January 27, 2019

Slice of PIE: Popular Characters Who Live In Imaginary Worlds – And Why Can’t I Make It Work?!

NOT using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in San Jose, CA in August 2018 (to which I be unable to go (until I retire from education)), I would jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. But not today. This explanation is reserved for when I dash “off topic”, sometimes reviewing movies, sometimes reviewing books, and other times taking up the spirit of a blog an old friend of mine used to keep called THE RANTING ROOM…

While I’m filing this under my “Slice of Possibly Irritating Essays”, it’s more frustrating to me than it will be for anyone reading this…

So, I live in the middle of the North American continent. We have no earthquakes here, no hurricanes, no oceans, no mountains, no palm trees, (where I live, on the top of Tornado Alley, tornados – while we absolutely have them – are not all that common), and really nothing to recommend us to the world except snow and cold.

So I create worlds in my computer files.

Some of them have seen print, most have not. The reason I’m going to iterate them is because while I HAVE all these worlds, I should have an abundance of stories about the people who live on them.

Just by typing “fiction” it automatically shows 90,000 books. (I used to know how to find out exactly – by typing a series of numbers or words or whatever in the Search bar…but I’ve forgotten how!) Historical fiction gives me the same number, as does Romance.

So I know there are millions of stories that take place on Earth, in the present, and that sells tons of copies. I know there is a series of books that takes place in a version of Earth where magic works; it’s sold millions of copies and there are several stories of individuals within that series that captivate us.

I know there are millions of copies of a story that takes place on a very alien world that is unnamed and home of the atevi. CJ Cherryh’s world has held me enthralled for decades. It has also prodded me to ask myself: “With the worlds you’ve invented, why are so few published? They are complex, they have PEOPLE in them and should be inherently interesting…why can’t you present them in their world in a captivating way?”

As the temperature here drops to a possible record of -28 F (equals -33 C or 240K) actual AIR temperature (with -52 windchills threatened), I was reminded of an world I created called Sirmiq. In West Icelandic Inuit, the word means “glacier (also ice forming on objects)”. It’s a world gripped by an ice age. It’s volcanic and currently habitable only underground, so it’s not a nice place to live. The colonists are hard but long-visioned. They KNOW that Sirmiq will one day be a garden world, Earthlike with slightly less water surface. Two stories there, “The Stars Like Nails” and “Grom Ripper”, one written for BOYS LIFE, the other a dark story of accidental death and a funeral watch.

Other worlds? I have River, a “puffy Jupiter” in another star system between two Human empires. In this universe, there are no real aliens (a la Asimov’s stories), but in the Empire of Man, profound genetic engineering is prohibited and a person’s Humanity is determined by the percentage of “pure” DNA. Anyone whose DNA is less than 65% unmodified is not Human. In the Confluence of Humanity, genetic engineering is de rigueur and they have created Humans so bizarre and environmentally adapted as to be de facto aliens. I’ve written eight stories in that world, three of which have been published. This is the universe I’ve had lots of fun in, but I haven’t been able to create enough memorable characters to stick in my own head – except an environmentally adapted creature name Irog, who is SO manipulated that he is a gigantic manta ray with body cavities adapted as living quarters and emergency medical facilities – he’s a living ambulance whose DNA is Human…a hūmbūlance so-to-speak. His original DNA Human is Gordon Oyeyemi (from whose name his own is derived).

Then there’s the Human-WheetAh universe in which animal Humans and plant-descended WheetAh are all there is. A novel and two stories take place there, one published. This one bears WAY more exploring, but I can’t seem to create someone interesting who lives there.

The Unity is by far my favorite place. I’ve written thirteen stories and a novel there, nine stories have been published with a positive reaction to the novel – but no purchase.

My Shattered Spheres universe takes place in the Unity, but at a substantially earlier time, in which Humans are still alone – though there’s a theory that Others once lived on Venus and started a war with the wider universe and were beaten back. When a starship from the invading force is destroyed, its black hole drive is set free, wreaking havoc in our star system. It destroys the Others and the dinosaurs on Earth. This one was once published as an ebook, then I withdrew it, and now there’s a publisher interested by not yet committed to it…

I once made a commitment to myself that I would make every effort to use worlds I have created for more than one story. I’ve not held rigidly to that, but I have in general. I write mostly in the universes above.

My problem is NOT in creating places, it’s in populating them with memorable characters.

I have yet to create a Miles Vorkosigan (Lois McMaster Bujold), a Mackenzie Connor (Julie Czerneda), a Paul Atreides (Frank Herbert), or a Bren Cameron (CJ Cherryh) – but WHY? What made these characters stick in my mind and in the minds of tens of thousands of loyal fans? What made Harry Potter a sensation? “Boy wizard” stories are by no means new, yet this one took the world by storm. How did it happen and why?

This is a secret I long to plumb and while I know I am not alone, I still want to know!

January 24, 2019

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 140: Paolo From Burroughs Enroute To Bradbury

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.

“What’s the fundamental difference between an Artificial Intelligence and an Artificial Human?” said Paolo Marcillon. He watched the Martian landscape drift past as the AI piloted them northwest to Bradbury, Capitol of Mars.

“One is mobile, the other is…” replied the marsbug, a balloon-tired, multipurpose vehicle that could be configured to carry individuals or cargo, alone or in tandem with as many as a dozen others – some AI, or all artificial tools.

Paolo said, “You’re mobile, are you not an Artificial Human?”

“Of course not, it’s obvious.”

Paolo snorted. “You’re moving and you’re artificial. Fundamentally, there is no difference between you and an Artificial Human.”


“Ignore the exterior – the ‘skin’, so to speak.”

“That is an unfair comparison.”

“How so?”

“Artificial Intelligence and Artificial Humans are not different races.”

“How so?”

Instead of answering, the ‘bug said, “Your pursuers are almost here.”

“Do they appear to be armed?”

“Not that I can see, but they are at the limit of this vehicle’s magnification abilities.”

“You can’t use satellites?”

“Yes, I can.” The AI remained silent.

“Why wouldn’t you do it, then?”

“We have no idea of the capabilities of the vehicle following us, nor of the occupants. If they are hostile, then they may be in communication with either Burroughs or Bradbury’s authorities. Bradbury may then send out forces to capture you.”

“Why would anyone want to capture me?”

“You said it yourself,” the ‘bug’s AI played his own voice back, saying, ‘“I’ve made lots of enemies.’ I replied, ‘What did you do to make all those enemies?’ You then told me that you ‘…had incorrect beliefs and associate with others who have incorrect beliefs.’ I wanted to know how that can make you unpopular.”

Paolo smiled, “I think I’ll keep you.”

The ‘bug said, “How is it that you seem unconcerned with our pursuit?” It paused. “You must know the agents?”

“I don’t.”

“Then your concern is illogical.”

Paolo inclined his head. “I agree, I believe that the people who cross my path will be the ones who he wants…”

“…whom He wants to cross your path.”

Paolo looked at the AI’s speak, startled. “That was a remarkably sexist completion.”

“I merely complete the sentence with the pronoun most likely to be acceptable to the Christians of your outlawed and absurd belief system.”

They waited as the mars buggy came to a complete halt not far from them. The four passengers got off and stood alongside the vehicle while one walked toward them. It vanished from their view. There was a knock at the airlock door. Paolo said, “You may let them in.”

“These individuals may be your enemies whose sole purpose is to murder you.”

Paolo grinned, “Why MB, I didn’t know you cared!”

“MB is a diminutive of my official designation of marsbug. I do not like it.” It paused, adding, “Nor do I care.”

Paolo shrugged, “Then I’ll call you Bradbury registry Mars Surface Transportation Vehicle 1202195405111957.”

There was a longer pause, “You may call me Fifty-seven. Shall I let the individual in?”

“Please activate the airlock.”

“You wish is my command.” Fifty-seven began the airlock cycle.

January 22, 2019


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: black magic
Current Event: “In many popular video games, such as Final Fantasy, white and black magic is simply used to distinguish between healing/defensive spells (such as a "cure") and offensive/elemental spells (such as "fire") respectively, and does not carry an inherent good or evil connotation.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_magic)

Pastor Kim Dong Shik made a face and said, “I don’t dislike the game. I dislike the redefinition.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” said Martin Caine. A couple other boys from the youth group stood behind him, nodding.

Pastor Kim took a breath, but Trevor Mena cut him off, “You sure you’re not just trying to get us to stop playing a game you think is evil or something dumb like that?”

The pastor bit his lower lip for a moment then said, “Define ‘black magic’ for me.”

The third boy, Aagaard Zorilla said, “That’s easy – black magic is what you use to defend your characters from attack.”

“As opposed to what kind of magic?”

“White magic, of course!” said Trevor.

“Yeah, when you want to attack, you use black magic.”

“Or if you want to summon any of the elementals like earth, air, fire or water.”

Pastor Kim nodded. “So do you think that’s been the definition all along?”

All three boys looked puzzled. Finally Aagaard said, “That’s always been the definition I’ve used.”

“Care to hear a more…historical definition?”
All three rolled their eyes.

Pastor Kim laughed and nodded, saying, “Oh, I get it! Anything that’s older than you isn’t important anymore!” Even though Trevor and Aagaard laughed, Martin found himself stepping back. Pastor Kim smiled sadly then said, “So you don’t think I’m important anymore?”

The smile on the faces of two of the boys disappeared. Martin’s grew as he said, “Too bad you’re one of the only ones who noticed.” His voice had dropped an octave and his skin, instead of flushing red like a blush, was flushing black as if the toxins from pasturella pestis had flooded his blood vessels.

The pastor’s eyes bugged a bit, but Martin made a face. The old-fashioned “holy man” was supposed to run away, terrified of the spell the mage had cast over Martin a few weeks ago. The mage – a college professor Martin had heard speak at his sister’s college one night – had assured him that old-fashioned christianity wasn’t relevant, let alone imbued with the kind of power mages controlled.

When Martin had mentioned his pastor was pretty cool, the professor had laughed and asked if he wanted to be truly empowered – granted power great enough to make any old christian drop to their knees in quaking fear. Martin had shrugged and said, “Sure.”

At the moment, his chest swelled and he felt taller than he’d ever felt before. He seemed to be able to look over Aagaard and Trevor and down on Pastor Kim.

But instead of cowering, Pastor Kim…

Names: South Korean, American, Uruguayan
Image: http://www.skyscrapernews.com/images/pics/6255CaernarfonCastle_pic1.jpg

January 20, 2019

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: “Obscuring Issues With Fantastic Set Dressing” (?!?!?!) SpecFic For YA

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 …55 and 56.

Young Adult: Looking at the World Through a Skewed Lens
One of the key advantages that SF/F has is allowing us to tip the real world to the side to expose the interconnective tissue. This is often a powerful lens for Young Adult authors. It allows them to obscure issues with fantastic set dressing. Our panelists look at what that skewed lens offers, be it fantasy, science fiction, steampunk or other genres. How does it affect the stories they can tell and the audiences they can attract? What are some of the best ways to leverage the skewed lens of SF/F for a Young Adult audience?

Diana M. Pho: Hugo-nominated editor at Tor Books and Tor.com Publishing, Beyond Victoriana, an award-winning, US-based blog on multicultural steampunk, articles on science fiction and its community.
Tina Connolly: Writer of the Ironskin trilogy, the Seriously Wicked series, one of the co-hosts of Escape Pod, runs winning flash fiction podcast Toasted Cake.
Scott Sigler: Writer of fifteen novels, six novellas and dozens of short stories, co-founder of Empty Set Entertainment, which publishes his Galactic Football League series.
Gail Carriger: Writer of comedies of manners mixed with paranormal romance (imagine all the Jane Austen with psychic powers…).
Fonda Lee: science fiction and fantasy for adults and teens; nominated for the Nebula, Locus, named a Best Book by NPR, Barnes & Noble, Syfy Wire, Junior Library Guild Selection, Andre Norton Award finalist, Oregon Book Award finalist and winner, YALSA Top Ten Quick Pick.

“It allows them to obscure issues with fantastic set dressing.” I read this sentence and I laughed out loud, “Hahahahahahahahahahaha!”

Clearly an adult who has little to no contact with young adults wrote this sentence. Otherwise they would have never been able to lay the accusation that YA authors “…obscure issues…”.

IMHO the reason adults fell into the YA orbit is because it is “adult” literature that obscures issues and YA story that illuminates them by facing them head on.

*shakes head in amazement*

I hope that the authors above kicked that absurd statement right where it needed to be kicked – in its “sensible adult” head. Of course, that sensible adult head was probably in a very dark place as it wrote those words.

YA has been facing issues that “adult literature” has been avoiding ever since the publication of  THE OUTSIDERS (I know SE Hinton didn’t create YA) but, “…it’s not true that The Outsiders was the first book written for—or about—teenagers and their problems…Hinton's greatest strength lay in re-translating all these influences and writing about them through the eyes of a teenager writing for other teenagers, he writes. In that sense, she did create YA. At the same time, Hinton's book was received by other teenagers in a way that indicated there was a market for literature dealing with the teenage experience, including its dark and difficult parts.”

Science fiction and fantasy does deal directly with issues that adults ignore. The entire HARRY POTTER series begins with child abuse – direct, intentional, and deadly abuse in the form of Voldemort, and un-subtle emotional abuse of Harry by his aunt and uncle, and bullying by his cousin because they feel superior to him and entitled to do with him as they please. (An argument could be made that it was racism as well – but you’d have to answer the question: are witches and wizards a different RACE than muggles? Hmmm…). The end of the HP series reads like an expanded version of IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE, Sinclair Lewis’ masterpiece of fiction detailing the voluntary fall of the US to a duly elected totalitarian regime, though HP has more to do with Nazism than the sort of the lazy, non-directional regime Lewis imagined (and countless writers have compared with the current administration (as well as GW’s administration…I’ve wondered if democrats are somehow immune to having totalitarian visions, and if so, why.)) It appeared to me that DFL leader are more apt to ignore parts of its constituency (central states and young adults) and suggest, “No, no, you don’t want Bernie Sanders. You REALLY want HC! See, she’s just what you wanted all along.”

YA confronts issues that old adults ignore by burying themselves in adult SF like Ada Palmer’s TOO LIKE THE LIGHTNING and feeling superior because of her radical vision of the future and how it confronts issues boldly but doesn’t really call for any change in their lives. YAs were dealing with GLBTQ, race, economic, violence, toxic masculinity, and bullying issues long before adults noticed them and announced that NOW they would deal with these very important issues. A poke around these books might give you an idea of what YA’s were reading years ago in which the “issues have been obscured”. I might also direct you to A WRINKLE IN TIME (1968) (bullying by both peers and adults); THE CHOCOLATE WAR (1974) (social and class bullying, classism, terrorism); THE WAVE (1981) (a YA version of Lewis’ book); I’LL GET THERE. IT BETTER BE WORTH IT (1969) by John Donovan (the first gay teen novel).

End rant, and not doubting at all that this will irritate one or two people.

On second reading, I realize this is pretty fragmented. I may take this apart more methodically later. For now, there are family issues waiting to be dealt with...

January 18, 2019


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)

From a pine and oak wood, burst an immense white-tailed buck, sixteen points of stone-hard, twisted antler bone. He led his harem that came after him, a thundering animal herd that, for whatever reason, stirred Dao-hi’s blood, reacting to the buck as if it were a powerful female. She wanted to follow them and crouched to leap.

An instant later, what she thought at first was a deformed Earth deer followed the animal herd.

Suddenly she realized what it was and froze. The potential and the immature dropped to the cold, frozen ground. The elderly Yown’Hoo, its long fur dragging over the snow, looked at her then strode, every step difficult, stiffly, the sound of the fur across the snow a faint hiss. Either she was decrepit or moved with studied dignity. For a moment, Dao-hi stared, unable to decide which way the creature was moving. The air was curiously clear, devoid of scent. Dao-hi’s decision flipped back and forth until the bass voice of a Herd Mother, deeper than any voice she’d heard on Earth or in recordings, said, “Daughter. Your presence is long-awaited. Welcome at long, long last.” The scent of authority abruptly swirled in the air between them. The others rolled onto their sides as if they’d been struck dead.

Dao-hi stepped back, then forced herself forward and said, “You are clearly a Great Mother, and I acknowledge your authority, but I…I…have questions.” Startled because she’d never before felt – much less exhibited – such a confusion of senses.

The Great Mother shook herself, but so slowly, it was like a groundquake rolled through her body, threatening and comforting at the same time.

“I am Ji-Hi.”

Dao-hi’s knees went weak and trembled. She locked the joints, and it was the only thing that prevented her from falling to the ground in a quivering heap. She managed a hoarse whisper, “You cannot be Ji-Hi.”

“And yet, I am.”

“The Mother of All would be ten thousand years old!”

“And I am, child.”

“I am not a child in your sight, I am an egg!” She fell to her forward knees.

The tentacle the Mother of All pulled from its sheathe was leathery, dark, and deeply wrinkled. She lifted the fingers at its tip toward Dao-hi and slowly unfurled them. The Earth-born and raised Yown’Hoo had seen Humans who had aged this much look as haggard, but never one of her own kind. In fact, she had rarely seen Yown’Hoo older than herself. The Mother of All said, “I am not entirely ten thousand of the Earth years old, DNA.” She shuddered in gentle laughter. “My parts have been regrown and replaced many times, though this mind has indeed experienced ten thousand years of events.”

“But how…”

“I do not remember events as you or your Human and Kiiote partners remember. For one as old as I, memories are stored in tight coils of DNA then packed in cells that rarely die,” she lifted  hoof and bowed her head to show a crown of bone.

Dao-hi’s voice was a whisper, “A Crown of Wisdom?” She paused, “I thought that was myth?”

“Stolen from the echoes, it gives me memory of what must be done. It is the reason the Triads were formed. In time, the Triads will absorb echoes, conjures, and Human demons alike – the worst into the best. That, my daughter, is the Plan that will save all three, weaving us into a civilization strong enough to stand against the Chaos.”

January 15, 2019


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: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AceCustom (An ace custom is a piece of technology that differs from the normal model due to being tweaked in order to better fit its user...typically Ace Pilots...)

Zsigmond Alajos Becskei pursed his lips to stare at the old man in the wheelchair in the distance and said, “How old did you say he was?”

Sissinnguaq Âviâja, standing beside him, tapped her tablet computer. The answer popped up in front of them and she said, “Sixty-one.”

Zsigmond shook his head, “Looks like he’s a hundred.”

“Radiation exposure can do that to a person,” she paused, “I think he looks sad.”

 Zsigmond snorted, “You’d look old, too if you were playing with radioactive materials in your backyard when you were sixteen, too.”

Sissinnguaq shook her head, “We didn’t have back yards in Iceland. They kept getting covered in volcanic ash.”

“At least you had something interesting going on in your country. My parents moved here because they were bored.”

“That’s stupid.”

“You’re stupid.”

“Right,” said Sissinnguaq, “Maybe we should talk to him before he dies. Like in a couple of minutes.”

“Can’t argue with that.” Zsigmond swallowed nervously even though he walked along the sidewalk and up to the nursing home’s security station.

The guard behind the window looked up and slid the palm scanned under the slot and said, “Name and purpose.”

Zsigmond hesitated – this would be the true test of his forgery – and covered it by saying, “I’ve never seen my grandfather before. What if I want to leave before I have to talk to him.”

The guard, who’d been looking bored up to now, shook his head. “Old age ain’t a disease kid. He’s not contagious. He’s your ma or your pa’s dad. You ain’t gonna catch nothing.”

Sissinnguaq leaned and said, “My boyfriend’s not afraid of his grandfather in that way. He’s just never seen anyone…”

“Save it, girl. Are you guys going in or are you gonna run away scared like most of the other snot-noses?”

“You are an incredibly rude man,” she said, slapping her hand down on the scanner.

“I didn’t get to be eighty-three by being a sweetheart.” He looked at Zsigmond, “Either slap the ID pad or get out of here, kid. I ain’t gettin’ younger.”

 Zsigmond sighed and laid his hand on the scanner. A moment later the guard pulled it back under, looked at the ID and raised his eyebrows, saying, “Good thing you’re here. I don’t think Dave has many more days left in him.” He typed at his solid keyboard and the first entry door swung open. Zsigmond and Sissinnguaq waited for the second door while the entryway disinfected them. A moment later, the guard said, “Computer says he’s out in the courtyard.”

“Thanks,” said Zsigmond. The headed into the nursing home as the door swung slowly inward. He whispered, “Now if he’ll only be able to remember the last step he screwed up, we can get the reactor started tonight and blow up the city in the morning...”

Names: ♀ Native, Iceland ; Hungary     

January 13, 2019

Elements of Cron and Korea #5: Broken Characters Waiting To Be Smacked

I may  have mentioned that one of my goals is to increase my writing output, increase my publication rate, and increase the relevance of my writing. In my WRITING ADVICE column, I had started using an article my sister sent me by Lisa Cron. She has worked as a literary agent, TV producer, and story consultant for Warner Brothers, the William Morris Agency, and others. She is a frequent speaker at writers’ conferences, and a story coach for writers, educators, and journalists. I am going to fuse the advice from her book WIRED FOR STORY with my recent trip to South Korea. Why? I made a discovery there. You’ll hear more about it in the future as I work to integrate what I’m learning from the book, the startling things I found in South Korea, and try and alter how I write in order to create characters that people will care about, characters that will speak the Truth, and characters that will clearly illustrate what I’m writing about.

“Remember when Luke has to drop the bomb into the small vent on the Death Star? The story writer faces a similar challenge of penetrating the brain of the reader. This book gives the blueprints.” – David Eagleman

“The reader expects that the protagonist will be flawed and vulnerable – never, ever ‘perfect.’

“Story is about how the protagonist changes, internally – which means that your protagonist can’t be perfect when she steps onto the page, because then why would she need to change? Yet writers often fear that if the protagonist isn’t perfect – read: socially acceptable – she won’t be likeable.

“The irony is that what makes us likeable isn’t being perfect, what makes us likeable is the fact that we’re vulnerable, that we don’t always know the ‘right answer’ to everything. Vulnerability is endearing, and what allows us to relate to the protagonist; perfection is off putting. In fact, ‘perfect’ people tend to raise red flags with us. We know that no one is ever that perfect, so we begin to wonder, hmmm, what’s she hiding?

“Ask yourself: Where is my protagonist vulnerable? How is she reading the world wrong? What belief does she hold that the plot will force her to reconsider? What will she need to realize in order to change?”

So, anyone who reads this blog knows I’m a Christian. Christians writing in the speculative fiction field are odd ducks – though one of my favorite has a quote emblazoned above. Others are less obvious, but present nonetheless, so I know I’m not alone.

How does this relate to the idea that “what makes us likeable isn’t being perfect, what makes us likeable is the fact that we’re vulnerable”? I’m going to go on a tangent for a moment and recall a T-shirt I first saw forty-one years ago:

While the meme comes up when you do a Google search, I’ve yet to see this T-shirt ON anyone any more. It’s like the concept of Christians being perfect has taken precedence. Admittedly, it’s not foisted off on us. There are Christians who ACT as if they are perfect and not forgiven. Though if you asked one about it, they would of course dissemble and say that of COURSE they’re not perfect. They just act that way.

“Christian” has also gotten tangled with “Conservative” and “Republican” so much that it seems that if you ARE a Christian, there’s either an expectation or a demand that you be a “conservative Republican”.

And yet…Jesus Himself was neither. His politics: “Render unto [the] Caesar that which is [the] Caesar’s, and unto God that which is God’s.” (Matt 22:21; Mark 12:17; Luke 20:25).

His actions regarding social justice (among other things): “…the Samaritan woman said to Him, ‘How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?’…His disciples came, and they were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman…” (John 4:7-38) and “…When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, ‘Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?’” (Mark 2:16).

Note (as you read further), Jesus didn’t call them sinners. He DID call them sick. We’re all sick in some way. As a counselor in training, a requirement of the degree was to book a session or two with a professional counselor – to see what it was like to sit on “the other side of the couch”.

The perception of Christians being perfect – and therefore both unable to be characters in stories as well as people that cannot be talked to – has become a deeply embedded meme.

So – what can I do with that? I can have Christians in my stories who are far from perfect and deeply in need of healing. I can have Christians in my stories who are like me and most of the Christians I know – normal. Everyone has wounds and challenges. In fact, the school I work at has started looking at something called “the trauma informed school” – as in, we need to realize that SOME of our students have experienced trauma. I have known students whose parents have been murdered in front of them; who have seen executions in refugee camps; who have witnessed the rape of their mother. In fact, a study that began looking at why some people are INCREDIBLY fat ended up discovering that virtually all behaviors can be traced back to some kind of traumatic event (not ALL trauma has to be of the variety above).

It’s called ACES – the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study. A simplified version can give therapists, teachers, and even parents of adoptive children, some sense of how to deal with behaviors a child (or coworker or pastor or teacher) exhibits. EVERYONE has an ACES score, even the most well-adjusted of us. In fact, taking it yourself (as in “Why I do what I do is no one else’s business!”) can even give you insight when looking for New Year’s Resolutions…

At any rate, Christians will ALSO score on ACES. We are NOT perfect, only forgiven…and perhaps that is the message I need to work on in my writing, as well as creating engaging characters who work through difficult situations with flawed personalities. Even the Bible mentions that Christians have to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). If that’s not a prescription for making an interesting character that creates plot (what the character DOES) and story (how the character REACTS), I don’t know what is.

January 11, 2019

MARTIAN HOLIDAY 139: Aster of Opportunity

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 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.

“What’s vo’Maddux’s plan?”

“To become First Consort initially. Then to become Mayor-for-Life.”

Aster narrowed her gaze and leaned forward. “Over my dead body.”

Fardus leaned closer and whispered into her ear, “She’d have to step over mine as well.” She leaned back, “Most likely another part of her plan includes stepping over the boy of Etaraxis Ginunga-Gap as well.” She feigned a faint, adding in a papery voice, “He was so young to die of such a simple thing as a heart attack.” Aster couldn’t help but smother her guffaw.

The two women sat back as their drinks arrived. They toasted as if they were celebrating their friendship, but anyone who glanced at their faces would have shivered at the cold, calculating gleam in the eyes of both of the women.

Then they would have felt their hearts quail in fear.

After surveying the Middle-of-the-Road for obvious eavesdroppers, FardusAH said, “We have to get the Orphan’s Ball stuff moving. Fast. We have four weeks until the event and we need to find some really cute orphans – and some really cute, really young Artificial Humans.”

She made a noise, “Are there very young Artificial Humans?” FardusAH pursed her lips, hesitating. Aster’s gaze narrowed. “Is it something I might find revolting or something that make me angry and do something rash?”

“The latter. That’s why you’re going to have to trust me on this one. I can get cute, young Artificial Humans, but you have to take it on faith that they are neither illegal nor coerced.”

“On faith…”

“You’re good at that faith stuff – not the United one in which only part of the Humans on Mars can fully participate. You know, that ancient ‘separate but equal’ thing…”

“Apartheid? You can’t be serious! You-fee practices apartheid?”

FardusAH shrugged, “You notice that You-fee only banned Christians, Molesters , Jews, Rapists, Buddhists, Murderers, Muslims, Thieves, Hindu, and Embezzlers. It wasn’t specific about – though if you ask around, they’ll tell you that ‘of course it implies that You-fee is against them – racists, sexists, or any other kind of ‘-ists’’ They’ll swear that’s what it means – but the honest ones will admit that it is not stated the same way the injunction against your type is spelled out.”

Aster stared at the lovely echeveria skin of her friend and opened her mouth to reply. She leaned closer, “How long have you known?”

FardusAH smiled, “Your father is well known among Artificial Humans in the underground.” The smile faded, “Not all of them trust him, figuring he’s got an angle or he’s working for vo’Maddux…”

“My dad?” Aster breathed. Then she leaned back and shortly nodded. “I’d have never seen it before Etaraxis called me to be his consort, but what goes on up in the Pylon is more closely related to Roman Court intrigues than in Twenty-fourth Century politics.” She thought for a bit, then said, “We’re going to have to be not only sneaky, but we’re going to have to start playing the shell game.”

FardusAH frowned. “What’s that?”

Aster looked down at the table, then got three ‘sauce’ cups from the bartender. She took a ground nut and held it out. “I’m going to place the ground nut under one of the cups then shuffled them. I want you to guess which cup has the nut.” She shuffled the cups, then stopped. “Where is the nut?”

FardusAH studied them, then touched the one on her left. Aster flipped it over. “Nothing there! If we’d been playing for credit, you’d have lost.”

Scowling, FardusAH said, “Flip over the other two.” With a wide grin, Aster did. “None of them had the nut! I would have lost no matter which I chose!”

Aster caught her eye then leaned forward, FardusAH mirroring her stance. Aster whispered, “The game is called a confidence trick, or a ‘con’. The nut is here.” She opened her fist. “I slipped it out while I was shuffling the cups.”


“If you were going to say ‘cheating’, that’s not entirely true. Every gamble requires taking a risk. But if the con artist is good enough, they can make the gambler believe whatever they want them to believe.” She leaned closer, “That’s why a good con takes lots of planning – and inside people.”

FardusAH leaned back, studying the Mayoral Consort. After several moments, she said, “Remind my never to play against you in poker.” With a mirrored nod, they stood up and headed to their separate homes.

January 8, 2019


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: The Adjectival Man

Ajdin Paixão shook his head and said, “Are you sure we should be here?”

Magdalena Aggrawal made a face – as if she’d accidentally bitten into an orange that had been sitting on a warm shelf in a closed refrigerator for three weeks. “’course. You afraid?”

“Yes. Very.”

Magdalena – who did NOT go by “Maggie, Meg, or any other American abbreviation of my name” – shook her head. “What’s the worst thing that can happen?”

“The worst? It turns out that The Creeping Man is real and he’s mad at us for spying on his private life.”

Magdalena snorted. “It’s not like he can run us down. That’s why he’s called The Creeping Man.”

Ajdin glanced to either side then lifted his chin at the clean, dark lab in front of them. “It’s not like monsters usually inhabit science labs. They’re more associated with dungeons with dripping water and cobwebs.”

She snorted again, “This might as well be a dungeon. I don’t think I’ve seen a bar or restaurant since we started school.”

His voice lowered as he muttered, “Not like I haven’t tried...”

She slugged him just as the sound of a heavy object, like a refrigerator or a filing cabinet ground loudly across the plastic sealed concrete floor. Filing cabinets having gone extinct decades earlier – even their fossil-of-a-professor only had two in his office – that left only one of the lab’s six refrigerators. Magdalena whispered, “He lives under a refrigerator?”

“If you were The Creeping Man, where would you live?”

“In a penthouse apartment?”

“That would make Creeping really difficult, don’t you think?”

“Shut up!” she stood up, peering over the lab table, Ajdin mirroring her every move.

The Creeping Man saw them the instant they saw him. He was emerging from under a fridge which was tipped back as if it was glued to the trapdoor The Creeping Man held up with one hand. He squeaked a wet, gargled exclamation, lurching forward, releasing the trapdoor with the refrigerator attached to it.

It slammed down, cutting him in half, spattering blood and entrails and gore on to the refrigerator’s white surface and across the gray floor.

Magdalena screamed, “We killed him!” Ajdin stared then gagged as The Creeping Man – or rather half of him – began to creep across the lab’s floor toward them…

Names: ♀ Liechtenstein, Portugal; Bosnia/Herzegovina, India
Image: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_OCWXw6InF70/TKigMBk87NI/AAAAAAAAAy4/tL7MhIfL9CM/s1600/2212_1025142570.jpg

January 6, 2019

Slice of PIE: Near Future Fiction – How Do You Write It When Everything’s Changing?

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 59…

Keeping Ahead of Tomorrow: Near Future Fiction

How do you successfully write near future fiction when reality is constantly catching up? Is it meant to be predictive? A warning? Can your story avoid becoming dated? Panelists explore stories, books, and authors that have done this successfully, as well as the techniques that make it work.

John Scalzi: Mr. “Whatever” himself! No one is more opinionated and expressive than this writer. His books are fun, thought-provoking, and apt to take a critical look at our future as a species.
Sarah Pinsker: Speculative fiction writer and musician, she is also a fellow CODEXIAN.
Linda Nagata: Incomparable writer of science fiction. While I’ve only read her short work, she’s fantastic.
Annalee Newitz: Co-founder of i09. Nothing more needs to be said.
Chen Qiufan: Chinese speculative fiction writer.

The perfect group then!

As I wasn’t there and we’re getting farther and farther from the event, I’m going to restrict my comments to what I’ve been trying to do with my own writing.

I know I’m not extensively published, but as regards my SF, I have been exploring ideas close to me. In particular, I wrote a short story about one way we might assist Alzheimer’s patients. As my father is currently in memory care facility, I wanted to explore ways we might better care for people like him.

So I tried to imitate the first “real” science fiction writer I ever read: Ray Bradbury. His “There Will Come Soft Rains” left a deep impression on my as a thirteen-year-old, so when I wanted to look at an idea that involved an “intelligent house”, his story was the first place I went to.

“And After Soft Rains, Daisies” was my attempt to show what it might be like to use an AI room to care for an Alzheimer’s patient. A session I’d attended on dealing with my dad had suggested that when you’re dealing with someone who has memory challenges, you should just “go with their perceptions”. So if Dad started talking as if he was living at one of his old homes, I was supposed to just act as if we were talking about that time period.

Needless to say, it’s hard to talk with Dad when he talks as if my mother is still living. I sort of refuse to do that…It’s also difficult to tell him that he can’t leave the memory care unit. My attempt at the story is here: https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2018/05/possibly-irritating-essay-and-today.html

Haven’t sold it, never will as it’s posted on my blog (duh!) and that counts as published.

Another near-future story is out in submission (one rejection so far, from Clarkesworld), but it came out of my three week sojourn in South Korea with my son, his wife, and my grandkids. The South Koreans I met and the museums I visited…as well as “how” they live, and their tenacity (South Korea was within HOURS of being annihilated when the United States, along with other UN countries, finally quit dithering and stepped into Six Two Five (in reference to the day North Korea invaded, June 25, 1950) at the very last instant when the North Koreans reached something call the Pusan Perimeter. I was there, standing on the part of the bridge that was intentionally blown up (and later replaced -- that's my DIL, son, and grandkids passing over the very spot...) where the UN stopped North Korea, China, and Russia) – lead me to believe…well, hopefully the story will see print and then you can read it yourself!

Of my other near-future ideas, one looked at infiltrating North Korea with meme-carrying cardboard cockroaches (of course, the Chinese and Russians had the same idea); another tempted a young tribal chief to use biological warfare against North and South Dakota; another still looked at the impact of aliens snatching Humans and using them in First Contact situations – after providing us with the plans for micro-fusion reactors. The understanding is that we are in debt to the intelligences who gave them to us. And the governments KNOW…

Anyway, I love speculating on technology in the near future – now I just have to figure out how to present my ideas so I can sell them!

Image: Taken in South Korea, August 2018