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.

Image result for Tupolev TU-444

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.

File:Pianta del buonsignori, dettaglio 228 fortezza di belvedere.jpg
I, Sailko [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

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.

Image result for corot florence

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOTYgcdNrXE&t=1325s )

WWII Bombers, the English, Recap, Links

Incoming Potpourri!

A. For those who have served honorably in our military: thank you, from the bottom of my heart. I am well aware that it is only an accident of timing that kept me out of Vietnam (still going when I got to high school, ended, after a fashion, before I turned 18). My father spent WWII as a crack welder on the home front; some of his and my mother’s brothers did fight, but were of a generation where, mostly, it was not something you talked about much. My aunt Verna was Rosie the Riveter, complete with models and photos of the planes she help build – that she never talked about. I only found out from my cousins after she died. Uncle Louis did something with the Air Force in Korea, but all I ever heard about was his time as a voice on military radio – he had a very deep and beautiful speaking voice, bet he was good.

My father in law, may he rest in peace, got in in time for the invasion of Italy. About the only story he told was of cataloguing the weapons the Allies seized: he was struck with how beautiful Italian machine guns were, especially compared to German machine guns: scroll work, a sense of proportion. But there was no question which one you’d want to be holding if you needed to kill somebody.

He was also helped liberate some Nazi death camps. This, he never spoke of, except to tell of the dancing. Because he grew up in and near various ethnic neighborhoods in Chicago, he knew all sorts of ethnic dances. He was an incredible dancer. So, when the prisoners were freed, they – any who were strong enough – danced. And he joined in.

He paid a terrible price, even if he never, as far as I know (and I doubt I or anyone does know), had to shoot at anyone or see his buddies die before his eyes. He saw unfathomable evil up front and personal. His mother said he went to war a happy-go-lucky boy and came back a serious and sad man.

So, thank you, veterans! God bless you. And may He grant eternal rest to those who have died.

B. Read something about the comparative capabilities of American versus British WWII bombers, specifically, the B-17 and the Lancaster, which were the workhorse Allied bombers in the European theater. What was most interesting to me: the American bomber had a bigger crew and more guns, and included armour around all the crew positions. As a result, a B-17 generally carried about half the weight in bombs that a Lancaster carried, having instead invested that weight in guns and armour to defend the aircraft and its crew. The Lancaster had fewer guns and no armour protecting the crew, except the pilot – who was generally the only officer on board. But it typically carried about twice the tonnage of bombs as the B-17.

B-17. The Germans referred to them as ‘Flying Porcupines’ due to all the guns.

B-17s flew high and during the day; Lancasters flew lower during the night. The Americans targeted specific buildings and installations, while the British targeted cities. Once the P-51 Mustangs came on-line in force, the B-17s had really good fighter escorts. The net results: B-17s, partly because they bombed during the day and partly because they flew above where flak could reliably hit them, and because they had swarms of Mustangs with them to keep the (very, very good) Luftwaffe fighters at bay, reliably hit their targets. The British, flying at night to compensate for their comparative lack of altitude and defences, targeted ENTIRE CITIES because anything smaller was all but impossible to find and hit. Their success rate was comparable to the Americans, but only because their targets were an order of magnitude or 2 larger. I assume the British pilots and bombardiers were as good as the Americans, because British pilots in WWII were damn good. It is a matter of strategy formed by technical capabilities, coupled with a burning British desire to make the Third Reich pay for bombing British cities. And, boy, did they pay.

Lancaster.

Underlying this, it seems to me, is another factor, one I ran into first years ago reading about Florence Nightingale. The attitude of the British military, it seems, is that commoners both expendable and of no great value. Nightingale found the British officers showed no concern to the point of contempt for the men dying under them, and it took her years to shame the government into starting to provide decent (for the times) medical care. But the attitude persisted: the Lancaster, and, I understand, subsequent British bombers as well, embodied this disdain: only the pilot’s position was armoured. Stray bullets or shrapnel was much more likely to kill a crewman than an officer on a British bomber. And the numbers seem to bear this out: both in absolute and percentage terms, casualties among British airmen were far higher than among Americans. Americans, I should think, would be shamed and outraged if their officers were provided protections denied to the crewmen.

C. Tidy segue: Reading Chesterton’s biography of St. Francis for our Chesterton Society reading group. In it, G.K. tells the story of how a young Francis, working for his father selling cloth in the marketplace, is interrupted by a beggar:

While he was selling velvet and fine embroideries to some solid merchant of the town a beggar came imploring alms; evidently in a somewhat tactless manner. It was a rude and simple society and there were no laws to punish a starving man for expressing his need for food, such as have been established in a more humanitarian age; and the lack of any organised police permitted such persons to pester the wealthy without any great danger. But there was I believe, in many places a local custom of the guild forbidding outsiders to interrupt a fair bargain; and it is possible that some such thing put the mendicant more than normally in the wrong. Francis had all his life a great liking for people who had been put hopelessly in the wrong. On this occasion he seems to have dealt with the double interview with rather a divided mind; certainly with distraction, possibly with irritation. Perhaps he was all the more uneasy because of the almost fastidious standard of manners that came to him quite naturally.

Chesterton, St. Francis of Assisi

G.K. goes on to comment about the relationship between the rich and the poor in medieval Italy, something that, though imperfect and often ignored, is one of the great triumphs of Christianity:

Another element implied in the story, which was already partially a
natural instinct, before it became supernatural ideal, was something that had never perhaps been wholly lost in those little republics of medieval Italy. It was something very puzzling to some people; something clearer as a rule to Southerners than to Northerners, and I think to Catholics than to Protestants; the quite natural assumption of the equality of men. It has nothing necessarily to do with the Franciscan love for men; on the contrary one of its merely practical tests is the equality of the duel. Perhaps a gentleman will never be fully an egalitarian until he can really quarrel with his servant. But it was an antecedent condition of the Franciscan brotherhood; and we feel it in this early and secular incident. Francis, I fancy, felt a real doubt about which he must attend to, the beggar or the merchant; and having attended to the merchant, he turned to attend the beggar; he thought of them as two men. This is a thing much more difficult to describe, in a society from which it is absent, but it was the original basis of the whole business; it was why the popular movement arose in that sort of
place and that sort of man.

ibid.

This, coming from an Englishman, one who clearly felt a great affinity to St. Francis. We Americans have, somehow, inherited, it seems to me, more from the South to which we did not belong than to the North from which we came. This brings to mind Lafferty’s assertion that, while our institutions come from the Romans, our hearts owe more to the Goths. But that’s getting far afield, even for me.

D. This is funny.

E. After I published that last bit of flash fiction fluff, I remembered that I had already written a very similar and, it seems to me, much better piece of fluff. Almost took the new story down – as low as my standards are, I do, in fact, have some. But then, remembering that authors (if only!) are the worst judges of their own work, I left it up.

To find the earlier piece, which at first I did not remember clearly, I needed to skim through the couple dozen pieces of flash fiction I’ve posted here. Distance, perhaps after the fashion of beer goggles, has made several of them look pretty OK. The ones that got the most comments were:

Prolegomenon to Any Future Old-School SF&F Adventure – the A. Merritt tribute opening;

The most positive feedback on an individual story was on Random Writing: One Day… about a crusty old man who mooned a big rig from the back of his vintage motorcycle while crossing the Vicksburg Bridge. That one was a lot of fun.

But by far the most comments and positive feedback were received on the 7 parts of It Will Work – Tuesday Flash Fiction taken as a whole. I stopped the series because it stopped being flash fiction – in order to end it, I needed to think ahead more than one episode. Perhaps this was a mistake. Perhaps I need to get off my hindquarters and finish it.

But my surprise favorite at the moment is possibly Saturday Flash Fiction (12/15/18), a story about a woman seeking healing through story therapy, which, it seems to me, displays the most craft: I set it up so that the – I hope – surprise ending carried some emotional punch, and could be read on several levels. I also like how Stanford’s storytelling came out. I’ll no doubt change my opinion in the morning.

And, thus, I’m brought to the real issue here: I can write flash fiction because, like diving into cold water, I need only pluck up my courage for a moment. A short story is like swimming the Channel to me; a novel would be swimming to Hawaii. The combination of being hypercritical, needing to plan, and being a coward is leaving me with hundreds of pages of begun, half-finished, and even very nearly finished stories. Not to mention a couple non-fiction works on education I’ve left hanging.

I’m not sure what to do at this point.

Writing, Updates, a Link

A. Finished one story that’s been rattling about unfinished for years, about a musician who doesn’t know he’s an artist, and an artist who knows he is. In space. With cool tech. And bureaucratic intrigue. And with some literal cliff hanging

I still like it, 3 days later. This is an achievement of sorts, whether of growing confidence or self-delusion, I don’t know. Now need to find some place to submit it, but I think I’ll let it sit a few more days first.

The coolest, most encouraging part of all for me is that this is the first story I’ve *finished* finished in the grand SciFi world that has been rattling around in my head for a decade or two. Have draft-like objects of a couple more stories, some outlines of couple more, and an incomplete outline and many pages of notes to what is looking to be a multi-novel series. (I can’t write one novel, but I can *plan* a series. Pathetic.)

In my head I call this world ‘the Systems’, a lame but functional title. It centers around a trip made by a generational ship to a three star system, where two of the stars are stable little suns, each having nice inhabitable planets and moons. These two orbit each other, and together orbit a third, more distant star, which is not so stable, but somewhere along the path to being a red giant.

Cool made up tech

The underlying future tech stuff is nothing screamingly original, although I of course try to make it cool; the interest for me is in how one would maintain a sustainable, liveable culture under the mentally and emotionally harsh conditions of the original trip, how people would deal with decades-to-centuries long terraforming exercises after the trip, and how successfully people can transition from epic explorers/conquerors of new worlds to – what? So, you won! Hurrah! Now what? You farm, or just hang out while the bots take care of it for you?

I’m attempting to deal with the central problem Star Trek solves by its most egregious handwavium: in a super cool high tech socialist paradise, what do people *do*? Some tiny percent explore strange new worlds, etc., but most, it is implied, become Trobriand Islanders, only with better toys and manners. They have no hope to better themselves or the world in any objective sense, so they raise yams, figuratively, and screw, trade ‘art’ to reinforce social standing and improve self-esteem , and scheme for enhanced social position.

Talk about Hell. I want to look at this in more detail.

The main challenge for very amatuer and inexperienced me is setting up the overall arc of the stories. It’s fun to fill in once you know where you’re going, but, for me at least, I have to know the destination. I’ve started writing out character arcs for major characters, which can run thousands of words each, but does help me get clear. The plot itself has 4 major incidents, where character is revealed and Rubicons are crossed; I must know how each of about 8 characters deal with them….

One very cool thing: I had a major plot point for which a sympathetic mom had to do something pretty terrible. I’d gotten hung up on that for a long time – why did she do that? Then, months later, I figured out why. Weirdly gratifying.

Another thing: so far, all the most interesting characters are women. Plenty of men, and plenty of derring-do to go around, but so far, it’s the women (and girls – children figure prominently in this) who are most interesting. To me, at least. This will likely change as time goes on.

Anyway, fun and frustrating. At this rate, I’ll be almost done by 2035 or so…

Then made the mistake, maybe, of rereading the last story I finished, a couple months back, which story, in a fit of reckless enthusiasm, I even submitted for an anthology.

Well. I sure can write some trite, awkward stuff, I can. Sheesh. I’m embarrassed by it. Making it better would not have been too difficult, but I seem to have needed some space to see it.

We are assured that humility is a good thing – I’m going with that. And I’m working on cleaning up and finishing some other half-finished stories. See how it goes.

B. As obsessively dedicated readers with long memories here may recall, I lead a religious ed group down at the local parish called Feasts & Faith. Each week, I give a talk/slide show about the week’s feasts, including the saints days. We try to have appropriate snacks, such as foods and drinks from the countries the saints are from. Many big or locally important feast have foods and activities associated with them already, which makes it easy.

The point of all this is that the Church gives us the saints as models and leaders, and the liturgical year lays them out for us in convenient and persistent small doses. There’s really is nothing happening to us today on a personal, political or ecclesiastical level that some, usually large, number of saints have not already gone through. Temptations? Betrayal? Political oppression? Church corruption? Reading the lives of the saints tells us these things are nothing new, they happen in every age, and will be with us until the Second Coming. And, most important, that people did get through them faithfully. I also, you’ll be shocked to hear, digress into long discussions of history, in order to provide some context. Doing the research for these meetings has been very enlightening.

So I was pleased to read this post from David Warren. A sample:

Among the uses of the Catholic (and Orthodox) cult of saints, is the groundwork they provide for the student’s sense of historical time. The saints arrive in succession, some earlier than others. Yet each is a figure who comes from outside time, and leads us, as it were, back where he came from. There is no “progress” from one saint, or generation of saints, to another. Each is sui generis — one of a kind — and each is “perfect,” by which we don’t mean entirely free of sin but complete to a purpose.

In their immense numbers they provide a constellation of light to our dark world, invisible to most but visible to many. The liturgy brings one after another into view, to serve as searchlights of us: thousands or millions of “little Christ lanterns” spread as the stars from horizon to horizon.

The custom of assigning saints to functions, of naming “patron saints” for trades and activities, sufferings and conditions of life, should be self-explanatory. To the faithful, of course, it is more than just custom. The Christian faith was from its origin extremely practical. (“Do this, in memory of me.”) To say, as they teach in our schools today, if they teach anything besides juvenile delinquency and despair, that the cults within our religion are “pagan survivals,” or “old superstitions,” is all very well; so long as we realize that this misses the point entirely, as all acts of malice tend to do.

C. The Endless Front Yard Brick Project is slowly progressing. Did have one of those moments that is both encouraging and discouraging at the same time: Leading down from the front porch, which is already complete as far as brick paving goes, will be a gate and two steps down into the front yard orchard. For some reason, I have been wildly overthinking this. Curved footers on weird radii, lots of holes, steel and concrete, hard-to-stake out forms – every time I thought about it, it got more complicated. Been putting it off for like 2 years now.

The encouraging part: once I stopped making it into the Great Wall in my head, a good and very simple solution presented itself. Just not that complicated. So, on the encouraging side, I think I can knock it off in a couple days with a minimum of digging and concrete pouring; on the discouraging side – why do I work myself up into knots trying to make things hard? If only this were a rare event…

Further updates and pictures as events warrant.

Reading, Writing: End of April Update

As noted in earlier posts, the Late Unpleasantness at our school has somehow unlocked whatever it was that was keeping me from writing fiction, as the recent flash fiction-alanche here demonstrates. (No claims to quality, here, just noting simple existence.) Today, after I impose on my long-suffering wife to do a final proofreading, I’ll be submitting a story for publication, a 4,200 word trifle. What’s not a trifle: overcoming my self-defeating self criticism long enough to hit ‘send’.

Wish me luck. Further notices as events warrant.

Moving from the ridiculous to the comparatively sublime, or at least from the whimsical to the mundane, writing up some basic marketing and business planning docs for a startup. This project also entails doing market research and honing a product idea to a scary-looking point. In other words, using the skills I’m institutionally certified to possess in order to eventually make money happen. What a concept!

It’s been surprisingly fun so far. Wish me luck, and even say a prayer or two if so inclined, please. Again, further notices as events warrant.

Next up, while I’m sleeping better than I was during Holy Week and Easter Week when all this gender theory nonsense was coming down at school, I still have some tossing and turning time to read in bed. But as I don’t want lights on in case they keep my beloved from sleeping, I’m stuck with choosing among the hundred plus books on my Kindle. Just as I read Honor at Stake late on night because it was there (it’s pretty fun – check it out), I’ve now begun A. Merritt’s The Metal Monster for similar reasons. The Prologue of this work is the proximate cause of the flash fiction trifle Prolegomenon to Any Future Old School SF&F Adventure recently posted here.

Or some purpler shade of purple.

Merritt’s prose pushes right past purple to solferino. But that’s cool – ultimately, writing is writing, and style or convention is far less important than having something to say and saying it well. I like Moby Dick and Last of the Mohicans not despite but because they are so over the top by modern standards. And I am indebted to Merritt for the word impedimenta, a fine, evocative and colorful term.

What the heck, here’s an extensive sample: sunset in Tibet, from the first chapter of The Metal Monster.

Then a silence fell upon us. Suddenly the sun dipped down behind the flank of the stone giant guarding the valley’s western gate; the whole vale swiftly darkened—a flood of crystal-clear shadows poured within it. It was the prelude to that miracle of unearthly beauty seen nowhere else on this earth—the sunset of Tibet.

We turned expectant eyes to the west. A little, cool breeze raced down from the watching steeps like a messenger, whispered to the nodding poppies, sighed and was gone. The poppies were still. High overhead a homing kite whistled, mellowly.

As if it were a signal there sprang out in the pale azure of the western sky row upon row of cirrus cloudlets, rank upon rank of them, thrusting their heads into the path of the setting sun. They changed from mottled silver into faint rose, deepened to crimson.

“The dragons of the sky drink the blood of the sunset,” said Chiu-Ming.

As though a gigantic globe of crystal had dropped upon the heavens, their blue turned swiftly to a clear and glowing amber—then as abruptly shifted to a luminous violet A soft green light pulsed through the valley.

Under it, like hills ensorcelled, the rocky walls about it seemed to flatten. They glowed and all at once pressed forward like gigantic slices of palest emerald jade, translucent, illumined, as though by a circlet of little suns shining behind them.

The light faded, robes of deepest amethyst dropped around the mountain’s mighty shoulders. And then from every snow and glacier-crowned peak, from minaret and pinnacle and towering turret, leaped forth a confusion of soft peacock flames, a host of irised prismatic gleamings, an ordered chaos of rainbows.

Great and small, interlacing and shifting, they ringed the valley with an incredible glory—as if some god of light itself had touched the eternal rocks and bidden radiant souls stand forth.

Through the darkening sky swept a rosy pencil of living light; that utterly strange, pure beam whose coming never fails to clutch the throat of the beholder with the hand of ecstasy, the ray which the Tibetans name the Ting-Pa. For a moment this rosy finger pointed to the east, then arched itself, divided slowly into six shining, rosy bands; began to creep downward toward the eastern horizon where a nebulous, pulsing splendor arose to meet it.

And as we watched I heard a gasp from Drake. And it was echoed by my own.

For the six beams were swaying, moving with ever swifter motion from side to side in ever-widening sweep, as though the hidden orb from which they sprang were swaying like a pendulum.

Faster and faster the six high-flung beams swayed—and then broke—broke as though a gigantic, unseen hand had reached up and snapped them!

An instant the severed ends ribboned aimlessly, then bent, turned down and darted earthward into the welter of clustered summits at the north and swiftly were gone, while down upon the valley fell night.

Wow.

The other many, many books I’m supposedly reading have been a bit back-burnered (Again! Alas!) because dead tree editions are not easily readable in bed late at night, and daylight hours are pretty much filled up at the moment.

Finally, our massive Easter Octave Pizza Party was fun. My Fitbit said I walked over 7 miles that day – that would be mostly walking around in the hundred square yards comprising the kitchen, patio and pizza oven. My feet were a little tired by the end. Made 14 pizzas, 4 roast chickens and a few pounds of steak in the brick oven, in addition to a vat of guacamole and a double batch of ciabatta rolls in the kitchen. Moderation and I don’t see eye to eye.

Happy Easter Season!