Update: Reading, Writing & The Deathless Home Improvement Project

So, here we are again!

Reading: Reading Lord of the World aloud to the family intermittently. Around 40% of the way through. This will mark the third or maybe fourth time I’ve read it, it keeps getting better, in the sense of more terrifyingly accurate. (my emphasis)

But what was chiefly to be feared was the positive influence of Humanitarianism: it was coming, like the kingdom of God, with power; it was crushing the imaginative and the romantic, it was assuming rather than asserting its own truth;it was smothering with bolsters instead of wounding and stimulating with steel or controversy. It seemed to be forcing its way, almost objectively, into the inner world. Persons who had scarcely heard its name were professing its tenets; priests absorbed it, as they absorbed God in Communion—he mentioned the names of the recent apostates—children drank it in like Christianity itself. The soul “naturally Christian” seemed to be becoming “the soul naturally infidel.”

Persecution, cried the priest, was to be welcomed like salvation, prayed for, and grasped; but he feared that the authorities were too shrewd, and knew the antidote and the poison apart. There might be individual martyrdoms—in fact there would be, and very many—but they would be in spite of secular government, not because of it. Finally, he expected, Humanitarianism would presently put on the dress of liturgy and sacrifice, and when that was done, the Church’s cause, unless God intervened, would be over.

One is not allowed to question the assumptions of modernity; one’s character is up for assassination; if one is important enough, one is shouted down, de-platformed, shadow-banned. For now.

Also for now, we little fish are safe, we are only slandered in general as part of a general mob of untouchables who are not to be heard. We will see what tomorrow will bring. Could go either way, with either enough high profile celebrities defecting from the hate mobs to reveal the emperor’s nakedness, or perhaps those driving the mobs manage to put the hammer down and punish all badthink. We will see.

Also still reading Polanyi’s The Great Transformation. With these Marxists (and, despite protestation to the contrary, he uses utterly Marxist reasoning, so, quacks like a duck) you must read to the end, in my experience. Even the more mainstream Marxists usually can’t resist the call for blood, but follow a standard propaganda method format. Lead with pity and woe at all the injustice, followed by telling us how we get past the current oppressive regimes (spoiler: by radicalizing everything and everyone), how great it will be once we’re in charge, and save the wrong have no rights and will need to be exterminated part for the end.  Polanyi did lead with woe and oppression, and followed with how it’s all the capitalist’s fault – so, again, we’ll see.

Related image
A photograph intended to enhance your blog reading experience. All symbolical and everything.

Writing: Last week was bad. Only got in about 10 hours of writing. The middle of the week was completely unproductive. Wednesday, had a phone job interview. It was also our late son Andrew’s 27th birthday. He died just short of his 21st. Good intentions weren’t enough to get me through.

On the positive side, just sent out the draft of The White Handled Blade to a couple beta readers, and am waiting to hear back from a couple more before shipping it off. Here’s your chance to read a YA Arthurian story set in modern day Wales. If that’s your thing. It really isn’t mine – at least, I thought it wasn’t – but ended having a lot of fun writing it. Mostly because I threw in the small but not light kitchen sink of everything I found out about Arthurian Wales. Lots of hard to pronounce words.

The plan for this week includes:

  • Finishing up It Will Work, a sort of comedy of manners with nanotech, space aliens and explosions. I kid. A little. About 85% done, I reckon.
  • Final pass revisions on Rock, and starting the rejection letter collection process.
  • Working more on either The Measure of Our Days, a story that’s either close to being done or in drastic need of extensive rewrite, I can’t yet tell which, or Line of Sight, a new story from my ideas list I wrote a few hundred words on, or – something else. Questions with Line of Sight is: can I live up to the setup? Can Flannery O’Conner’s basic approach be applied to Military SciFi? Stay tuned!

Finally, the current Home Improvement Project has inched forward. Running into more engineering issues than anticipated attaching a wrought iron (style) fence to a brick wall. But I’ve at least gotten to the point where that’s an issue!

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Day 2: The Writing Update

Day 2 of the Plan. Day 1, I did get the hours in on ‘writing’ although what that really entailed was getting everything straightened out on my desk (funny how much crap can accumulate on a flat surface if you don’t use it for its intended purpose for 10 months!). So no actual time spent on the book/stories except in getting the files organized (and located!).

Also got one job application out – heard back in just over 12 hours, setting up a phone interview (the job is in London). So – who knows? I could be an ex-pat writing in old Roman Londinium between doing my part to finance equipment internationally. Maybe. We’ll see.

And am feeling well. What do you know? Praise God through Mary, Joseph and the angels.

Today, cleaning up more old business. You guys are the best. Just finished responding to the beta readers for the story Rock – only 4 months later! In my defense, those were some pretty hairy months. I’m humbled and grateful for the feedback & encouragement. A couple of you did very detailed reading and commenting – wow, just for some schmuck on the internet’s beginner’s story. Very generous of you.

Several themes recurred: the opening is unclear/too slow/not informative enough about what’s going on. Fair enough. Will correct. A couple continuity errors cropped up – thanks.

In general, the plan is to spend the remaining hours today making a couple structural changes and tightening it up a little. Then, scan through the markets and send it off to somebody. Thanks again!

Next up, I think I’ll try to finish the YA Arthurian story The White Handled Blade because it’s close, then impose on the good natures of my current (and any future) beta readers.

And lay some bricks out front. Current status of that misadventure:

IMG_5190
Facing North. Impressive weed there at 5:00 o’clock.
IMG_5189
Facing South.

22 year old son in from TAC for a couple weeks did the excavation along the curb (hard on me ‘ol back!) so now I just need a couple hours on my hands and knees to take the little walk out past this segment of planter. Then can start in on the little columns at the ends which will support the iron fence. Really down to the more or less fun, less back-breaking part of the job. Then do it all again for the identical, symmetrical planter on the south end…

Finally, did finish that book on r/K selection (micro review: Um, not convinced) and made further progress with Polanyi’s Great Transformation (micro: there better be serious time off in Purgatory for reading these Marxist goobers) and do want (and in fact, have started) to write posts/reviews of them.

But for now, I got stuff to do! And I feel good enough to do it! Wheeee!

 

Writing Update 6/15/2018

First off, again, thanks so much to my beta readers. I think I’ll have time this weekend to read and respond. I am so grateful for each of you taking the time to read and comment.

I will revise the Rock, and see what possible venues there may be for it, and suck it up and send it out. So far, I only have 1 rejection letter in my collection. That will not do!

Then I’ll pick out another story, and send  it out, if you all are game.

Image result for classic 50s sci fiNext, the flash fiction has now stopped being flash fiction, in the sense that instead of each ‘chapter’ merely being me answering the question: what happens next? I’ve started to think out 3-4 chapters ahead. (If you think there have been plot twists so far, ha! You ain’t seen nothing yet!). Since I’m setting up an epic ending in my head at least, I’d maybe better just write the thing as a story instead of doling it out as faux flash fiction….

OK? I’d be very flattered if anyone was disappointed…. If I go this route, I’ll do my best to finish the story and make it available to anyone who want to be a beta reader.

Finally, I’m actually considering, or perhaps more accurately, fantasizing about, taking 6 months off in order to write the long-imagined book on American Catholic Education. But I’m 60, and there’s hardly a guarantee I’d be able to find an appropriate job in 6 months if I did so. I – we, really, this is a family decision – am still half a decade at least away from being able to retire with any security. If I did this, I’d need all the things I currently lack: discipline, focus, rigor, emotional toughness.

If you’re the praying type, I’d appreciate your prayers on this.

 

Flash Fiction: CH 6

CH 1   CH 2   CH 3   CH 4   CH 5

The leading edge of the wave that was the blob broke against the wall behind which was the room sheltering me. I was still looking at the scene from the view the team provided me, above and outside. Not sure how the team was doing it. Did they send a contingent, configured as a drone, just to provide me a suitable view? Not likely. More likely, they’d assembled a perspective they thought I could deal with from the mass of data millions of units provided, even though none of them actually held that perspective. They’re trying to tell me the truth through a visual story that’s technically a lie. The team probably doesn’t see it that way. Yet another philosophical discussion for later.

Suddenly, I was dropped back into my own head, and found myself in darkness, curled up against a wall behind the barrier the team had thrown up. I felt a shock through the barrier, a rumble through the floor and heard a swirling sound, like sand and water tossed by a big wave.

Some finger of the wave that had been the alien blob had entered the hole and filled the room. After a moment, I could hear the motion calm, then a sound like the sea withdrawing from the beach. After a few seconds of silence, the team disassembled the barrier. I was able to stand and walk back to the opening outside.

Twilight had come. In the gloam I could see faint blue light forming ribbons which weaved their way slowly toward me. The vast floor of the ruins was buried under what looked like sickly yellow sand. Dim blue dots were scattered across the dune. Some moved to join the ribbons, but some blinked out.

dune 2

 

The river of blue stopped about 10 meters from me, and formed itself into a mass about the size of a jet pack. After a minute more, no more ribbons formed. Any blue lights remaining on the dune blinked out.

The darkness defeated my unaided eyes. The visor enhanced the failing light. The team, or whatever part of it made up that meter-tall mass, faded from blue into gray.

“We apologize, Commander.”

“For what?”

“When we tried to communicate with the aliens, we could not make them understand why we needed to live.”

“So – you’re sorry you killed them?” Man, in 6 months of training, we never got this deep. I was hoping the team was OK, just having a little moment.

“We didn’t kill them.”

I spread my arms, gesturing at the massive pile of yellow sand. I shrugged, and gestured again, palms to the sky.

And froze. A faint yellow glow lit the middle of the pile. As I watched, yellow threads arose from the sand, intertwined, and formed a shape. A human shape. A familiar human shape.

Me.

“We are sorry. We had to tell them about you.”

Flash Fiction CH 4: Leave None Behind

CH 1   CH 2   CH 3

“You guys can just make a whole new batch, right? You do it all the time.”

“We welcome our new team members. They are not the same.”

We had scrambled up the scree and reached a level stretch of surface. I began to run. That blob/blimp thing was still nearby, almost overhead, and I had picked a route away from the direction it was moving. The team and I were in for a philosophical discussion, but not right this moment.

I checked the subspace comm for any word on our extraction. Nothing yet, but they’d probably wait to notify us once they were very near – why risk discovery? I kept running.

My team would generally ratchet down to a base number, around a million units, and basically vanish into the surface of my suit when not doing anything physical. That number provided enough collective brainpower, or whatever you call it, to do their base monitoring and intel work. When I looked down, I saw instead electric blue threads like a loose mesh covering my suit.

“30 degrees to your left, 217 meters is cover. Please make haste.” I felt a slight lightening of my body as I turned to run. The team was helping, millions of microscopic muscles pulling my legs and us toward whatever they’d spotted.

A tiny alarm sounded on the heads up. The display showed the blob-thing turning back towards us, trailing its sensor-threads like half an ugly head of yellow hair. I pushed even harder, winded though I was. The team seemed to grow. The blue mesh grew tighter as new threads were added. We began to move even faster.

Up against a jagged hillside I saw what looked to be the ruins of a hanger, huge open floor partially surrounded by 2 and a half walls. Twisted piles of material, similar in color and texture to the surface of the blob-thing but covered in yellow dust, were strewn about inside.

I could see a black hole at the base of the far wall. “You need to take shelter there,” the team instructed. “OK.” I sprinted. I noticed myself getting gradually heavier across the last 20 steps, until I dove headfirst into the hole and slid on the dusty floor about 5 meters to a stop. Heads up showed a chamber, maybe 4 by 4 by 12 meters, with another dark hole at the far end. My eyes adjusted in the semi darkness, and I could make out unaided the general outlines of the chamber.

I rose to my hands and knees, and took a quick, instinctual look at my suit.

The team was gone. No blue threads, no familiar voice in my head.

“Guys!” I stood and looked out through the circular hole back into the ruins. The team swarmed over the piles of material, and replicated and grew at a phenomenal rate. Soon, an electric blue mesh tower stood 20 meters high in the middle of the floor, streams of blue flowing to it from the rapidly-diminishing piles.

They next began disassembling the walls. The tower was 40 meters tall, and nearly half that wide. A warning sounder in the heads up. It was getting hot out there, all that transformation burned a lot of energy. I instinctively took a step back.

The alien blob reached the hanger. I’d seen images of thread leeches from ancient earth, how they could suddenly extend themselves from a blob into a thin thread to reach a passing victim. Suddenly, the team exploded upward and reached the belly of the beast. Heat distorted the thin atmosphere. Through the shimmering air, the team seemed to both penetrate and begin to enmesh the blob. A low roar I felt more than heard shook the ruins.

The alien sensor-tentacles shot forward with amazing speed, enveloping the team. Some seemed to melt on contact, but there always seemed to be more to take their places. The threads of blue were being covered and choked by threads of yellow.

“Team! What are you doing!” I shouted to no one from inside my helmet.

I guess not all the team had abandoned me, because I heard the answer clearly.

“We will leave none behind.”

Flash Fiction CH 3: A Prison of Silk

CH 1

CH2

silk

Running didn’t seem like all that great an idea, given the 1.3 g surface gravity makes it feel you’ve gained a sudden 70 lbs. Leaping nimbly or even effectively over a rocky scree while carrying the extra weight of a tween isn’t nearly as easy as one might think. Oh, and then there’s the giant bulbous tentacled monstrosity hovering above us. That, too.

“Where?” I gasped out to the team, scanning fruitlessly for anything that looked like cover.

“Doesn’t matter. Buying time. Keep moving.” The unnatural calm in the team’s voice wasn’t helping me be calm, quite the contrary. I half ran, half scrambled. The team aided me in that ineffable way of theirs, but we were still in the shadow of the alien thing.

“Doesn’t matter!?!” For the last 6 months, the team and I were, well, a team. 24/7. I quickly learned to ignore their presence at what might have been awkward moments, just as they had programmed themselves to be discreet when appropriate. But as hard as we tried, they remained remarkably alien. Way smarter and faster than me – that’s the point, after all – with the ability to protect and heal my body, do recon while monitoring a million comm channels, assume any form as needed and, in a pinch, make a lethal weapon from, say, scraps of fabric, forest litter and a dead cat.

My team is very handy. Also more than a little crazy, at least as this meat human counts crazy.

I ran. The tentacles caught us. Strands as thin as silk brushed delicately against us – against my suit and the million or so members of the team riding it. Slowly, gently, I slowed until I couldn’t move. Unlike when the team takes over my body, I could and did struggle against the alien control. Little good it did me.

I sensed, or rather, the team let me know, that they were fighting mightily. Whatever tech the blob was using, my guys were doing everything they could to keep it off me. Gradually the view through my helmet vanished as layer upon layer of silken thread squeezed out the light. I barely kept at bay the thought that I’d have preferred ‘blasted to plasma’ over this…

Then I heard something I never expected. “Progress,” said the team. “Good chance,” they added. But what I heard was – emotion? Just the tiniest edge on that too smooth to be human voice?

They don’t want to die – I get it, prime design criteria – but what I was getting was that they didn’t want *me* to die, either. And not just because I’m their only ticket off this rock. We were in this foxhole together.

“OK, guys, tell me what to do!” Nothing. Seems the team was too deep in to waste even the tiny resources needed to answer me. Or they – we – had already lost.

Then, for the third time, my team let me in. My mind became a part of their ‘mind’ or whatever you want to call it. This time, however, I was seeing things on their scale: something like a tube with organic yet alien walls, housing a river of nanites flowing up and a river flowing down.

War, on a microscopic scale. My team appeared as electric blue, shaped like tiny buses, while the alien nanites were miniatures of the enormous blob that held us entrapped. When they engaged, a little blue bus ramming or being gathered in by a somewhat larger rainbow blob, they didn’t fall dead or explode or anything like that. Instead, they merged, with now electric blue, now the pale rainbow coloring the tiny blended machine-thing.

Once the color settled down, indicating victory for one side or the other, the resulting nanite went through a sort of cytokinesis, leaving two tiny machines to join in the battle.

Way more blue machines were turning rainbow than the other way around. Plus, while my team had more than a million ‘members’ and could ramp up to several million in a pinch, the aliens seem to have a hundred or a million for each one of ours. Vast numbers of Rainbow machines flowed down the river, submerging the blue. I began to despair.

Then a thought occurred or was given to me: this is all way to slow for reality. A second is an eternity for a nanite, in real time I couldn’t even follow the action I thought I was watching.

This was a replay.

I was back in my own head, and opened my eyes. Light peeked, then flooded, in through my visor as the enwrapping threads were withdrawn. I could see the sky! The vast bulk overhead was heading off – somewhere else! I fell to my knees on the rocks.

“Trojan horse,” the team reported. Another note had entered their voice, a different emotion. “We needed time to decode and create an interface. Thank you for running.”

“Um, sure, no problem.” Silence. “You guys OK? You sound, I don’t know, sad?”

“We lost so many.”

Wednesday Update & r/K Strategy

Been a crazy busy/stressful last several days. Here’s where we stand:

A. Beta readers: Got feedback already from several of you – thanks! Just send the same story to a couple more people. Right now, I’ve got 6 beta readers! Wow! You guys are generous.

I want to give each of your comments proper consideration, which, given both time constraints and focus distracted by Real Life, I have yet to do. Thought a three-day weekend would give me an opportunity, but didn’t happen. Now looking at school camping trip this weekend (supposed to be 93F – oh, joy.) followed by the year end/graduation party next weekend, with Mrs Yardsale flying to SoCal to be with Elder Daughter for her graduation from an acting conservatory in L.A.. Meanwhile, 80 yr old mother in law lives with us, which is overall a beautiful thing for which I am grateful, but it does eat time and cramp any spontaneity. And all this is on top of Other Stuff that’s taking a toll on time, concentration, sleep – the usual.

Sooo – please be patient. I really do appreciate all your comments, and will make revisions as appropriate.

Rabbit
Don’t let those floppy ears and timid facade fool you. They all dream of being the Beast of Caerbannog

B. What’s up with this r/K theory of political alignment? Ran into it a few times over the last few months, even found a free book expounding it (by some anonymous author who says it’s his idea). Count me unimpressed.

Here’s how it goes:

In biology, r = rate of procreation; K = an environment’s carrying capacity for a particular creature. These variables became associated with two reproductive strategies, called r and K.

So: in an environment of relative abundance, an r strategy is proposed as best from a Darwinian/gene survival point of view: produce as many offspring as possible as fast as possible. Animals pursuing (in that weird sense in which animals are said to pursue gene-survival strategies ) an r-strategy exhibit 5 behaviors:

  1. Conflict avoidance. Avoid competing;
  2. Reproduce young and often;
  3. Breed indiscriminately – lots of mating with whoever is handy;
  4. Provide minimal or no care in raising the offspring;
  5. Show no group loyalty – no concern for other members of your tribe.

The r-strategy is said to occur in prey animals, where predation keeps their numbers down to a point where survival is never a question of competition for scarce resources. The population is always below the environment’s carrying capacity. The reasoning is thus: if there is plenty of food and water, don’t fight over it; if predators are likely to pick you off sooner rather than later, breed early and often; since survival is a numbers game, don’t waste time finding an optimal mate or raising your young; everybody gets eaten sooner or later, so no point worrying about who is getting eaten today.

The K-strategy is said to occur among predators, whose numbers tend to be constrained by the availability of prey. Thus, they live at or near the carrying capacity K of their environment. The optimal strategy is said to include:

  1. Competition is natural and unavoidable, so you’d better compete agressively;
  2. Only the most fit offspring survive, so delay and limit breeding to produce fewer but very fit offspring;
  3. Mates are chosen carefully and competed over, as the most fit mate produces the most fit offspring
  4. Large investment in raising the young, with both parents and the herd/pack taking care;
  5. Show loyalty and interest in the group you belong to, because that’s the group your mating prospects and survival depend upon.

You can see where this is going. Rabbits are the example typically given of an r-strategy species. It’s an appealing generalization – I recall seeing a video of a stoat hunting rabbits in a field full of rabbits. The stoat picked his target, and began to harass and exhaust it while the other rabbits continued to nibble away at the abundant grass. The stoat eventually killed it. (The stoat leapt on the rabbit’s back, bit through the rabbit’s spine at the neck, and then dragged the much larger prey away. Nasty little devils.)

Rabbit of Caerbannog | Villains Wiki | FANDOM powered by Wikia
You thought they were kidding about the Beast of Caerbannog? 

The other rabbits hardly looked up during the whole ordeal. Presumably, they went back to the warren and bred like, well, rabbits immediately after being sated with grass.

Wolves are given as the K-strategy poster-creatures. They compete with each other yet also hunt as a team, they spend comparatively large amounts of time and effort raising comparatively fewer young to be as fit as possible. Only mature, fit individuals get to breed. Wolves are loyal to their pack. They compete for the best mates.

Humans, it is proposed, are genetically disposed toward one or the other of these strategies, because our environments run to both extremes. When we’re settled and competing for resources with each other, K is successful and r would be out competed. But when we migrate to new places where there are no people, such as we hominids have done repeatedly for the last million years, then an r strategy wins. We’d just be wasting time with a K strategy, competing with each other when we could be out hunting the abundant game or gathering the abundant edibles – and breeding up a bunch of offspring.

Accordingly, r-strategy Americans end up Democrats or Socialists. while K-strategy Americans gravitate toward being Republicans or Libertarians.

There is more to read, which the author claims gives all the boring scientific evidence and reasoning for all this, but I think we’ve already arrived at a point where a boatload of prudent skepticism is called for. First off, like all sociobiological theories, there’s large dollop of Just So story here. The inquiring mind wants to know: how, exactly, would one even construct an experiment or field study to demonstrate any of this in the animal kingdom? Not saying it can’t be done, but it’s not obvious. How does one measure, for example, identify breeding preferences in wild populations, let alone group cohesion or how much a parent morns? While it’s easy to say an elephant mourns when its baby dies, and that a rat does not, how are we to measure this? How do we filter out the anthropomorphizing and confirmation biases?

Then, you’d need to replicate it across a bunch of species and environments to prove it out. Then you’d need the usual double-blind non-WEIRD study of people across a wide population – you know, like is almost never done – before applying any of this to human beings in general.

For starters. Then there’s the claim that there are genetic markers for behaviors as generally ill-defined as being liberal or conservative – or something, haven’t gotten to that part yet. I’m doubtful.

What I’m not doubtful of is the appeal of sociobiological explanations for complex human behavior. We’re into our second century of explaining what makes people tick based on some understanding of Darwin or other. Such explanations reveal much more about what the explainer is interested in than what’s going on in the world.

As a footnote, here’s my pet sociobiological theory: some people will only eat food with which they are familiar, others look forward to trying new dishes. (confession: heading off to a Peruvian restaurant tonight to celebrate our 31st anniversary. Why? Because I’ve never been to a Peruvian restaurant before. So you know where I fall.)

Here’s why, according to the theory which is mine: farms have been part of the environment of evolutionary adaptation for many thousands of years now. Settled people tend toward a set menu – what available on the farm and nearby. So natural selection has inclined them to be ‘eat what I know’ types. Meanwhile, other people migrate, such as across the Bering land bridge or on boats to Hawaii. They arrive at places full of edible stuff they’ve never seen before. For such people, the willingness to try new stuff is a must. Natural selection inclines them to go, say, to a Peruvian restaurant.

Of course, a spectrum of behaviors will exist here, as the fuddy-duddies and adventurous insist on marrying each other occasionally, mixing up all those genes. But the extremes prove the point.

Well? You convinced? How is this argument weak in a way other sociobiological arguments are not?