In a Cabin in the Woods (not working on my manifesto – I ain’t even got one!)

Checking in, from beautiful Arnold, CA. (pop 3,288; elevation 3,999′) where the entire family is meeting up. But am working on a few things, as follows.

I’ve been working on the pulp-style space adventure from 28 years ago that I found 50 pages of when packing up to move. ‘Working on’ here means taking pictures with my iPhone, offloading them to my laptop, then using Googledocs’ OCR function to open them up as text. It kind of works! I will need another hour or two to clean up the formatting and obvious mistakes, and still need to find the penultimate chapter that somehow got separated from the other draft chapters and read it in. Still faster than retyping it, for me, anyway.

While the writing is obvious amateur first draft level, I love the ideas. I’ve got Dante in there – one of the bad guys is named Smarrita, as in:

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
ché la diritta via era smarrita.

In the middle of the journey of our life
I found myself in a dark wood
Where the straight way was lost

And the deal gone bad is with a race I call Selvans – our hero finds himself in a dark spot in the ‘woods’. And so on, I was being cute.

Funny: Brian Niemeier’s Soul Cycle (reviewed beginning here) is all about Dante in Space, and here I was, 28 years ago, writing a very different Dante in Space book. I would be happy to be half as good as Niemeier. Along the same lines, found a short story from back then where the premise is that explorers crash land on an Eden-like planet, only to slowly starve to death, as their bodies can’t break down the available nutrition – a variation on a theme from Michael Flynn’s Eifelheim. I’ve been obsessed with this thought for decades: that the chemistry of LAWKI is so weird and unique, with seemingly arbitrary ‘choices’ among chemicals and stereoisomers, with crazy things life-threatening prions, it would be amazing if encounters with alien life, no matter how superficially benign, didn’t kill us. I would think that the first step toward terraforming would be to nuke the planet from space, just to be sure. This is a theme in several short stories and two novels I’ve started drafting over the last 30 years or so.

Also, is anyone else bothered by the ‘enhanced’ pictures we get from the Hubble, and will no doubt soon get from the Webb? I look, and see nothing; I look, and see nothing even using fantastical modern tech. BUT – I don’t look, let that tech feed its input into spectrographs, computer algorithms, and other fancy stuff, and they produce:

Beautiful, but what is its relationship to reality? I don’t know.

This is also a ‘picture’ of the Pillars:

Also beautiful.

In what sense are either of those pictures real? Certainly, no naked eye look at the Pillars is going to look anything like either of these, even ‘naked’ eye through a powerful telescope. The question becomes: what information do we want to convey? In the old pulp draft, I have passages like these:

The small circular viewports on either side of the module cabin dimmed automatically for a moment, to protect the delicate eyes of the occupants from the brilliant flash of the cruiser disintegrating into plasma and dust. On the front viewer, a computer processed image revealed the details of the explosion, all extraneous light and radiation filtered away. On that screen, the ship neatly vanished into a gradually thinning aura. Neither man was watching,


The star cruiser appeared quickly, a sudden point of light, then a highly distorted image of a ship, trailed by a thousand house of mirrors reflections strung back into space-time. Then, just as suddenly, and with no apparent logic, a perfect little star cruiser was visible alone against the field of stars. Despite his predicament, Warner couldn’t help wondering how much of what he just saw was the result of the viewsys’s inadequate attempts to create a sensible image out of unknown inputs, and how much was “really” taking place. The question was nonsense, he reminded himself.

It’s a little bit like MiniTrue: somebody had to decide what is the important information, and arrange to have the ‘unimportant’ information filtered out.

Next, my beloved and I married 35 years ago on May 30; our older daughter married 2 years ago on May 30; our middle son married May 29th last year. Younger daughter married Jan 8 this year – but we let her and her husband come anyway. Joint anniversary celebration. Because 3 of our kids married over an 18 month period, it is now a running joke to remind our 18 year old son that he doesn’t need to get married anytime soon, it’s OK.

We, our 18 year old son, and our older daughter, her husband, and their 7 month old daughter are already here; the others are due in Friday morning and staying through Sunday. A rip-roaring anniversary hoedown! Elder son-in-law found a nice big cabin for us all.

It’s nice to have a family where everyone gets along. Anyway, we had lunch and a walk yesterday at White Pine Lake, a reservoir in Arnold. I walked to the dam and back:

The dam spillway
The creek flowing away from the dam.

And here’s the view from the back porch, where I sit typing this.

Temperature is sensory-deprivation-tank perfect: I was falling asleep earlier, sitting on the back porch, in shorts. Ideal.

Next next, our house is scheduled to hit the market tomorrow, if all things go well., with open houses this weekend. St. Joseph, please pray for us, that the Father may prosper the work of our hands to His glory! Meaning, of course, that we get a good offer soon, and find a good place to buy.

Starting next Tuesday, we will be staying in another very dear furnished rental in Auburn, and spending our time house hunting like mad. Not gonna look at the markets, no siree, not me, not one bit… AAAGH!

Interesting times.

Year End(?) Update: Wedding, Writing, Stuff

I’m going to use the following feeble excuses for not writing here for over a week:

  1. Younger daughter is getting married in 3 weeks;
  2. I’m ‘working,’ mostly in the sense of worrying about and planning, the sale of our house in (we hope) March;
  3. It’s the week before Christmas.
  4. Volunteered to help the Caboose execute his Eagle Scout project, which tied up the better part of the last 2 weekends.
A local cemetery, managed by our parish, has suffered from neglect and vandals for many years. It is the resting place of many of the pioneers of our town, with graves dating back to the mid 1800s. The local historical society as well as the parish and some of the neighbors have been trying to fix it up. The Caboose’s Eagle project: put in two benches, replace the vandalized and missing cross from the central monument, and clean up. Above: one of the benches, concrete still wet.
An epoxy resin cross (getting granite was not in the budget) affixed atop the central monument, from which vandals had destroyed the original. It came out way better than anticipated – this angle distorts the scale and might make it appear too small, but it’s not.

Other than that, I got nothing. What I have been doing:

A. Making Christmas gifts for the family. They are coming out nice, but, since it’s possible some of the recipients might read this blog, I’ll have to skip the pictures and of course any further details until they have been delivered.

B. Finishing the Gloria I’ve been working on, and working on the Kyrie. I’m at the point where I need to let the Gloria sit – I can keep tweaking it forever, but I probably will just let it go.

I switched over completely to composing in Musescore. It – just works, and revisions are so, so, much easier. Sigh. All that time mastering buggy whip making writing fair score by hand is now useless. My son-in-law swears by Musescore as a composition tool, as you can get instant playback as you go and the fair copy is a print command away. Beats stomping stuff out on piano, which is my usual method.

Sheepish request: any musicians out there with Musescore who would like to hear it/offer feedback? It’s all of 4 minutes long. If so, send me an email at yardsale of the mind (without the gaps) at G-mail dot etc. and I will email you the file.

C. Watching a Youtube series on counterpoint and fugal writing, based on Fux’s Gradus ad Parnassus. On the one hand, I know some of this stuff; on the other, I’m largely an ignorant fool. As I think Nadia Boulanger once said: composition is not theory, but technique, and you get technique by practicing. Will I live long enough to work my way through all of Fux’s and Gran’s exercises? Writing in this style – counterpoint and fuges – is highly technical and mathematical – there is structural stuff you need to work out before you get very far . I’m very bad at that part. Don’t know how many times I’ve written myself into a corner…

D. Had this very vivid idea for a story. Of course, I’ve got half a dozen other writing projects I have not been working on, so now I get another idea. Saw a meme the other day, where this writer is musing something like: “Some people got to bed and *sleep*? They don’t toss and turn working out the plots for a 7-book series? And then they wake up *refreshed*?” I haven’t slept well in years anyway, seems I just need to get mor4e productive about it. I may throw up a chapter as semi-flash fiction when I get a minute.

F. 3 years into involuntary semi-retirement. I need to get a job. Don’t need the big bucks anymore, just something reasonable.

Aaaand – that’s all I have time for at the moment. Tomorrow and Friday begin the annual Great Christmas Cooking & Baking Event. With married kids, we have multiple Christmas/New Year’s/Epiphany parties to go to/host, my beloved is in demand as a pie maker, and I’m always making something, too. So, maybe catch y’all next year.

Have a happy, holy, and blessed Christmas season, not to end before Epiphany at the earliest!

Year-End Update (a little early)

A. First of all, gratitude to all the readers of this blog. Not sure why the beloved 100 readers (on a very good day) come back for more, but thanks. Just know that you’re only encouraging me.

The writing here has come out even more unfocused than my original intent, which was pretty broad. “Culture. Religion. Politics. Science. Philosophy.  Music. Art.” was the original charter 11 years ago. We do do that here, but also a lot of Home Improvement Projects and blithering about the books I intend to write. Which brings us to:

B: The ‘I should write a book about that’ books I’ve worked on here on the blog, ones where I might be qualified to have an opinion, are:

  • A book on the origins of the Catholic schools here in America, and how they have arrived at their current sorry (with very few exceptions) state
  • A more general book about the origins of schooling in America, circa roughly 1700 – 1940. An expose of the clowns and poseurs involved, and the paper-thin fantasy world that constitutes the foundation of all modern ‘scientific’ education.
  • The How to Think About Science book.

Starting with the last one first: as the Crazy Years progress, it’s painfully clear that ignorance of how science works is so far downstream from the real problems as to be all but irrelevant. The best case scenario, where someone reads my book, reexamines his world view, and changes how he thinks about things – sigh. Not happening in the real world.

And it’s not even the rejection of logic, which you have to have at least some grasp of in order to begin to understand how science works. Underlying both logic and the science is the notion that the world makes sense. That the world IS. Our well-schooled contemporaries specifically reject the very idea of shared objective reality in favor of a world willed into being by their own narcissistic selves. That any such world is definitionally inconsistent, and conflicts necessarily with anyone else’s similarly constructed world is not a problem for the dedicated narcissist. That they hold both to the sacredness of people’s self-constructed reality AND bow and scrap before the altar of social and political conformity isn’t a problem – they never expected the world to make sense. It’s Will all the way down.

When my teeth are set on edge by patently anti-science claims of ‘settled science’ and ‘scientific consensus’ or people doing as they are told claiming they are ‘following the science’ which they haven’t read and wouldn’t understand if they did, I imagined the problem was the general lack of scientific literacy, and thought I might be able to help a little by writing a book about basic science.

Silly me.

Therefore, I’ve reconsidered the point of this proposed book, why I would write it and who it is for. I’m reading Kreeft’s Socratic Logic now, and perhaps will write this book as a sort of follow-on with a focus on the specific application of Aristotelian logic used by modern science, insofar as it has any legitimate claim to our acceptance of its conclusions.

So, basically, a high-school level book. (Kreeft’s book is also supposed to be a high school level book, but it’s pretty tough. He, an expert, isn’t leaving much out, and there’s just a lot of logic that’s not obvious or simple. Good, but tough.)

Time frame: Once we’re moved and settled.

The other two books I get bugged by my kids to complete. They’ve heard some of the points I make about schooling from the cradle, and have found them to be true in the world. They’d like there to be a book (or two) summarizing these things. These works have been in the works for years now. It is time.

Time frame: Once we’re moved and settled. I’ve recommenced reading source materials. as evidenced by the last post.

#magnus pyke from Old School Science Fiction

C. Then there are the fun books I’m supposedly writing. Well, I set a goal for this past June for the first of several speculative fiction books I hope to write, and got thousands and thousands of words into them…

But I didn’t finish. May 2021 was when the insanity finally began to get me down. It started taking work to just get on with it, whatever ‘it’ happened to be at the moment. As it became clear I wasn’t going to get any of the spec fic done by June, I got distracted by a musical composition. Why? I have no idea. Writing music and writing stories really are very similar: you get an idea, you pound it into some sort of shape, you write the next part and the next part and so on, sometimes skipping ahead to more fun/clearer ideas, and then backtracking to write the connecting scenes. Then read it out loud/play or sing it, rewrite as needed, then get other people to read/listen, and take their feedback…

And I’ve gotten maybe 5 minutes of a 6-part Gloria written, with a minute or so more to write, plus outlines/sections for a Kyrie and Agnus, and a idea or two for the Sanctus. Haven’t even thought about a Credo yet.

Why I found it possible to write music and not possible to write fiction is anybody’s guess.

Time frame: I’ll keep working on the Mass while we pack up and prep the house; the books I’ll take up again once we’re moved and settled.

D. We gotta get out of this place. We had the house tented a month ago; getting quotes for painters. Spoke with the Pods people, looking to start loading out in January.

Yesterday, picked up 10 bags of ready mix; today used 8 of them to put in what I intend to be the last segment of the vast, endless front yard home improvement brick project. Scaled it well down from the original plans – no grotto, less fancy brickwork. Sigh. Need it simply not to look ugly and unfinished. So, simple wall topped by some redwood lattice.

Aaaaand – a million other things need to be done. Not to mention the final pack what’s left up and get out of Dodge push in a couple months. Then finding a new place to live….

E. In a somewhat round-about way, I’m looking for a job, specifically, seeing if a new Chesterton Academy that is to open near where I’d like to live might hire me to corrupt the minds of our youth, after the fashion of Socrates and Aristotle. And quote a lot of Chesterton. It would be nice to teach, and have a little income.

F. All in all, I’m very grateful, and have gotten past letting myself get too down about the current insanity. For the most part. I used to pray in thanksgiving for getting to live in a land of plenty in a time of peace. Now? I pray that God will remember His promise of mercy, and, for the sake of His Name, for the sake of the Blood shed by His Son, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, He will not judge us as our sins deserve, but rather forgive us yet again. That He will send Mary, who crushes the head of the serpent, Joseph, the terror of demons, and Michael the Archangel to lead the heavenly host down to cast Satan and his minion out of our lives, our nation, and our world, bind them and cast them back into Hell where they belong. Then, that He may grant us the strength to endure whatever we must and the grace to die to ourselves and live only for His Will.

Otherwise, who can stand?

Have a happy and holy Thanksgiving!

Shade (Monday Flash Fiction)

Kleon wiggled his way through the muddy-green foliage to join the press of worshippers. He knew that far ahead, the throng moved toward a blinding light he could not see. He could not see because he kept his eyes averted and closed. To look upon the Face of God is death.

Above him, only sky, from which dripped a steady light rain.

He was now swept past a Pillar of Heaven, an almost unimaginably large shaft disappearing into the sky far above. The Angels had set up these posts upon the Founding of the World, to keep the sky above in place. For God had decreed: At acceptable times as told by the Prophets, all may look upon the Side of My Face. At such sacred times, I will turn away, in My mercy, to spare My people. To look upon the Deep Heavens any other time is death.

Kleon had a Name – Kleon. This placed him among a select few of the advancing throngs. To have a Name was to be a person. To be sure, much of scripture was devoted to the duties and, indeed, love, to be shown by the Named to the unnamed, so anything short of gentle care for the poor mindless hordes was a sin. In more primitive times, a Named who showed contempt for the nameless was condemned to be thrown into the Outer Lightness, and die.

Kleon did his part as a Named Person. His pheromones helped direct the Unnamed forward in a calm state. Once the throngs started moving, excitement would grow. Unless the Named did their best to keep the poor unconscious calm, millions might rush into the Light. Sometimes, even a Named was carried thus to his death by the throngs.

Kleon sensed that there were many Named nearby, enough to maintain order. He found he needed to work to keep his own mind calm. For this was the Great Feast, the Awakening, the memorial of the First Naming. All of his kind would get to see the Profile of the Face of God! Many would die from sheer joy, and be counted happy, although all were strictly forbidden by scripture to desire such a death. Joy like that was a pure, unearned gift of God!

Excitement grew as the Light, sensed through closed eyes, began to slowly fade. Billions of eager worshippers had now surrounded the Circle of Light. Pillars of Heaven were here arranged in a majestic curve, trailing off to the left and right in a grand arch. Just beyond these Pillars, the sky ended.

This was a time of prayer. For endless hours, the Light faded, and each Person thought, and each Unnamed felt, the growing Presence in its more gentle form. Soon, one might see the Profile of the Face of God – and live!

Horrified, Kleon sensed that an Unnamed had been unconsciously jostled into the Light. Because the Light had already faded to less than half His full intensity, the poor creature’s death was comparatively slow. It released a cloud of pheromones as it desiccated, of both excruciating pain and utter bliss. Kleon and the other Named nearby strained to keep the surrounding Unnamed from throwing themselves into the fading Light, and succeeded. God would be pleased.

Finally, the Light almost completely withdrew, leaving only a gentle glow a little brighter than the endless misty gloom of the World. The Named, using all their strength, kept the Unnamed in place, for their safety and in order to maintain a decorum appropriate to this Feast.

Finally, the Named allowed the throngs to move. Slowly, they advanced. It was all the Named could do to keep the front ranks moving, although it hardly mattered – the following ranks simply climbed over them. But piles of creatures were unseemly, so the named did their best to keep the creatures in the front moving.

As the Named and Unnamed came out from under the sky, they turned their eyes to the heavens, and saw the stars.

“This is a little creepy.” Diana sat in a control room of the power plant, looking out the window. A million square kilometers of the solar array, visible in every direction, disappeared only where they dipped below the distant horizon. 90% of this desert hell-hole of a planet was paved over in solar cells. The last place the planet’s surface was visible was the clearing around the power plant itself, a ring about a kilometer in radius. Her eyes were on the edges of the clearing, where motion could barely be detected in the gloam, disappearing to the naked eye as the night settled in.

There was nothing else to do but look. Her team had been dropped off to inspect the alien power plant, their work was all but complete, and the system’s new cyclers would not be back by to pick them up for another 18 months.

“This plant is old!” declared Bob, who had entered to control room. “Well, yeah,” said Diana, “that was obvious from space.” She tried to be a good team player, but she and the other 5 team members aside from Bob had quickly determined what they had come to this God-forsaken system to find out. The plant was perfectly operative; its panels were of an unknown design and slightly less efficient than current Empire standards, but it would hardly be worth the effort to upgrade them. Instead, the Empire could enjoy yottawatts of found power, left by long-gone engineers. An uplink to an orbital laser, for example, could power acceleration and deceleration of light sails…

“No, I mean, really old!” Bob was pacing. “We’re talking at least 50 million, maybe 150 million years old. Maybe more.”

“This is a quiet backwater, geologically dead, not much in the way of space debris or weather to disturb things.” Williams, the team’s geologist, had entered the room. “Thin, inert atmosphere. Almost no water. And a nice slow 153 hour day. Local sun beats down on these panels for 76.5 hours a day like clockwork.”

“That’s what I’m trying to say,” continued Bob, “this is a near perfect place for a huge solar array – and has been for a billion years. Somebody figured this out maybe 100 million years ago, stuck this array here, and built it to last. It could power all kinds of repair spiders, all kinds of cleaning and maintenance bots, while hardly putting a dent in net output.”

“We haven’t seen any bots,” said Diana, “seems deserted.”

“Build it right, and the spiders and bots only need to come out every century or two, or even less.”

“Or, better, build it to evolve.” Jommy, the senior engineer and Diana’s boss, looked up from a deck he had been examining. “You build the total system with enough AI, and enough intelligent intervention, analyze what goes wrong, fix it, analyze the fix, rinse, repeat.” He put down the analytic probe he held like a wand. “How many years do you need until it just don’t break anymore?”

Kleon saw the light in the window in the central tower far above, and his heart stirred. Scripture spoke of angels visiting the Heavenly Ladder, coming and going with nothing to say to the Named. Not once, since the original Naming, had angels interacted with his kind. But not in thousands of generations had an angel visited…

Billions of his fellow creatures paved the circle of light surrounding the Ladder, compound eyes heavenward, antennae raised. Here was the Time of Ecstasy. In a few hours, the Named would gently herd the Unnamed out of the Light and back under the sky. Even under the stars, his kind tended to dry out if they spent too much time unprotected. They needed to return to life beneath the sky.

“Good God, Ppillimt, why do play with those disgusting bugs?” His mate looked down upon his crouching form, two of her four hands on her hips, and shook her head.

“One, what else is there to do on this rock? The array never breaks; the uplink never falters.” He picked up a palm-sized beetle-like creature, which lifted it forebody on multi-jointed legs, and further lifted its ‘head’ to look at him. “And, two, I think these things are much more intelligent than we’re giving them credit for.” He could feel his mate’s chagrin, so he changed the subject. “How is the investigation going?”

She sighed. “We may crack their script, but it’ll take some time. We have a pretty good grasp of their math. But the big find: their star charts. We were able to determine the age of this facility by apply know rates of motion to known stars on their charts, and calculating how long ago those stars would have been in the positions indicated – this thing was built 47 million years ago!”

Ppillimt carefully put the bug down, then stood. “Whoa. Yet it runs perfectly. These founders must have been quite the engineers.”

Tzapotlz continued, “We also found a biology collection. We can’t yet make out the text, but the pictures are interesting. Seems this planet did have some zoology. The most advanced creatures by far were something like sand fleas, just little specks somehow surviving in the scorching sun and bitter night.” She looked down at the bug Ppillimt had just been holding. It sat at attention. “That little guy there evolved, I’d guess, from the sand fleas, over millions of years since the founding.”

“Yea, and evolved under these solar panels. They’re all but air-tight except around the uplink towers. It’s a lot more temperate and lot more damp under there.”

“I went under there once,” Tzapotlz looked disgusted, “those slimy plants cover everything, and those bugs are everywhere.”

Ppillimt picked up the bug again. “Damp and moderate temps would certainly be a lot more favorable to life as we know it, in general.” He looked at the bug, which had again raised itself on its front legs and was staring at him, in what appeared to be rapt attention.

“I like you,” he looked at the bug, then spoke over his shoulder to his mate. “I think we need a pet.”

Tzapotlz rolled several of her eyes. “Ugh!” She turned to walk back to the tower.

Ppillimt looked again down at the bug, which never waivered in its attention. “I think I’m going to call you Kalliq.” He carried Kalliq with him as he stood to follow his mate. “Wonder if I can teach you any tricks?” Kalliq tilted his head.

Review of the Introduction to a Book

No, really. I have a weird habit, at least for my household – I almost always read all the front matter in whatever books I read. (Sometimes, as in some philosophical works, I might read it after I’ve read the work itself, if I suspect it will bias my reading – but I’ll almost always read it.) My wife, who is as OK-read (well-read is maybe a stretch for me) as I am, pretty much never does this; neither do my kids, as far as I know. You guys? Skip to the good parts, or slog through the front matter first?

For my White Handled Blade series (yea, yea, gotta write Book 1 before you can have a series, I get it) I’m reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a copy of which was in the stacks. Not sure how I had not run across Burton Raffel before – or, if I did, how he failed to make an impression – but this guy, a famous translator, is a character and a half. His Introduction is about as bare-knuckles an assessment of his ‘competitors’ as I’ve ever seen. Reminded me of the old saying in academia: never is the fight more brutal than when the stakes are really low.

To sum up: he’s not real impressed by the work of other translators and commentators of Green Knight. Here are some samples, from his 31 page introduction to a 75 page poem:

It is no defense of Tolkien, Gordon, and Davis, but most literary criticism of medieval poetry suffers from just this kind of “lengthy, mostly irrelevant” insensitivity to the poem as a poem.

p. 34

Sure. A little further, Raffel goes after scholarly critics as a group, giving examples of scholarly assertions contradicted by text within a few lines of the source of the initial assertions:

But the critics’ attention span is somehow limited by their scholarship, or alternatively by their desire to assert some interpretive claim.

p. 35

He also makes charming, look how smart I am observations, such as this, after his analysis of how the Poet portrays what is going on in Gawain’s mind and soul during his temptation by the Green Knight’s wife, and how it does not admit of a simply linear understanding as we moderns might be tempted to impress on it:

The Gawain Poet plainly knows this, and just as plainly knows his Hegel-like perception of the antithesis concealed within the synthesis is the only sane way to see things. And he is phenomenally sane. He is, in fact, so powerful a literary mind that what could be a mere matter of philosophy , with a lesser writer, is transformed for him into a vital matter of literary technique.

p. 29

O, come on, Burtie, old boy, you’re just yanking chains! Don’t make me slap that smirk off your elderly (well, dead, now) face.

The whole Introduction provides the kind of background information that is reason I read introductions, so that’s good, interspersed with patches that read like Raffel getting even with people or calling them idiots. He kindly allows of one scholar’s work that “…it is not all as bad as the passages I have cited.” At another scholar’s assertions, Raffel says: “I can gape: where has the man been?” Or that the “weird” analysis of another is revealed in a passage “which speaks, unfortunately, for itself.” Did somebody steal his lunch money, or something?

The Introduction was certainly entertaining, the poem itself is wonderful, and I appreciate Raffel’s guidance in taking it seriously as a masterpiece – hard to do with the rather less structured? Logical? bits of Arthuriana I’ve read so far. Maybe I’ll review it when I’m done.

Digging Through Some Old Files….

…I found a bunch of stories and outlines from decades ago. Most, I remembered instantly once I saw them, a couple evoked a major ‘huh?’ response, as in, I have no memory of them at all. It’s weirdly encouraging: not only have I averaged about 150K words/yr on this blog, I also wrote maybe 200 pages of stories and outline long before this blog. So, I guess I’m a writer by the simple fact that I do, in fact, write. Now, if I can only complete the novels and publish them – that’s the plan! Anyway, for kicks:

“I have no memory of this story…”

A. Untitled Novel Outline, 8/9/90, 15 pages + diagram, handwritten. A chemist working for the National Oceanographic Institute gets involved with some illegal gold mining on the ocean floor. Insane chase scene involving a submersible and two ships. He gets the girl. I remember it being a ton of fun writing the outline. I even have a sort of roller-coaster diagram for the chase scene.

B. Notes from a writing workshop I attended, 7/8/90. No longer applicable, if they ever were.

C. Penultimate chapter to a Sci Fi novel about a run in with some insectoid star-faring race. Undated. Only about 6 pages, the escape scene. Remember having written a lot more on it – maybe it’s in this pile someplace. [update: nope.]

D. Thelma and Me. 8/95. Only 3 pages long, one of my favorite stories. Maybe I should throw it up here, since it’s hardly more than flash fiction? The 1st person protagonist notes that the odometer on his ’57 Chevy BelAir convertible, which he bough new with money from his first job out of high school, is about to hit 500,000 miles. Babying this car has been about the only thing he’s ever done right in his life.

E. The Great Desert Valley, CH 1 of Earth Wars, which is perhaps a misleading title – it was intended as a set of stories about what might be called real ecology. Think I started it in response to all the nonsensical anthropomorphizing of nature, so I started writing more ‘true’ stories. In this story, I try to recount what it would have looked like when one of the periodic refloodings of the dried-out Mediterranean basin took place – from the perspective of the life adapted to living in an extreme desert basin. Whatever destruction we might think we’ve done to the environment, Nature has done and will do much, much worse.

F. The Last Sabre-Toothed Tiger, CH 2 of the above. A story of how exquisite adaptation can spell death when conditions change. A story I don’t see in this pile is my favorite from the set: about a lighthouse cat that completes the extinction of some shorebird, by the simple accident that the lighthouse keeper had a cat, and the rock the lighthouse was on was also the only place where the seabirds bred. All the creatures – man, cat, bird – act innocently according to their natures, yet extinction of one of them results.

G. Sets of song lyrics. Did I mention that I used to be a (frankly, terrible) part of a number of garage bands? Well, I did. And I tried my hand at songwriting, with some minimal success. So in this pile are the lyrics to a bunch of songs, a few of which I recall and even set to music. In my last band, did get one number I wrote into the rotation – people seemed to like it. I am of the ‘melancholy to sad lyrics set to bouncy music’ school of songwriting. These would need some *very* bouncy music to counterbalance the depressing lyrics.

H. Undated, untitled handwritten outline, 4 yellow legal pad pages long, of some wild adventure that kicks off with a priest killing a teenage soldier. Absolutely no idea where this came from. The notes are largely incomprehensible now, e.g., “Grain rotting in the fields, on the shelves, (Bali??)” Must have had something in mind….

I. Whole folder full of Earth Wars stories, dates 12/14/1989! Printed out on a dot matrix printer, on paper with little perforations. Call in the archeologists! The outline/table of contents shows 19 stories. In the actual printout, there’s the lighthouse cat story, and a story about elephants creating grasslands from forests (you knew they did that, right?). There’s one 20-page story called The Last Cave Bear, which has to do with the encroaching ice sheets 125,000 years ago, a sort of border conflict between cave bears, who were going extinct around this time, and people, who were learning to adapt to much harsher conditions during the glaciation. It’s a really sad story. And then, the concluding chapter is Ut Animalia, a wild tale of an elderly Latin American priest serving at the ruins of a church while his mind slips away. Due to the constant revolution, he hardly ever sees anybody – but the animals of the surrounding jungle start to make the church their home.

Maybe half an inch of paper devoted to a 30+ year old project. Huh.

J. The Talley, an 11 page long short story, undated, but printed out on the same dot matric printer, so around 1989. This one is marked up, as a draft awaiting revisions. The 1st person narrator has recently been widowed; he teaches piano. On his walk home from visiting his wife’s grave, a woman whose talentless, uninterested tween son takes lessons from him, corners him. Potentially interesting things ensue.

K. Ut Animalia has it’s own folder! An incomplete draft – don’t think I ever finished it.

L. Prime Directive. Another dot matrix era bit of – ??? In this folder there is a wide piece of perforated lined paper labeled “Character/Plot Development Chart” broken into squares, characters on the left, characteristics across the top, with little tidbits in each box. Wild.

I have no memory of this.

Then, an outline, regarding a sort of graduate-level field trip to Borneo to investigate the natives. I have a character named Higgins (‘just you wait, ‘Enry ‘Iggins!’) and a bunch of grad-school rabble. The title comes from, I suppose, the absurdity of the Star Trek Prime Directive. Then, there’s an opening chapter, where the students reveal themselves to be Trekkers.

What could I possibly have been thinking? The character outlines show a conflict between science, which doesn’t ultimately care if the people being studied live or die, a practical recognition that you might have to choose between saving the culture and saving the people, and a character who cannot see that choice.

And that’s it for that set of files. There are only two projects/stories I remember that aren’t in there – one, called The Pearl, about the gaslighting that goes on inside a truly messed up family, written in 1992, and an untitled parody of sex researchers in the wild. That last one involved an enlightened feminist sex researcher doing field work, in Borneo again, I think (I had recently read the excellent Into the Heart of Borneo, by Redmond O’Hanlon, so had Borneo on the brain), trying to discredit the claims made by her major competitor, who happens to now be the lover of her former boyfriend. So she retraces the steps in her enemy’s landmark and tenure-securing masterpiece, attempting to replicate/discredit, as it were, the ‘;findings.’ Thus, she finds herself trying to get laid in the jungles of Borneo.

All the characters involved are utterly jealous, possessive, and needy, while of course rejecting the very idea that sex might lead such feelings. Hilarity ensued via the write-ups from the field getting published in, I think, the Atlantic? wherein the ‘researcher’ recounts her experiences, basically, trying to get laid by a bunch of tribesmen, who, as shines through her reports despite her lofty language, think she’s a curiously insane white lady best kept at arms’ length. I particularly remember writing her discussion on the desirability of pendulosity in breasts, and how it could not be that the difference between her breasts and the breasts of her competitor had lead to her failure in the field….

I think I stopped when I realized: there is no way to parody this. Anything I think of has probably been done, in all seriousness, by some maniac or other. But it was funny, you’ll have to take my word for it…

That was fun. Back to the actual WIP.

Update Schmupdate.

Yes, I’m still alive.

A. Spring is almost here. My seasonal affective disorder – the fancy, victim-centric way of saying sunlight and warmth make me happy – is crashing to a halt. Yay me. California is very beautiful. It’ll be hard to leave.

Doing a little garden prep.

Stuck some flowers in some planters. Yay me.
View from the front porch, soon to be much greener. Turned some beds, laid down some fresh compost and bark.
Like the Dutch angle? Peaches blooming; Apricots working on it. Cherry & pear not yet. Tiny bb sized figs peeking out.

The Insane Endless Brick Project of Doom lurks, but I need to do work on the lawn and paint the house, too….

B. On the writing front, been watching Successful Indie Author Five-Minute Focus by Craig Martelle, the 20 books to 50K guy. He recently did a thing on how many things one should work on at once. Short answer: it depends, but he finds three things the most he can productively work on at once, and must have one as the primary focus with a deadline. This seems about right to me, and pretty much what it has boiled down to.

C. With that in mind, top focus: It Will Work, with a self-imposed deadline of June 30, 2021. Added a couple thousand usable words plus a bunch of outlining and a little research (mostly, looking up names – the names are mostly plays on words from Mauri mythology and Greek. Because they are.) It’s up to 10,000 useable words as of today.

The backup projects are Understanding Science and Black Friday, the first of which is on hold until I get stuck/finished with It Will Work, the second of which I’ve done a little more research on and some additional outlining, but is basically in the bullpen warming up. So, I’m still enthusiastic. My in-bed-as-I-fall-asleep reading is Morte d’Arthur and the Mabinogion, for that Arthurian book, so I’m mentally working on that as well, even if putting nothing in writing yet. And I’m making a habit of thinking through plot points if I wake up at night and can’t get back to sleep. Works both way: by not thinking of the current and accelerating Fall of Western Civilization, I get back to sleep faster, and I have in fact worked through some plot points. Win-win!

Hit my first (since getting on this current writing jag back in January) wall: On It Will Work, got stuck on how to deal with the inescapable infodump I need in the middle chapters. There’s just some critical backstory/worldbuilding that has to take place, no way around it. I’ve tried to be clever about working needed information into the story more or less naturally, but this was not happening here. After sleeping on it, just had one of the minor characters tell the protagonist something about the history of my aliens, then will have some action, and then have some other character tell him the rest. All in all, it’s going to be about 3,000 words of backstory/worldbuilding spread across maybe 10,000 words of story. Just reading it back, it doesn’t seem like too much – but what do I know about writing books? The 1.5 million+ words I’ve written over the last decade are 90% blog posts…

D. Speaking of blog posts, keep adding to the drafts folder. I was, in fact, writing posts over the week I’ve been gone – just not finishing and posting posts. Because I started thinking, and, well, what good ever comes of that?!?

Minutia and Writing Updates

No excuse for boring you, my loyal readers, with this, but here goes:

A. Trying to keep up the momentum, I’m switching back and forth between 3-4 writing projects. When I get stuck on one, just switch. Don’t even think about, just keep writing, with the goal still being 2 novels and 2 collections of short stories ready to go (to an editor, most likely) by end of June. And that science book. Anyway, what’s in the hopper:

Layman’s Guide to Understanding Science: Right around 10,000 words, on temporary hold. The comments, especially from Dr. Kurland and some of the commentators here, made me think – always dangerous. The question is not so much what science IS – which can be approached, I think, from several valid angles – but rather, in what sense should a layman care what science is. It will do little good to be technical accurate if my imagined reader doesn’t see any point to it. Ya know? So, I’m letting that one stew for now.

Working title “It Will Work” the first 6,000 or so words of which appeared on this blog as a series of flash fiction posts. (CH 1   CH 2   CH 3   CH 4   CH 5   CH 6 CH 7) I couldn’t seem to stop writing this, right up until I could, and it got the second most positive comments of anything I’ve written here, (1) so it seemed primed to become a short novel. It was one of the three novels-in-development in the Novels folder I set up back in January. At about 8,000 words at the moment.

Always told myself I needed to settle on an ending, so I knew where I was going with this – even though the 7 fragments were each tossed off totally seat-of-the-pants. Well, just today I started outlining what the kids these days might call the Boss Battle, the final test of Our Hero – and, it rocks so hard. Want to talk stupid? I was getting choked up telling my wife about it. I wrote it long before the current insanity, but, given the current insanity, it all makes so much more sense. As far as a “things done got blowed up good” by bombardment from space and aliens in power armor scene set on a distant moon of a far-away planet can be said to relate to current events. (answer: quite a bit, really.) Anyway: got the finale & denouement outlined, and am in the middle of the middle section. My only fear, if you can call it that – if I keep the pacing such as it has been so far, I’ll wrap it up in +/-30K words. Don’t want to stretch it simply for the sake of stretching it, but do want at least 40K words – Pulp Era novel length. Not a real problem until it is….

The White-Handled Blade – the Arthurian YA novel set in modern day Wales, the first 25% of which is the novella several generous readers here beta read for me a couple years ago. Currently sits at about 13K words. This one is exciting, but I want to do more reading in Arthurian legends and outline a longer path, as in, a potential series, before maybe writing myself into a corner. The story as it stands now is little more than a free retelling of the Lynette & Lyonesse story as told by Malory, ending right before Gareth makes his untoward advances toward Lyonesse. So, obviously, I would continue along those line BUT I want to introduce more stuff that will let me go in any number of Arthurian directions. I already have several of the important knight (reimagined as middle-aged academics, because I find that amusing), so, in future works, it will be easy to take some side-trips to Scotland or the Orkneys or Cornwall or France. I want to keep Lynnette as the heroine, because I like her, and she was designed from the ground up as someone the reader could relate to: she’s fiercely devoted to her older sister, loves but has trouble communicating with her dad, gets snubbed and bullied at school, can hold a grudge, but never gives up and is as brave as needed to rise to the occasion. And is otherwise a blank slate, so there’s nothing in the way to seeing yourself in her shoes.

So I’m rereading Malory and reading the Mabinogion for ideas. The farther back in time one goes, the crazier the legends become, such that getting a glimpse into Malory’s world – 15th century retelling of much older stories -is a lot easier than getting into the world of the Mabinogion, which are thought to be older still. Even Malory requires a bit of gymnastics to get into the moral mindset of people who seem to kill each other rather gleefully at the drop of a biggin, but not like the Welsh tales. And then there’s the French version…

Speaking of writing something I didn’t set out to write and would have never imagined writing, it seems YA fiction is mostly characterized as follows:

  • no sex
  • no swearing
  • not too much gore

Which, frankly is a pretty fair description of anything I’m likely to write. On the other hand, Hunger Games is about children killing each other for the amusement of the powerful – I’d take a lot of sex and swearing before I’d consider that entertainment…

Anyway, it seems to be common industry knowledge that YA readership includes large numbers of adults who are just sick and tired of all the gratuitous sex and swearing and violence in mainstream stuff. So, from that point of view, pretty much anything (well, except this) I write would qualify, but I have never consciously tried to write YA. I’m putting in plenty of what I hope to be interesting non-childish philosophical and political and moral stuff. So – huh? Anyway, I’ll have to be careful of how I market this stuff. Studying up on that in parallel. Hope to get back to it soon, but it’s It Will Work is on the front burner at the moment.

Longship, the working title of the Novel That Shall Not Be Named (wait! doh!), some sections of which I’ve thrown up here on the blog, is the one that has both been percolating in my mind for a decade or two AND the one I’m having the least success in hammering into a actual novel or 4. On the back burner.

Finally, Black Friday is another bit of flash fiction fluff (well, 1400 words, so not exactly flash fiction…) that seemed ripe to expand, so I’ve been outlining that one, too. Have put in some work on it, but not in the form of adding to the wordcount.

B. This brings me to another consideration: The science and education stuff (remember that education stuff? I seem to have forgotten) I will publish under my own name. However, if I’m hoping to actually make a little money off the SF&F stuff, it would seem prudent to market under a nom de plum. I’m under no illusions that I’m anybody important, but underestimating the pettiness of our self-appoint betters is a fool’s game.

On a related note, I’ve taken a few baby steps towards hardening my superversive presence online, including a Brave/Duckduckgo browsing combo, a protonmail account and staying off Google as much as I can. I want to go :

  • secure VPN
  • secure website hosting

Just want off, as much as possible, the Bidenriech’s surveillance network. A know I guy…

C. The 16 year old Caboose just mentioned that his favorite books include a book on spiritual teachings from the perspective of a demon, a book on politics from the perspective of rabbits, and a post apocalyptical novel about a monastery.

Kids these days. I asked him what about that book about the short dude with hairy feet trying to return some stolen jewelry? He laughed.

D. Slept 8+ hours straight last night, the first time that’s happened in months. Felt very good. Been getting 4 -6 hours most nights since the Crazy Years became manifest – wake up, can’t go back to sleep, get us and try to do something. I could get used to that.

E. Got a few hundred more bricks. The neighbors who I, being a solid California suburbanite, hardly know, have twice now over the last few years of the Great Front Yard Brick Insanity and Orchard Hoedown, have, unbidden, offered me bricks, because I’m the guy with the brickwork. So, dude around the corner had this pile of bricks he wanted gone – 6 1/2 wheelbarrows full. Maybe a short block away.

One Load 3, I think it was, I came off the curb a little too hard and bent the metal wheel supports (it’s a cheap and old wheelbarrow) such that the wheel now rubbed against the underbelly of the tub section. I was able to brut-force them straight enough so that I could limp that load home.

So, had to repair the wheelbarrow. Two bolts that hold the handle arms to the tub section, which I had replaced a few years back with a couple far too long bolts I had lying around, had worked themselves very loose then rusted into their new loose positions. This made the load likely to shift from side to side as you rolled – no biggie with a load of dirt, dangerous and tiring with a load of bricks. But the bolts were carriage bolts, so there was no easy way to grip the head from the top. After a applying a bit of WD-40, tried to grip the excess bolt with plyers while using a crescent wrench to tighten them up. The first nut moved a little before the plyers had shredded the threads on the bolt and would no longer prevent it from turning; the second budged not a whit. Jury-rigged the ugliest solution: took some heavy wire, bent it unto a U shape, then crimped it onto the bolts between the nut and the tub – one on the side I’d gotten a little tighter, and two one the side I’d been unable to move.

And – it kinda works. Reality often fails to suitably rebuke me for my stupid ideas, thereby encouraging me to keep coming up with more of them. It’s going to get me killed someday…

Next, for the bent arms: Cut a scrap of walnut into two maybe 8″ pieces, placed them behind the bent arms, clamped them until the arms were more or less straight and in contack with the wood, then drilled some wholes and put in some tiny screws to hold it all together.

And – that worked, too. Now have a much more stiff structure and a couple inches of clearance between the tub and wheel. See what I mean? If these slapdash ideas keep working, I’m going to keep doing them.

Next step: replace the 16+ year old cheap and falling apart wheelbarrow. Once some stupid repair idea fails to work, that is.

Picturesque old wheelbarrow, with lots of freshly stacked bricks in the background. Those with sharp eyes can perhaps spot the much too long bolts where the handles first encounter the tub, and even the thick wire crimped on them; the gratifyingly straight struts connecting the wheel to the tub. Yes, I took a picture of my wheelbarrow. At night. Just to throw up on the blog. Yep. Really did that.

F. Got the front yard orchard cleaned up, pruned, fertilized, mulched, copper-sprayed, and watered, not in that order. So, that’s done for now. Next, finish the brickwork, paint the house, get it fumigated for termites, replace the dying major appliances, put in this year’s vegetable garden, marry off a son on the East Coast in May, and goodness knows what else. And teach a couple history classes. Shaping up to be a busy Year 63 for me. And write two novels, put together two books of short stories, and write a book on science – in my spare time.

Yes, I am freaking INSANE.

  1. Most positive comments: One Day. Heck, even Mike Flynn liked it enough to comment – I’m still blushing.

Writing Update, etc.

A. Now am working on the “What Science IS” chapter for the Understanding Science book. The first three preliminary chapters are or soon will be posted here for your review, dear readers. Probably combine them into one chapter, edit them down a little to remove repetition.

The What Science IS chapter is challenging. What I want is to engage my laymen target audience, and give them an understanding of science that will allow them filter out the high-level nonsense. I doubt the utility of going the Popper route of falsifiable propositions for my purposes – you gotta think too hard, and have more philosophy than your average bloke to really get your head around the basic concepts – at least, I think you do. If I start right in laying on the philosophy, years of government training – schooling – will kick in and their minds will perform an auto-shutdown. I think. (Math triggers the same routines in the properly schooled.)

Along a similar vein, I wrote a little ‘three kinds of knowledge’ section, then set it aside – as basic and, indeed, essential as this distinction is, I fear I will loose my imagined target audience one sentence in. Can I frame up a discussion of necessary truth, conditional truth, and art (techne) that doesn’t trigger a flight response? The necessary truth part I’d limit to math and logic – no need to go any deeper for my purposes. The important part is the recognition of CONDITIONS on all scientific knowledge, and, more subtle, how those conditions (mostly) need to be expressed in order for science to have any weight.

Then comes the point that art/techne/technology is really, really good and, for most of us, much more true – more BELIEVABLE – than science claims. Our computers and cell phones WORK – that’s their primary characteristic of interest. That working is far more convincing and interesting, for most of us, than any scientific syllogisms based on conditional observations of more abstract, less immediate phenomena.

I can say that observation of the orbit of Mercury or of starlight bending around the sun during an eclipse proves relativity – OR I can say: without relativistic adjustments, the GPS in your phone wouldn’t be near as accurate. Which is more convincing? I could say: some thermodynamic laws govern how much a given gas will cool down when it expands, and show some math – or I can point out that refrigerators work. Which is more convincing?

I gather from a lifetime of interactions with people that few wondered, as children, how that refrigerator worked, or how those huge generators in dams worked. The fridge was totally baffling to me; I figured dynamos must make sparks or something. That all these man-made things work is probably as much a driver of my curiosity as the wonders of nature. But is that pertinent here?

So, in the current draft, I went with: Science is the study of the metrical properties of physical bodies – a sound, if subtly complex, definition that seemed better to address my goals. What this definition does is put the focus on the observation of physical things, specifically, things that can be measured. Not our opinions or feelings about what we observe, not things such as other people’s feelings, which can be (maybe) observed but not measured.

I planned to use this approach to hammer home the (obvious?) point that science simply cannot dictate policy. There is no “this is what we came up with when we measured some properties of physical objects, therefore you must do X.” There are a whole lot of steps being left out in such an assertion, chief of which is a clear statement of the value judgements and moral assumptions that always underlie claims we must do something. The laws of physics say we must fall if we jump off that cliff, but they don’t and can’t say if we should or should not jump off that cliff. Falling once you jump is science and outside any subsequent act of your will; deciding to jump is not.

The subtilty lies in cases where sciences have developed by studying the metrical properties of physical objects without overtly measuring those properties. Geology is an example suggested by a reader. Early theories were developed without too much explicit measurement. Example: for plate tectonics to be true, the Atlantic Ocean must be expanding. And so it is – at exactly some number of millimeters per year, within some plus or minus. Once that measurement has been obtained, we now can back into how old the Atlantic Ocean is, within limits. Similarly, biology started by simply observing the difference between various plants and animals and describing the different characteristics, but soon moved on to measuring those characteristics, such that we know African and Indian elephants differ in size: height, weight, ears, tusks, etc.

Even the historical sciences are looking at measurable properties, even if they don’t start of measuring them, they eventually do.

The above is the sort of thing I might throw in an appendix or end note.

Anyway, I need a bit of a break from this science stuff, so:

B. Turned to the Novels in Process folder. On each of the three items in the stack, I need more planning done. An honest (as honest as I can be) assessment: one I could conceivably finish in a few months – it just needs some outlining to get it from where it is at to where it needs to go, so I don’t meander too much getting there; the other two are going to need a daunting amount of planning and research. On the one that’s been percolating for a couple decades now, I work as I try to fall asleep at night – I try to wrestle it into a series, chop it into 3-4 pieces, deal with the already large cast of characters, and try to make the ‘science’ less ridiculous. Mostly, it’s a matter of organizing the various climaxes, or inventing some, to get it into manageable stories. I add to my notes when I think of it.

So, I thought: I need another short novel to put into the hopper from the ‘ideas’ pile, one that I can get done in less time with less anxiety. (hahaha.) So – picked a flash fiction (1400 word) story that reads like the first chapter in a “world’s going to hell, unlikely heroes rise to the occasion” adventure. Our Heroes hunker down from an evil government takeover, jury-rig some awesome tech, outwit the government lackies, and overcome impossible odds, culminating in a glorious showdown – that sets up a sequel.

My model, from a structure POV, is just good ol’ Heinlein’s Have Spacesuit Will Travel, which is a pretty solid Dent style story I’ve always loved and admired: every chapter, Our Heroes are put into deadly danger, each worse than the last, with the stakes getting higher with each turn of the page, until THE ENTIRE PLANET is threatened!

I’ve long wanted to try my had at something like that. Once, many years ago, I wrote a fairly long outline (long hand, in a notebook) for a crazy story along these lines, with bad guys pretending to fund deep-sea research out of the goodness of their hearts, using Our Gullible Hero to find some valuable mineral deposits around some deep sea vents, then abandoning the submersible with him and the girl he’s long had a crush on at the bottom of the ocean, once they got what they wanted. A wacky escape, with proper heroics and comeuppances ensued. Boy gets girl. It was stoopid fun – at least, writing the outline was. Wonder what happened to that? I think we started having kid right around that time, so I set it aside…

Anyway, along those lines. So now I’m reading a Homeland Security document on shopping mall vulnerabilities. Because of course I am. For essential background! I swear!

C. The front yard orchard & garden needs pre-spring prep: cleanup, fertilize, copper spray, lay down some more mulch, repair/improve some raised beds. Get a few more flowering plants for the boarders. Last year, lost all my front yard viny vegetables to an insane aphid/white fly infestation followed by that nasty mold that seems to love squash. So, no front yard squash, cucumbers, etc. this year, as that stuff tends to linger in the soil for years.

Back yard needs work. Lawn needs aerating and reseeding; garden needs weeding/prep; need a few flowers for some planters. The usual.

D. Meanwhile, deferred maintenance keeps piling up: the sun beats on the house’s south-facing walls, which are now peeling and cracking. I got paint, but now I need to clear away obstructions, get some scaffolding (2-story), do a ton of prep, and then get on it while I still can. Sure, you can hire a painter, but I figure this is the follow-up to the Great Brick Insanity: something I can do for a few hours at a time, finish a wall, clear and prep the next, so that, over a summer, with my son’s help, I can get it done. A lot less hands and knees work than bricks. (Still have some brickwork to finish too, but I’m not thinking about that now. I. Am. Not.)

I’m insane.

E. I need to write two history test, one each for the 8th and 9th graders, for tomorrow. What I’m I doing writing here? Later!

Flash Fiction: Datakill

(Let’s try something completely different. For me, at least. I have no idea what I’m doing here…)

“We need 11 seconds.”

No, he thought, you don’t need anything. You want me to murder a little girl.

Part of the Plan was that he, Vlad Alexander, knew only very little of the Plan. It was also probable that most of what he ‘knew’ was incorrect. He operated in a gray area straddling the cyber and human domains. Somewhere, other people knew some aspects of the Plan as it concerned their expertise in the air, land, sea, and space domains, little pieces of truth mixed with nonsense. They had all been trained to execute baffling assignments that meant nothing to them.

Vlad Alexander did not want to murder a little girl. The only reason he had been given was that the murder, executed in precisely the manner and at exactly the specified time, would buy 11 critical seconds for the Plan. Perhaps it was telling that Ops had broken, if not protocol, certainly tradition, to tell him anything at all. Why had they done that? They certainly knew he would notice.

He was aware of things, some dimly, some crystal clear, that he might be better off not knowing. He had spent years training to see and use information, how it was obtained, stored, analyzed, disseminated, and used as a weapon. He had also spent years learning how people react to information. Sometimes, the right message delivered in the right way to the right people in the right order could be more devastating than a large-scale military attack. When an executive, say, bursts out of his office to see terrified looks on his office staff, or calls home only to hear his wife scared out of her wits, he is a much softer target, much more manipulatable, than if he thinks he knows a terrible secret he is protecting his people from. Sometimes, you need a riot to make a point, to shorten the decision window, to compel the right people to make the move you want.

Vlad Alexander arranged such panics, surprises and riots.

One thing Vlad Alexander knew was that his superiors in Ops viewed him as part of the information domain he was trained to use. Another thing he knew was that his emotional landscape, his loves and hates and predilections, were part of the human domain those same superiors used him to weaponize.

Ops had laid out the outline of a plan, leaving all details to Vlad. Vlad was more an expert on these things than his superiors. They knew that as well. When they ordered him to kill a little girl, they had a very good idea how he would react.

Vlad Alexander very much did not wish to kill a little girl.

Great composers generally use the second most likely device, familiar yet unexpected. The first time through, a work should sound surprising; subsequent hearings sound inevitable.

They would expect him to prepare. Vlad called Enrique, using a first level secure channel. A first level channel has almost certainly been hacked, meaning Vlad’s message could not appear critical or even coherent to third parties. Or that the message was intended to be heard by third parties.

“Hey, man, let’s grab a beer, catch up a little.” Vlad’s voice was even.

“Sure, man.” Enrique’s voice was equally bland. “The usual place? 5:00?”

“Can we do 4:00?”

“Man, I gotta work to 5:00. Maybe 4:30?”

“Make it 4:00, and I’ll make it worth your while.”

“Oooo-kay.” A slight hesitation. “I’ll see you at 4:00.”

Calling Enrique would be slightly unexpected, but well within normal parameters. Vlad headed out to the nonexistent usual place. He stopped at Sven’s Scandinavian Pastries on Wabash, under the elevated tracks. A Chinese man peered at him from over the display case in the tiny shop. “Hey, Gustav. Long time.”

“Week before last Wednesday.” The Chinese Gustav eyed him with a slight frown. “I’m not sure you’re being sufficiently discrete.”

“Can I use your restroom?”

“Customers only.”

“I’ll take a spandauer.” Gustav nodded, threw him a key and looked towards a curtained doorway.

Vlad unlocked a narrow door, and eased himself in. Opposite the toilet was another door. After locking that door behind him, Vlad sat in the one chair in front of what looked like a stack of vintage stereo equipment. He put on headphones and pulled from his jacket pocket a small plastic rectangle with a rat tail ending in a 1/4″ plug.

Helene Sachiko Bernatone watched the stray cats play and beg from her perch on a stone bench in the Boboli Gardens. The early fall sun was about to touch the treetops to the left of the Pitti Palace. Takashi should be arriving in a moment to take her to ballet lessons. Alone, she was nevertheless fearless. Hidden eyes watched her; hidden eyes watched everyone.

10 hours earlier, Vlad Alexander had popped out of existence. This was not usual for this stage of such assignments, but within the realm of reasonable. 11 hours. It was difficult, for someone who didn’t exist, to get from Chicago to Florence in 11 hours. He caused an airplane to pop out of existence, as far as anyone in Ops could tell.

Cameras, sensors, and satellites saw nothing when he covered the 50 meters from the hanger to the Tupolev TU-444. His presence did not register with the pilot, or any of the on-board systems. The plane was heading to Peretola, although he was the only one on board to know it. The Tupolev was outfitted in communication gear; with the help of Enrique, Gustav and 2 more contacts upon which he had bet his life, that communication gear had been taken off-off-grid.

Almost all comm traffic was machine-to-machine. Speaking from the system’s perspective, data was data, and humans were towering roadblocks to speed and efficiency. The Tupolev’s systems would give the other systems plenty of busywork. Vlad Alexander intended to keep the humans in the system busy as well. He knew about them what he knew about anyone he studied: their emotional landscapes, their loves and hates and predilections. He needed to keep them entertained for another 10 hours.

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Vlad Alexander sure hoped Enrique had gotten the message. He hoped his contacts were what they seemed to be, but, again, seeing people for what they are is what he did, or a big part of it, at least. He got to work.

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I, Sailko [CC BY-SA 3.0 (

Helene had taken note of Takashi’s tardiness, but remained calm. Then she saw him walking briskly up the hill. He gave Helene a slight bow, and took her hand. “Miss Bernatone, your father has requested you to accompany me on an adventure. Will you please follow me?”

They proceeded together up the hill toward the Forte di Belvedere, a slight Japanese man and slender girl of 9. He touched his watch and ventured a slight look around. “The Medici, who constructed this garden and built this fort, were very much experts at subterfuge and secrecy, even by the standards of the Renaissance.” Takashi often filled their time together with little history lessons, which Helene generally enjoyed. He did not look nor act like Helene’s idea of a ninja, which is what the daughter of Chef had whispered her mother had told her he was. But wasn’t that exactly like a ninja? The Medici were not the only masters of subterfuge and secrecy.

The Tupolev landed without any notice taken by the Peretola tower. It taxied to a building off main runway, stopping just long enough for Vlad Alexander to deplane, and then took off again.

Inside the building stood three men. “Signor Bernatone sends his greetings,” said a large man in an apron, who looked like he’d just stepped away from making some porcetto. Which, given this topsy-turvy world, he just might have. “And his gratitude.” Vlad nodded. He hoped this gratitude would extend to keeping him alive and invisible for a few decades. He was now Out. The only question was if he were dead Out, or alive Out. The first was routine and often unexpected. The second was, by the nature of things, unheard of.

Enrique and Gustav had, of course, never explained their exit plans to Vlad; neither, of course, had the two others whose names he prudently didn’t know. He sure hoped they made it. He himself was at the mercy of Signor Bernatone. He knew his emotional landscape, his loves and hates and predilections. He had sorted them out from the purposeful and expert chaff meant to hide them. If Vlad Alexander had done his work well, Signor Bernatone was not the sort of man to kill a man who saved his daughter.

“I thought they built this for the view.” They had reached the top of the hill, and the tremendous panorama of Florence it provided. Takashi answered, “From here, the Medici Dukes could observe their offices at the Uffizi and the Palazzo Vecchio, the Pitti Palace and all roads leading into Florence. Forte di Belvedere is a difficult place to sneak up on.” Helene was listening while her eyes soaked up the landscape in the fading autumn light.

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They stood atop the point of one of the fortifications. A flicker, a subtle change in light, on the edge of perception such that you were not sure in the next moment that it had happened, radiated out across the landscape from where they stood. An utterly still moment passed. A light drizzle of what appeared to be insects and birds fell to the ground from trees and building facades, followed a moment later by a half dozen small drones in quick succession falling from the sky.

Takashi scanned the horizon without expression, and continued. “The Medici also put in various escapes and hidey-holes, ambushes and traps. From the time of Cosmo the Great, who had his grandson murdered in the Duomo, the family has taken steps.” He turned and took both her hands. “Your father, although only distantly related, has inherited their caution as well as much of their former empire.”

City lights which had just begun to illuminate the ancient city flickered then grew dark. An unearthly quiet, as if the trees themselves had paused to listen, veiled the city. Takashi whispered, “Follow me.”

(For reference. Miniaturization is not just for smart phones: )