said, “You hide inna office. I’m gone go out there and see what’s up.”

“Not through the door!”

“Duh, preacher-man! I got my ways.” He threw both arms around Stepan, adding, “You hide. There’s a little door under the third window over. Push in, slide right. Go in. It’s tight, but it’ll keep you safe ‘til I get back. I whistle comin’ in, then knock twice, stop and knock once.” Stepan didn’t move. “Go, man!”

Stepan cleared his throat, “I’ll run as fast as I can as soon as you let go of me.” Quinn did, and Stepan ran.

October 23, 2018


Each Tuesday, rather than a POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY, I'd like to both challenge you and lend a helping hand. I generate more speculative and teen story ideas than I can ever use. My family rolls its collective eyes when I say, "Hang on a second! I just have to write down this idea..." Here, I'll include the initial inspiration (quote, website, podcast, etc.) and then a thought or two that came to mind. These will simply be seeds -- plant, nurture, fertilize, chemically treat, irradiate, test or stress them as you see fit. I only ask if you let me know if anything comes of them. Regarding Fantasy, this insight was startling: “I see the fantasy genre as an ever-shifting metaphor for life in this world, an innocuous medium that allows the author to examine difficult, even controversial, subjects with impunity. Honor, religion, politics, nobility, integrity, greed—we’ve an endless list of ideals to be dissected and explored. And maybe learned from.” – Melissa McPhail.

F Trope: Fairy Tale

"Fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already because it is in the world already. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St George to kill the dragon."
—GK Chesterton

 Leyla Manghirmalani wrinkled her nose at the overpowering smell of onions and called out, “Jie? What are you doing?”

Jie Busiri leaned back from his dorm room desk, holding a chopping knife and said, “What’s it look like?”

“That you’re stinking up the whole dorm floor on purpose?”

“No, not stinking up anything. I’m calling the onion fairies,” he said it like he was  a little kid.

Leyla shook her head, “Another one of your lame attempts at recreating ancient fairy magic?”

“Hey! That’s not fair! Didn’t I make it rain last week after I did that Lakota rain dance?”

She snorted, “After checking the weather report for three weeks straight and then picking a day even the weather divas all agreed had a greater than ninety percent chance of rain.” She waved her hand in front of her face and backed up, “I don’t want to weep over spilled onion juice. I’ll come back...”

“No! Wait!” Jie grabbed something from his desk and strode across the room, chopping knife in one hand.

Leyla laughed, “If I hadn’t known you since pre-school, I’d have just gone running down the hall dialing 911 and telling them a freshman U of M student had just gone crazy.”

Jie shook his head, handing her a piece of pink gum. “Chew this, it’ll keep your eyes from watering.”

“Why didn’t you just soak them in cold salty water?”

He looked at her like she was crazy and said, “They won’t be magic then, stupid.”

“Hey! Don’t call me stupid! You’re the one they’d throw in the loony bin if they asked why you were chopping onions!” She chewed and stepped into the room and her eyes didn’t tear up automatically. “Hey, it works.”

He blew a bubble and said, “Why do you think I’m doing it?”

“I thought you wanted to be struck by your onion magic?”

He sniffed in disdain and went back to his chopping board. “I’m not interested in helping myself. I’m going to place the slices of onions with a slice of mushroom on top...”
Leyla cut in, “If I get a pain hamburger from Mac’s, can I just put them on and make a Whopper?”

“Ha, ha, ha,” he said, chopping again. “Just wait and see how well our floor does on finals – then we’ll see who has the last laugh!”

They hung out the rest of the night and Leyla helped him place the mushroom and onion slices in the rooms of the people willing to go with his craziness. By the time they were done studying and onion-placing, it was past two in the morning. “I gotta get some sleep,” she said, “I have a chem final first thing.”

Jie gave her a hug, saying, “I made sure I put the biggest onion slice in your room and I piled the rest of the mushrooms on top of it.”

“Oh, thank you so much,” she dead-panned. “Thank you so, so much for your fairly wonderful generosity.”

He smirked then said, “Just you wait, Leyla Higgins, just you wait.”

She smiled at the MY FAIR LADY jab and headed for bed.

Names: ♀Iran, India, ; China, Egypt
Image: http://www.skyscrapernews.com/images/pics/6255CaernarfonCastle_pic1.jpg

October 21, 2018

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: The Myth of the Astronaut – Space Cadets of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Using the Program Guide of the World Science Fiction Convention in San Jose, California in August 2018 (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 58…

The Myth of the Astronaut – Who are the Space Cadets of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow?

The current definition of an astronaut is someone who crosses the Karman line: 62 miles from the surface of the Earth. With Virgin Galactic selling trips over the line to more than 700 people already, let's start to ask ourselves: who have these idols
of society been, really, and how are we going to re-shape our narrative of what an astronaut is and should be in the coming years?

Mary Robinette Kowal: author of (among other things) the Lady Astronaut duology; podcaster; winner of the Campbell Award; three Hugo awards; also a professional puppeteer.
Kjell Lindgren: NASA astronaut who was on the ISS; MD in emergency medicine and aerospace medicine; Air Force Academy graduate, [has] 141 days in space.
Wil McCarthy: contributing editor for WIRED; columnist for SyFy channel, nominated for all SF awards; short fiction and novels, TV and video games, The History Channel; The Science Channel; flight controller for Lockheed Martin Space Launch System.
Bill Higgins: Fermilab; contributed chapters to books about the history of the interaction between science and science fiction; NASA's Solar System Ambassador program.
Sheyna Gifford: MD, simulated astronaut for long-duration space missions; NASA-funded 1-year mission to simulate Mars. A science journalist since 1997; rehabilitation doctor at WashU, was the scientist-in-residence at the St. Louis Science Center; STEM mentor; Captain in Missouri Air Patrol.

I can only say three things about this question.

First, anything this group says is true. If they said, “anyone who goes into space is an astronaut” – thumbs up. If they said, “you have to be trained and have a specific purpose to be in space (aka ‘a mission’) to be an astronaut” – thumbs up.

Secondly, mom used to say that just because you stand in the garage doesn’t make you a car.

Lastly, and more specifically, just because you watch police procedural TV shows and movies doesn’t make you a police officer. Just because you share a post on the internet (via Twitter, Face Book, Snapchat, Pinterest, or whatever other social platform you use) doesn’t mean you are “supporting a cause”; you have to perform a physical action greater than "standing in a parking spot" or “clicking a post” to be a car or an activist.

My opinion is that an astronaut is someone who goes into space for a mission more intense than “a vacation”. I would have to work hard to be an astronaut. An lest you accuse me of being what I rail against, I have this to say: In the late 1990s, NASA created the Educator Astronaut Project. “…which carries on the objectives of the Teacher in Space Program -- seeking to elevate teaching as a profession and inspire students…educator astronauts are fully trained astronauts who do the same jobs and duties that any other astronaut does. They fly as crew members with critical mission responsibilities, as well as education-related goals. In addition to their technical assignments, they assist other astronauts in connecting to students and teachers through space exploration…Joseph M. Acaba, Richard R. Arnold and Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger were selected as the first Educator Mission Specialists in the 2004 class.”

I did the entire application process for this class (online form, permission for FBI investigation, six letters of reference, medical records). In my personal collection of letters from famous people, I have a rejection letter from NASA – a polite rejection telling me that 8200 teachers entered the initial stages of the project and that while I didn’t make the first cut, they were honored by all of the teachers who wanted to be part of the project.

Acaba, Arnold, and Metcalf-Lindenburger all flew as part of the crews of “STS-119, a Space Shuttle mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in March 2009…and STS-131 in April 2010, also visiting the ISS…Barbara Morgan, the backup to Christa McAuliffe in the [old] Teacher in Space Project…trained as a Mission Specialist [starting] in 1998…and began official duties in 2000…travel[ing] to space on STS-118…for ISS assembly…and Crew rotation in June of 2007.” The last ever Space Shuttle mission began on July 8, 2011 to deliver the “Payload Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, Raffaello”.

And there you go.

October 18, 2018


On Earth, there are three Triads intending to integrate not only the three peoples and stop the war that threatens to break loose and slaughter Humans and devastate their world; but to stop the war that consumes Kiiote economy and Yown’Hoo moral fiber. All three intelligences hover on the edge of extinction. The merger of Human-Kiiote-Yown’Hoo into a van der Walls Society might not only save all three – but become something not even they could predict. Something entirely new...

The young experimental Triads are made up of the smallest primate tribe of Humans – Oscar and Xiomara; the smallest canine pack of Kiiote – six, pack leaders Qap and Xurf; and the smallest camelid herd of Yown’Hoo – a prime eleven, Dao-hi the Herd mother. On nursery farms and ranches away from the TC cities, Humans have tended young Yown’Hoo and Kiiote in secret for decades, allowing the two, warring people to reproduce and grow far from their home worlds.

“We had nearly fallen into stagnation when we encountered the Kiiote.”
“And we into internecine war when we encountered the Yown’Hoo.”
 “Yown’Hoo and Kiiote have been defending themselves for a thousand revolutions of our Sun.”
 “Together, we might do something none of us alone might have done…a destiny that included Yown’Hoo, Kiiote, and Human.” (2/19/2015)

A hooded Human shape strode slowly across the vast space, passing through a beam of sunlight slanting across the room. Clearly it deliberately chose a path to show itself to them. It stopped and said, “I am Mother Kan Yuen, Triad Query Marker Guru and Specialist. Who are you, children?”

Xio blurted before thinking, “We aren’t children!” She covered her mouth with a filthy hand, cursing Oscar for infecting her with his impulsiveness. She’d been perfectly rational most of her life – until she got to know him better!

Mother Kan Yuen pushed back the hood covering her face and said, “Show yourself young lady!”

Xio whispered, “She’s supposed to be dead…”

“My hearing is perfectly fine, young lady. Now step out before I set my robotic army on you all and crush you to lifeless red smears.”

“What?” Xio said.

“You heard me. March!”

Xio found herself responding to the snap in the woman’s voice and stood up, stepping into the light. Seg-go, Ali-go, and Nah-hi-el moved closely behind her. She heard the distinctive sound of Seg-go pulling his/her tentacles free, preparing for a fight. She had no doubt that the tips were oozing the neurotoxin the Yown’Hoo used to subdue each other. That Humans had been near-universally and violently allergic to the toxin had helped cement the fright factor during initial encounters between the llama-like aliens and Humans.

The woman claiming to be Mother Kan Yuen said, “Oh, don’t threaten me with your poison-tipped tentacles, child! I was immunized against them decades ago! You don’t think I could guide the First Triad to union under the threat of accidental anaphylaxis, do you?”

“What do you mean, ‘the First Triad’? We’re the first Triad.”

Mother Kan Yuen burst out laughing. Xio stared at her. Her small Herd moved behind her. Seg-go whispered, “You will protect us from the mad Human, Herd-auntie?”

The older Human’s laughter wound down to snickers. Then she gestured to the Herd and said, “Come with me, children.”

She turned and started to walk – Xio thought the woman walked like she was sliding across the floor, almost like the ghosts she’d seen in old Human visual fright tales. The cowl she wore didn’t move. Xio said abruptly, “You’re not real!”

Mother Kan Yuen spoke without stopped, “I am quite real, child, I just found no reason to risk my old body meeting you in physical form. This is an avatar of myself. In a moment, you’ll meet the real me.” The avatar stopped in front of a seemingly blank outer wall. When the Herd crew close enough, a portion of the wall dilated like a gigantic Human iris, leaving a flat portion of the floor clear for them to walk over. The Herd stopped, Seg-go’s front hoof raised just before setting it down past the irises edge. The avatar stepped forward then turned. “Follow or do not. It makes no difference to me. But you will, of needs, then present my child, the Retired Lieutenant Commander Patrick Bakhsh with the fact of your failure on the verge of success.” The avatar vanished.

Xio started. Seg-go said, “Do we go, Herd-auntie; or do we back up and return to our leaders in abject failure?”

Xio scowled down at the little Yown’Hoo and said, “Don’t bother, Herd second, we are not peers, so the pressure you are attempting to place on me isn’t working.” She straightened her spine and stepped forward, “I had already decided to enter before you challenged my authority.” She kneed Seg-go, who stumbled as it tried to lead the Herd. She added a toe nudge and the Herd second backed up, its fellow Yown’Hoo pressing against it to relieve it of the stress of the Challenge. She smirked as she passed through the door, though her pulse raced when the door irised closed behind them.

The voice of Mother Kan Yuen said softly in Chinese, “Perhaps there is hope for you yet, Daughter of Humanity. Perhaps there is hope for us all.”

October 17, 2018


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: The rag-tag rebel army/fleet struggles valiantly to overthrow the Evil Empire (The TV series FIREFLY used this trope to great effect!)

Zehra Borg bit her lower lip, then remembered that it wasn’t exactly the most impressive look in the world. Captain Fenwick was up front, trying to cut a deal with the insectoid Krkrach swarm leader. They’d watched the entire classic movie, DISTRICT 9 in order to get them ready for this.

Still, the things were creepier than all get out – and she wasn’t helping to create a fearsome Human image by biting her lip.

Beside her, Warwick Yilmaz dug his elbow into her side, leaned over and whispered, “They really do look like crickets on steroids!”

“That’s ‘allies’ to you, boy!”

He subsided and grunted. They needed all the help they could get. The upper stratosphere of the Empire was controlled entirely by Humans. There wasn’t a single alien in any position higher than the Secretary of Inter-Species Affairs – and it’s job was mostly ceremonial. The real decisions were made by the Human Director of Inter-Species Affairs. The Secretary, while it certainly seemed to be an intelligent snail-like being, didn’t seem overly smart. She sighed. That was how she’d gotten involved in this whole rebellion.

From behind her, a thorny creature known to Humans as an Athing, nudged her, nearly knocking her off her feet. While most Athings were polite, philosophical if somewhat long-winded beings, this one was rude, obnoxious – and seemed to be out to get her goat.

Warwick saw what Geffner – that’s what this one’s name (or title, she wasn’t sure) was – did. He flushed red and balled his fists, muttering, “If the captain weren’t trying to negotiate help...”

Geffner rumbled something back and while none of them had their translator circuits tuned at the moment, its intent was clear. Warwick murmured back, “You and what part of the squad?”

Suddenly the Captain turned around and snapped, “Geffner, Borg, Yilmaz and Kachuh’Gna – forward!”

Zehra’s eyes widened and she glanced at Warwick as she snapped to attention and went forward. Geffner farted – an Athing’s response to unexpected stress. She wasn’t exactly sure what Kachuh’Gna did, but the amorphous alien was suddenly resting near the Captain, it’s pangolin-like pet seated on top of its pulsating blob of a body.

Zehra and Warwick stepped lively, though Warwick had to step faster than she did because his legs were markedly shorter – he was from Human stock that had once been called “midgets”. Kachuh’Gna was already there and after a moment of immobility, Geffner had lumbered up to join them.

The Captain said, “You four are going to be doing a solider exchange. We need to better understand the Krkrach. You four are the best we have at adapting to alternative life forms. So you’re going to live with the Swarm for the next two  months. You’re going to share your ideas with each other and you’re going to make the integration of our two forces go smoothly and without a hitch. The Flota de Rebelde is planning an major incursion into Imperial space and we need every advantage we can get – including a thorough understanding of our new allies’ military and communication abilities.” She nodded to them, then turned and bowed to the Head Cricket On Steroids...

Names: Turkey, Malta ; England, Turkey  

October 14, 2018

Slice of PIE: “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”…

NOT using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in San Jose in August 2018 (I can't go because I'm starting the school year RIGHT at that time and am 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. But not today.

My wife and I re-watched the movie, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, starring Ben Stiller. The screenplay was based on a short story of the same name, written by well-known humorist, James Thurber.

Apparently they really have nothing to do with each other, so I’m going to treat the Stiller movie as a science fiction flick.

Why SF and not Fantasy?

It involves both psychology (soft SF) and technology (hard SF) – and advances in technology and how they affect society (classic hard SF)…

The premise is how advances in technology will affect society, in this case, how the internet affects the lives of people whose employ was in a paper magazine that depended on physical film images; at its heart, the kind of SF we all enjoy reading – the book I’m reading now is an exploration of what post-humanity will be like when our psyches can be uploaded to vastly more advanced computers and how that might overtake the biological Human. John C. Wright’s COUNT TO A TRILLION is no more hard SF than Stiller’s TSLOWM.

The psychology is obvious and where in Thurber’s TSLOWM, Walter never moves from his imagination to any kind of reality at all, Stiller’s Walter begins his life lost in a sort of fantasy world, he enters the real world and begins to bring some of those fantasies into reality.

Of course, the only way he can do that is by the application of everyday technology – a combination of jets, helicopters, ocean-going vessels, cars, subways, elevators, high-altitude/low temperature gear, and eHarmony (an online dating site)…

Most importantly to me, however, is that the movie is inspiring. While I can’t say exactly why, I do know that as a writer, I tend to live in my head as Walter did. I can also say, though, that I’ve had my fair share of adventures as a missionary in Nigeria (where we experienced a coup d’état) and I helped perform a puppet show on national TV; Cameroon where we experienced an attempted coup d’état, stepped on a scorpion in the middle of the night, and came down with malaria; and Liberia where nothing of “adventure” happened except that we traveled up and down the coast and I walked along a black sand beach. I was also in Haiti for two weeks, helping to lay the foundation of an orphanage. I guess traveling with a band counts – twice – counts too…two summers running a Bible camp in the center of the Chippewa National Forest and actually SEEING wild timber wolves. Having lunch with Newbery Award-winning author Kate di Camillo. Meeting Mary Grandpre, artist of Scholastic Book’s HARRY POTTER books and a cover of TIME magazine…I have a “real” letter from Madeleine L’Engle, a response to a letter I wrote her, as well as a different one from Anne McCaffery and another from David Brin…

I was the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Teacher of the Year in 1997…

OK, so I’m not exactly an example of Thurber’s Walter Mitty; but I’m certainly not Stiller’s Walter Mitty, either. It’s Stiller’s Walter Mitty, though who is the character of a science fiction movie. While it doesn’t involve space or time travel, it does involve MIND travel as we got to see what he was imagining – saving the dog from a building about to erupt into a fireball; the guy who came out of a LIFE Magazine ad from the Himalayas to talk to Cheryl; being Benjamin Buttons to Cheryl's Daisy Fuller; plus a few others I can’t recall (and can’t seem to find listed anywhere). For a moment, we see what he sees – or where he goes when life isn’t going in the direction he wanted it to. It's a sort of...time travel or psychotic adventure that moves me to want more in my life.

So there you have it – why I think Stiller’s SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY is a science fiction film rather than a fantasy film and why it is SF in the very best of the tradition.

After reading Lisa Cron's book, WIRED FOR STORY, I started creating a framework for me to use her idea -- that we read stories to learn how to deal with real life. In an article my sister forwarded to me, Cron states: "The reader expects the story to revolve around one, single plot problem that grows, escalates and complicates, which the protagonist has no choice but to deal with...[which] is constructed to force the protagonist to confront, struggle with, and hopefully overcome a long standing internal problem. Story is about an internal change, not an external one...Can my plot problem...force my protagonist to struggle internally, spurring her to make a much needed internal change in order to resolve it?"

This is exactly what Walter Mitty does in the movie. Deep down, he feels he has no control over his life. So he creates fantasies in which he CAN control the situation to the extent that he becomes a hero. Real life is a lost job, a brutal boss, multiple relationship fails, a bossy sister, and the loss of an important film negative -- the only one on Earth. In his mind, he makes heroic decisions and people love him. Then he starts to make REAL (sometimes dumb!) decisions and gets hurt, nearly dies, and then hurts the person around whom his entire life has revolved...but he GROWS and then becomes a real man with a real woman who is interested in him. And he tells the boss off.

THAT is what story is supposed to do, and because we don't read (or even pay much attention to) stories anymore, we don't know what the HECK to do to make life better...“...we're wired to turn to story to teach us the way of the world.”

October 11, 2018

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 133: DaneelAH & Company

On a well-settled Mars, the five major city Council regimes struggle to meld into a stable, working government. Embracing an official Unified Faith In Humanity, the Councils are teetering on the verge of pogrom directed against Christians, Molesters, Jews, Rapists, Buddhists, Murderers, Muslims, Thieves, Hindu, Embezzlers and Artificial Humans (They are HanAH, the security expert (m); DaneelAH, xenoarchaeologist (m); AzAH, language expert (f); MishAH, pattern recognition (f).) – 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 and I’m sorry, but a number of them got deleted from the blog – go to SCIENCE FICTION: Martian Holiday on the right and scroll to the bottom for the first story. If you’d like to read it from beginning to end (100,000+ words as of now), drop me a line and I’ll send you the unedited version.

QuinnAH, Stepan Izmaylova’s sycophant – possibly disciple – peeked around DaneelAH, AzAH, and MishAH at HanAH and said, “Have a nice trip. We’ll meet you at Port Exit.” He started walking back into the warehouse. HanAH didn’t follow him.

The other three did, turning their backs on him.

HanAH glared, looked into the distance, cursed and follow them inside. He started when the boy stepped next to him from the shadows. “Following the herd, eh?”

“Shut up and move.” HanAH was certain he heard the boy snicker and raised his hand threateningly.

DaneelAH stopped as AzAH and MishAH kept on. He said in a low voice, “Hating him is like hating ourselves. He’s more like you than any of the rest of us.”

“What?” HanAH exclaimed. His blurt echoed from the distant walls of the warehouse. “I’m nothing…”

DaneelAH shook his head and walked away, leaving HanAH to stare after the group. For an instant, HanAH considered making his own way out of Burroughs, wondered how his vat mates could possibly survive without him and lengthened his stride. “I’m nothing like that brat,” he muttered, at the same time wondering at the weakness of his rebuttal.

They headed to the rear of the warehouse again, but instead of taking the stairs up, the boy led them into what had once been an office. At the back of it was another door, unconcealed and obvious. “Obviously a trap,” muttered HanAH.

QuinnAH shot him a look, eyes appreciative even though he smirked. Instead of the door, the jumped and slapped the wall near the ceiling. With the grinding of stone on stone, a door in the wall, at the base where the floor met it, lifted up while the floor itself sank down and to one side. “The mouth leads to the throat. There’s only one way to go – it’s too narrow to turn around in. It’ll bring you out in the HOD.”

“The ‘hood’?” AzAH said.

“HOD – the Home Owner’s District. It’s where Martians can own their own places. They can afford it while most everyone else can’t.” He stepped back. “Just keep going…”

“Why do we trust you?” said HanAH suddenly.

QuinnAH shook his head, smirking, “I sure wouldn’t trust me, so I know what you mean.”

HanAH glanced down the hole, then dropped down. “Let’s go.”

DaneelAH frowned, “We’re going?”

HanAH looked up at him. “If he’d made a smart aleck comment; if he’d said anything else but what he did, we’d be taking our chances with the riot.” As if to emphasize the point, the volume of the mob increased.

“I’ll lead you,” said QuinnAH suddenly.

“What?” said HanAH, AzAH, and MishAH at the same time.

DaneelAH smirked this time then said, “These two have been playing on each other. Quinn had not intention of sending us on our way alone, but he needed to know we’re not ‘the bad guys’. Han had no intention of leading us, but he needed to know if Quinn was legitimate. The kid knows how to get us to Exit Port and get back here fast and invisibly.”

The two – young and old – laughed, then Quinn said, “Let’s go. The mob’s almost here.”

“What about Stepan?” DaneelAH said.

“Like I said, he’s a big boy. If he can’t talk the crazies down from a suicidal riot, then he ain’t who he says he is. Fact? He don’t serve this god he’s talkin’ about – it’s as ‘maginary as U-fee.” He slithered into the hole.

HanAh gestured to AzAH, then DaneelAH, then MishAH. He looked up to the roof. He couldn’t see Stepan, but knew he was watching. He whispered, “Good luck…” he snorted, changing his invocation, “Your God protect you and go with you, Sir.” He followed the others. A moment later, the wall door and the floor hatch closed. There was a puff of air, and the dust they’d disturbed was evenly sprayed over the exit, and it was gone.

October 10, 2018


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…

Names: ♀Unique black America name; ♂ Unique black American name