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.
Next, 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.
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.
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.”
“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.
“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.
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?”
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.
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:
Conflict avoidance. Avoid competing;
Reproduce young and often;
Breed indiscriminately – lots of mating with whoever is handy;
Provide minimal or no care in raising the offspring;
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:
Competition is natural and unavoidable, so you’d better compete agressively;
Only the most fit offspring survive, so delay and limit breeding to produce fewer but very fit offspring;
Mates are chosen carefully and competed over, as the most fit mate produces the most fit offspring
Large investment in raising the young, with both parents and the herd/pack taking care;
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.)
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?
A. Reading Daughter of Dangerout loud to the Caboose. He is a big fan of the Swan Knight’s Son series, which I’ve previously read out loud to him. Highly recommend the whole Moth & Cobweb series by John C. Wright, especially if you have children, who need to hear stories of people being good and heroic in the face of implacable evil. Characters wrestle with their consciences, and their consciences win!
The first part was fascinating, covering the Fall of Rome, the murder of Stilicho, his family and the families of the Goth legions and the subsequent sack of Rome by Alaric. I’ve now recently read Belloc’s, Lafferty’s and now Machiavelli’s accounts of the same events – very nice to compare and contrast.
Then Machiavelli covers the 6th – 13th centuries, a period that is to me and I imagine many people a bit of a blur – the various Germanic conquerors staking claims to Lombardy and Naples, emperors and would-be emperors coming to the pope to be crowned or not, popes getting involved in worldly affairs, the Avignon Captivity, rise of the Guelphs and Ghibellines, then the White and Black Guelphs – I hope by the end of all this to at least remember which was which (and perhaps spell the words correctly).
One striking thing is how often the popes come off as sympathetic, as being forced to take action, of acting as peacemakers, as sending legates to try to prevent violence. Sure, Machiavelli, who no one ever has accused of being a softy or wearing rose colored glasses, tells plenty of appalling tales of greedy, worldly and violent popes – which is what one would expect. But he’s also willing, in passing, to acknowledge the good or at least well-intentioned actions of popes. I did not expect this.
Finally, about 40% of the way in, we reach another period of Italian history where the names and some of the stories are familiar to me. Dante, Brunelleschi, and, of course, the Medici. All those family names and many of the characters from the Divine Comedy put in appearances. Cosmo di Medici comes off as a near-saint – but the bar is pretty low among Florentine politicians. Still, his generosity and failure to hold grudges are in sharp contrast to the other leading historical characters – even if he’s doing it as part of a strategy to keep his head down and his family in power. That’s Machiavelli’s take, at least in part. Haven’t gotten to the attempted murder of Lorenzo and successful murder of his brother yet (a Murder in the Cathedral!) and his extraordinarily adroit handling of the situation which left him and the Medici much more firmly entrenched than they already were. I’m eager to get Machiavelli’s take, which I assume he would have gotten more or less first hand as a young man.
Otherwise, I get the same general sense from Machiavelli as I do from Tacitus and Thucydides – hubris, blood lust, petty egomania and the violence, political failures and brain-dead stupidity they engender are eternal – as is the desire for the well-governed city.
B. Collected my first rejection letter. I will therefore not be joining the ranks of authors who got their first submitted story published. Feedback was promised, which I eagerly await. Then, as soon as things calm down a little (they will, surely) I’m getting back in the submit stuff saddle! Right now, things truly are extraordinarily complicated, I’m not just being a sissy.
C. At the moment, it is 102F outside with a bullet, on its way to a forecast 113F. This not only harshes my mellow, it seriously hampers my ability to work on the Brick Oven of Doom. Even I, a maniac of epic proportions, won’t try to work in the sun when it’s over 100 outside – at least, not for long.
Nevertheless, got up early and, with an hour break for Mass, worked until 11:45 A.M., when it hit 98F – and got the first coat of stucco on!
Getting the insulation on and especially the chicken wire on and tight enough was a bit of a pain, but the stucco itself was about the first part of this project that actually went better than I’d anticipated. I’ve stuccoed a bunch of walls when I’ve gone house building in Mexico (church groups build small tight houses for the folks working at the machiadores just over the border) so I knew how to do it. It just went really, really smoothly, especially with the Caboose helping with the stucco supply – didn’t need to climb down and up to reload.
If things go perfectly – ha! – we might have pizza as early as Monday!!
Currently have 4 books going at once (not counting the ones with dusty bookmarkers in them from goodness knows when). ‘Going at once’ meaning here that all four are beside the bed (mostly in the Kindle) and I’ll read some of one, then for whatever reason decide that another sounds more interesting at the moment, then move on to another. This is not my normal practice – I’ve got a lot on my mind these days, and so my concentration is not what it usually is. It seems to be working out OK.
John C. Wright’s the City of Corpses: the further adventures of Ami, the Daughter of Danger reviewed here. Ami is trying to get to the bottom of what’s going on, what with her not knowing how, exactly, she came to have an invisible magic ring, a Batman-level outfit and gadgets and major ninja fighting chops, not to mention the legion of werewolves and other even worse monsters out to kill her. And who her beloved is whom she is supposed to save. She has a lot on her plate. So she has infiltrated the headquarters of the creatures out to get her. Sounds, um, Dangerous! Just getting into it. So far, so good.
Niccolo Machiavelli, the History of Florence and of the Affairs of Italy. The weird thing: this is my ‘light’ reading – I find it lots less stressful, somehow, than fiction. There’s not as much emotional investment, and when I’ve got a lot on my mind, such as now, it’s good to just dump info into my brain.
Machiavelli starts his History right around the timeframe covered by Lafferty’s Fall of Rome, and tells, in brief summary form, the story of Stilicho and Olympius and the disaster of the Fall of Rome. His take is somewhat different in terms of motivations and results than either Lafferty or Belloc, in that he is trying to show a Roman Republic crushed and shattered by foreigners. Lafferty wants to show what a tragedy it was that Rome fell before Europe was sufficiently civilized and Christianized; Belloc want to emphasize that the Fall of Rome was not as complete a destruction of the Res Romana as all that with an eye to England especially. Machiavelli wants to restore the Roman Republic after a fashion. Therefore he emphasizes that the native Latins were conquered by foreign barbarians – a contention that Lafferty would dispute, as it is debateable – and Lafferty debates it – what constitutes a foreigner let alone a barbarian in the eyes of the Empire in the 5th century. Also not very far in.
Chesterton, The Everlasting Man. Rereading this for the Bay Area Chesterton Society reading group. It’s Chesterton, so it is awesome.
Sudden Rescueby Jon Mollison. A space adventure and love story with hard nosed space shipper/smuggler, a princess, evil alien AIs, a sassy ship AI, funky planets, dive bars, miners with attitude and a galactic war to be prevented. Some neat sci fi speculations. Most of the way through, will review when I get it done.
As far as writing goes, PulpRev issued a “very short call for very short stories” which somehow popped up on my radar – Twitter, maybe? – and, since the deadline and the stories needed were short, almost Flash Fiction level short, I said to myself, I did, what the heck? And fired off a 1,500 word adventure with “muscle and heart” in the Pulp tradition, meaning in this case a dude named Martin in a giant Mech and a scantily-clad beauty who manages a nanite army. Together, they fight crime! Or, in this case, a nasty alien-bureaucrat monster suffering from a megalomaniacal need to get Our Heroes. Things done blowed up good! It’s a freebee, but it was fun and only took a few hours to write. Let’s see if it gets used.
On the more ambitious story front, when I last looked through my pile of incomplete drafts for ones I should just finish, came across an Arthurian story I almost finished but chickened out on last year when SuperversiveSF was calling for submissions for an anthology of Arthurian stories. As I approached the end, I started getting all these ‘this isn’t good/original/researched enough’ feelings, and it ground to a halt. I got the feeling (BTW: we have minds so that we may be freed from slavery to our feelings. Just FYI.) that I was a clueless interloper into a subject that had been worked over by much better writers than me, and that I was bound to fall far, far short of what the *real* writers of Arthurian-based fiction write.
A completely logical and reality-based concern.
Upon rereading it – it seemed pretty darn OK. I even read the first 3rd or so to my kids, and when I had to stop, I looked up and the story had totally hooked them. They wanted to know how it ended! AHHHH! So: when we get back from Idaho (we’re going to look at the eclipse, leaving Thursday) I’ll have to finish this one up.
One other story is too close to stop, although to be frank I’m not sure I’ve got enough drama in it to make anybody care. The sci fi conceits are OK, and I like the characters, so maybe a little thought-smithing before any more wordsmithing? Or just finish and be done with it?