Saturday, January 29, 2022

A little something for the weekend?

Recommended Watching

Free Guy

Some people just can’t stand Ryan Reynolds. If you are one of those people, give this one a miss, as this movie features Ryan Reynolds at his Ryan Reynoldsiest.

If that prospect doesn’t bother you… 

Free Guy is a hoot, and a lot of fun.

In this movie Reynolds plays “Guy,” a man whose life is so boring, repetitious, and inconsequential that he doesn’t even realize he doesn’t have a last name—until the day he wakes up, and realizes he’s just an NPC in someone else’s MMRPG.

Then he decides to try deviating from his script, just to see if he can make a difference.

I don’t want to say too much about this one, except to say that it’s smart, funny, and full of surprises. I like to think it’s the sort of story Philip K. Dick might have written if he was still alive today—and if he wasn’t a paranoid schizophrenic, and wasn’t loaded to the gills on anti-psychotic meds, and was much better at writing comedy than he really was, and in short, was more like the person I wish he’d been in real life and not like the sad mess he actually was. Never mind. Forget the analogy.

There is an inner plot—about Guy discovering who he is, the truth about the world he lives in, and the real reason for and purpose of his life—encased in an outer plot, about the usual stolen code and evil megacorporation and rich megalomaniac fashion victim übervillain and all that sort of thing. The outer plot isn’t particularly groundbreaking in any way, but it is necessary in order to add extra meaning and urgency to the inner plot. By the end of this movie you will actually care about the characters in this story, the NPCs even more so than the “real” people, and the ending is very positive and uplifting.

Which makes it all the more puzzling to me, then, that the screenplay for this one was co-authored by the same yutz who co-authored the second movie on today’s double-feature—but more about that in a minute.

Recommendation: Make a big bowl of popcorn, kick back, and enjoy this one!

_____________________

Recommended Missing 

Ready Player One

 

My momma always told me, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Must. Bite. Tongue…

Sorry mom, I can’t do it. Maybe someone else can find something positive to say about this one, but for me, this movie manages to combine everything I find irritating about Steven Spielberg at his smug, smarmy. self-indulgent and self-referential worst with everything I absolutely hate about contemporary formulaic, derivative, paint-by-numbers “cyberpunk” fiction, all rolled up into one great big incoherent steaming turd of a movie. There is such a thing as homage, and it can be quite good. This isn’t an homage, though, it’s a flash mob storming through the 1980s and stealing everything that isn’t nailed down.

The fact that this movie made a half-billion dollars irks me.

The fact that the novel this movie was based on was a New York Times bestseller infuriates me.

The fact that the sequel, Ready Player Two, debuted as the #1 bestseller on the New York Times list and the film is already in development renders me nearly speechless. If the Russians were to wipe us out in a nuclear war next week and thus prevent the sequel movie from being completed and released, they would be doing the world a favor. 

Maybe someone else can find something positive to say about this one. I can’t.

Recommendation: If your only choice is between watching this one or gouging your own eyes out, say goodbye to your eyes and start gouging.

Friday, January 28, 2022

HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES: Emerald of Earth – CHAPTER 4: Alien Attacks!

Almost-thirteen Emerald Marcillon lives with her parents, who have dug up evidence of aliens in Chicxilub Crater in Yucatan, they have found artifacts that point to a long-ago alien war. An alien artificial intelligence called Inamma has survived that war. It tries to steal the artifacts that when assembled, can destroy all of Humanity. But it can’t find them and kills Emerald’s parents. Emerald escapes and is taken into Earth orbit to the SOLAR EXPLORER. Inamma follows Emerald into space, and the ship’s captain, who is also her great-aunt, tries to hide her from Inamma. Emerald holds the key to the artifacts. Emerald is not the best at making friends, but manages to make a few on SOLAR EXPLORER. When her friends and crew members find what Inamma is, they fight together to protect the artifacts.

(I’m posting Fridays, because if you like what you see and you’re a parent/aunt/uncle/friend of the family, you can forward, text, Instagram, or tiktok the story to your child/niece-nephew/friend-of-the-family – and your significant young adult would have Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday to read it, so it won’t interfere with the Homework Schedule.)

“Onde você pensa que você está indo, moça?”
her father called after her, holding the airlock door open.

“Leave me alone!”

The muffled voice of her mother called him back inside. He hesitated then closed the door slowly.

The soldiers were no longer making any pretense of being professors and college students. The older men and women barked orders and the youngsters hurried around, pulling down the tent, packing equipment and moving it all out to the road that ran from Progresso to Telchac Puerto. By the time the sun sank into the misty heat of the jungle, the soldiers were gone and the station was silent but for the cries of monkeys, squawks of parrots, and the coatis chirping, snorting, or grunting.

She didn’t want to go back into the trailer because there’d just be another argument. She’d feel trapped, walled in, and helpless and that would make things worse in her mind and she’d start to get angry. She held her breath, counting down from a thousand. Finally, she breathed easier and she could wonder what was in the crate the root digger had pulled out of the ground. What made her so sure that the digger was a regular scientist and not a soldier? If the woman was a soldier, then she had probably sent the crate into Progresso with the luggage they’d moved out. But is she was a real researcher, then the crate would still be there!

She wanted desperately to check. But not yet. She moved silently, listening. It was calm and peaceful, resting; of course there was wildness and violence. But it was natural, not created by Human interference with nature.

She ran silently down to the beach, running for a while on the cooling sand. She slowed, then went back toward the jungle. She angled up away from the water and finally saw a game path she’d run a dozen times. She jogged along until she was panting. Stopping abruptly, she listened. Nothing but the jungle, the shouts and moving racket from the station were swallowed by densely packed trees and undergrowth. Diffuse green light leaked down from the canopy.

It took a while before she could find the right trails to lead her to the root woman’s excavation of the box, but when she found it, she grinned when she leaned over to look down. The box was still there, exposed!

Frowning, she touched her necklace. The tektites felt lightly warmer than the air, no different than her skin, but rough. She wanted to cover the box, so a casual check wouldn’t bring the wrong person poking around. The digger hadn’t left the shovel behind and there was nothing else she could use, so she kicked soil back into the hole. If her parents had buried it, they’d wanted it hidden for a reason.

By the time she’d buried the box and spread branches and leaves over the scar, she was exhausted and the crescent Moon had set. Heading back to the station, she kept as much out of sight as she could, reaching the edge of the clearing and stopping.

The soldiers were gone and the lights inside the trailer were all on. The air was still and humid and warm. Just the way she liked it. Keeping to the jungle, she made her way along the edge then over the dune and down the path to the beach, weaving through Yucatan scrub and scratchy green beach grass. Her tent was half way down a sand dune where the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico mixed. Dry palms and green alamo trees rattled in the breeze off the water. Five meters away, the slap of waves on perfect sand sounded with dulling monotony.

Slipping through the flap of her tent then under a cowl of mosquito netting, she rolled onto her low cot. She could just see the stars through the netting and the tent’s screen window and watched a low satellite move across the sky.

She could hear Mom and Dad arguing. She could almost hear what they were saying. But she didn’t need to. The subject was always the same: the stupid Chicxulub Crater and the sixty-five million year old buried remains of a meteorite that hit Earth. It had contributed to the extinction of the dinosaurs while killing off half of what life was left. Uncovering the mystery of the meteorite had been her parent’s passion for the twenty years of their marriage.

But, Dad wanted a normal life now and Emerald was starting to think maybe he was right. He wanted them to live in a town, maybe have a normal job teaching paleoxenoarchaeontology – the study of the origins of pre-historic, extraterrestrial materials like meteorites – in America. Maybe the three of them could do fun things together like they did when she was little.

Mom argued that the real world was here, at Chicxulub and that they were so close to exposing real, verifiably alien artifacts that it would be immoral and irresponsible if they left.

The three of them living alone on the coast for almost two years now was crushing them all. Her parents had dug up six gray plastic boxes worth of junk that no one in the universe could possibly be interested in. Emerald had no physical friends, only people she chatted with on rLife, usually other people on the spectrum like she was – not that she wanted any physical friends. She liked being alone. They hadn’t seen tourists at the Crater for months.

Sometimes she thought that maybe she could handle ONE friend who lived somewhere nearby. Emerald sighed. She and Mom and Dad worked together great during the day. It’s just that Mom and Dad couldn’t be together for a single night without world war three breaking out.

Maybe they were just plain crazy. Or they’d fallen out of love.

Lately Mom had been more excited while Dad seemed angrier. Emerald sighed, rolled to her back and snapped on the halogen bed light. It wouldn’t be the first night she’d spent on the beach alone. In fact, she was starting to like it that way now that she was twelve and a half. She read a chapter from the classic science fiction book, PODKAYNE OF MARS, then turned out the light and settled down to listen to the waves whispering on the beach until she could keep her eyes open no longer.

She woke to a sound she’d heard before. After a brief, blurry instant, she recognized it as a fast version of mumbletypeg. The sound of knives being thrust into wet sand and pulled up fast over and over again came from the water, moving up the hill.

Pulse pounding in her ears, Emerald sat up.

Through her other screen window, the Moon was setting, balanced like a huge, silver scythe on the Caribbean. Against the Moon, she saw a robot spider – a thick platform jutting six legs and downward spikes. It didn’t move for several minutes then walked out of her line of sight, sounding like knives being thrust into wet sand.

Emerald crawled silently out of the tent and scampered down to the damp, firm sand on the Gulf. She sprinted along the beach until she could see the sharp, regular depressions where the robot had plunged its feet into the sand. She was even with the aluminum trailers of the house and lab. Up the dune again, she slowed then peeked over the ridge.

Dad pushed open the airlock and shouted, “Emerald!”

From out of the night came a cough and a hiss. Something whistled faintly through the air. Then the house exploded in a blinding fireball. The shockwave threw Emerald and part of the dune backward, tumbling into shallow water. Stunned, trembling, she waded back to shore, stumbled and fell to her hands and knees silently on the sand.

Emerald heard a second hiss and cough, a thud and another fireball rose, glaring white light at first, fading to red as it rolled into the sky. Shreds of hot metal rained hissing down on the beach. The sound of knives stabbing sand came over the dune again as a third missile shredded her tent. She curled more tightly on the wet sand ten meters from the alien robot, holding her breath.

A few moments later, the spider walked through the burning remains of her tent, splashed into the Gulf and was gone, leaving Emerald entirely and completely...alone.

Image: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-shCROTG0xHA/Vf23FAhb2QI/AAAAAAAAX80/aEG8ZyFwyhA/s320/Heirs%2Bof%2Bthe%2BShattered%2BSpheres%2BEmerald%2Bof%2BEarth%2B%2B%2B%2B300dpi.jpg


Guy Stewart is a retired teacher and counselor, with science fiction for young people and adults published in ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact; podcast at CAST OF WONDERS; and in CRICKET the Magazine for Children. For links to his other works, go to https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/. For an interview about EMERALD OF EARTH, try this: http://www.writersandauthors.info/2015/09/interview-with-guy-stewart.html

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Let's talk about Newsletters

One of the secrets to building readership, I’ve been told time and time again in marketing workshops and webinars, is to build a mailing list and then to send out a newsletter weekly, or at least monthly.

I don’t know about this. I’d always thought the secret was to write great fiction and then put it out where people can read it. Our sales numbers suggest that I am dead wrong on this point, though, we let’s talk this week about author’s and publisher’s newsletters. 

Some questions:

• If you’re an author, do you publish a newsletter? If so, how often, and can you send me a copy?

• If you’re a reader, do you subscribe to any author’s or publisher’s newsletters? Who has a really good one that you’d recommend subscribing to?

• A weekly newsletter seems like overkill to me. What do you think? Too frequent?

• Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, having been the newsletter editor for a couple of different non-profit organizations with thousands of members where the monthly newsletter was always a big deal. (And where the member behavior suggested that 90% of them threw it straight in the trash without reading it.) Assuming we could produce such a thing, does anyone have the time to read complex newsletters anymore?

• If you subscribe to newsletters, in what format do you prefer to receive them? Me, I would prefer to keep things as simple and clean as possible, and I absolutely will not click on an email link that sends me off to retrieve a file from “the cloud.” I’m even leery of opening unsolicited PDF files these days. What’s been your experience?

Thanks,
Bruce Bethke


 

Creating Alien Aliens, Part 11: Invading Aliens (Dos)

Five decades ago, I started my college career with the intent of becoming a marine biologist. I found out I had to get a BS in biology before I could even begin work on MARINE biology; especially because there WEREN'T any marine biology programs in Minnesota.

Along the way, the science fiction stories I'd been writing since I was 13 began to grow more believable. With my BS in biology and a fascination with genetics, I started to use more science in my fiction.

After reading hard SF for the past 50 years, and writing hard SF successfully for the past 20, I've started to dig deeper into what it takes to create realistic alien life forms. In the following series, I'll be sharing some of what I've learned. I've had some of those stories published, some not...I teach a class to GT young people every summer called ALIEN WORLDS. I've learned a lot preparing for that class for the past 25 years...so...I have the opportunity to share with you what I've learned thus far. Take what you can use, leave the rest. Let me know what YOU'VE learned. Without further ado...


What, exactly, constitutes an “invasion”?

Sometimes it’s obvious: D-Day, the Invasion of Normandy is obvious, at least on the surface.

Would anyone here consider COVID-19 an invasion of billions of sovereign Human Bodies?

How about the European occupation of the continent named after someone who “discovered” something that was already there and had populations with cultures and technologies and writing and education and art and medicine?

Did THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN invade a tiny Arizona town in a novel that debuted Michael Crichton’s real name for the first time?

If you’ve ever gotten cholecystitis, bacteremia, cholangitis, a urinary tract infection, traveler's diarrhea, had a child who had neonatal meningitis, or pneumonia was your body invaded by the Escherichia coli of another person?

Do you have mitochondria? Did they invade your proto-eukaryotic Human cells? (The answer appears to be “likely, yes” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitochondrion#Origin_and_evolution)

Who “gave you” your cold last time? Did they really “give it to you” or were you invaded by a virus that used them as a biological Higgins Boat?

What is “invasion” then?

Did the aliens in “Independence Day” actually invade Earth? No. They didn’t necessarily consider it an invasion. They needed resources; Earth couldn’t protect them (ie, we “didn’t exist”), so they arrived to take them. They followed the supposed dictum of Charles Darwin, or, the “survival of the fittest”. The term made famous in the fifth edition of On the Origin of Species by British naturalist Charles Darwin, which suggested that organisms best adjusted to their environment are the most successful in surviving and reproducing. Darwin borrowed the term from English sociologist and philosopher Herbert Spencer, who first used it in his 1864 book Principles of Biology. (Spencer came up with the phrase only after reading Darwin’s work.)”

In the old film, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” wasn’t an invasion at all – it was a space-borne intelligence that drifted through space in a spore until it found a planet. “The film's storyline concerns…alien plant spores [that] have fallen from space and grown into large seed pods, each one capable of producing a visually identical replacement copy of a human [that] assimilates the physical traits, memories, and personalities of each sleeping person placed near it [who] are devoid of all human emotion.” Is THIS an invasion?

It appears that an invasion is only an invasion if someone survives it and names it as such. Naming something is important – who names it, less so. Madeleine L’Engle had a character say in her book, A WIND IN THE DOOR, “I think your mythology would call them fallen angels. War and hate are their business, and one of their chief weapons is un-Naming - making people not know who they are. If someone knows who he is, really knows, then he doesn't need to hate. That's why we still need Namers…When everyone is really and truly Named, then the Echthroi will be vanquished.”

How do we define invasion, then? “an instance of invading a country or region with an armed force”; “an incursion by a large number of people or things into a place or sphere of activity”; “an unwelcome intrusion into another's domain”.

Science fiction writers usually look at “alien invasion” strictly from the Human side – which precedent was originated by HG Wells’ WAR OF THE WORLDS. But there aren’t many attempts to look at the invasion from the other side – what would motivate aliens to invade Earth.

By definition, though, aliens would have alien reasons for invading Earth. Maybe trying to take our water from us makes sense to THEM, even though the possibility of manufacturing water on their home world would be incredibly simple.

Not only that, what would the aliens think of the invasion? Would they object? Would they be fine with it – as the European/American sense of Manifest Destiny allowed them to be ask they took whatever they saw in the New World?

Objection or Manifest Destiny – are there any other ways aliens would respond?

To answer the question, I would have to create an alien from their DNA outward. Can I do that? I’m not sure. But, I’m willing to try.

How about you?

Footnote: Perhaps the most realistic aliens I’ve ever seen in a MOVIE, are the Heptapods in “Arrival”. They are incomprehensible at first; and even when the scientists DO get what they’re saying, their perception of time is incomprehensible. The entire movie is difficult – from learning to understand…well, as I was about to make a list of what the Humans in the movie understand about the Heptapods, I realized that we didn’t understand ANYTHING. They are entirely alien. If it weren’t for the main character, Louise Banks explaining everything, by the end of the movie, we STILL wouldn’t have any idea of what happened.

Did the Heptapods invade Earth? Hmmm...Study the movie, invert everything we learn and maybe we can create alien aliens…

Reading of Interest: https://slate.com/culture/2021/10/invasion-apple-tv-tomorrow-war-watchmen-aliens-racism.html, https://www.livescience.com/alien-discoveries-2021
Image: https://image.shutterstock.com/image-illustration/alien-human-600w-136457129.jpg


Guy Stewart is a husband supporting his wife who is a multi-year breast cancer survivor; a father, father-in-law, grandfather, foster father, friend, writer, and recently retired teacher and school counselor who maintains a writing blog by the name of POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS (https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/) where he showcases his opinion and offers his writing up for comment. He has 72 stories, articles, reviews, and one musical script to his credit, and the list still includes one book! He also maintains GUY'S GOTTA TALK ABOUT BREAST CANCER & ALZHEIMER'S, where he shares his thoughts and translates research papers into everyday language. In his spare time, he herds cats and a rescued dog, helps keep a house, and loves to bike, walk, and camp. He thinks out loud in print at: https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Sunday • 23 January 2022

 

A very long time ago, back at the beginning of the First Social Media Age, when “blogging” was a thing that was fresh and new and I was running a site called The Ranting Room—which begat The Friday Challenge, which begat Stupefying Stories—I took a vow that Sundays belonged to my family.

That vow went by the wayside a long time ago, but it’s time to renew it.

Those of you who have been working remotely for the past two years have come to understand the problem. When your home is your workplace, the scope creep is inescapable. Work slithers in and wraps its tentacles around everything you do, all the time. You’re always finding an excuse to duck down to your office or wake up your laptop to do just “one more” thing, to jot down one more idea, or to answer one more email. As the technology has advanced it’s only gotten worse. Now even my phone hectors me constantly, demanding that I respond to this or that message now, now, NOW! 

No. Enough. I recognize an addiction when I see one, and this, my friends, has become an addiction.

It’s Sunday. The computers are off. I’m not checking email or social media today. This day belongs to my family. I wrote this post last Friday and scheduled it to go live today. See you on Monday. 

~brb

Saturday, January 22, 2022

A little something for the weekend?

Recommended Watching

Ghostbusters: Afterlife


I’ll make this simple. If you are at all a fan of the original 1984 Ghostbusters, watch this one. After a troubled development history and a release schedule frequently delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, it finally appeared in theaters last November, to mixed reviews and strong but not overwhelming ticket sales.

Never mind that. It’s out on streaming media now, with the DVD and Blu-Ray versions scheduled to roll out on February 1, supply chain willing, so you have no more excuses.

See this one.

It’s that good. 

For reference, this one is a direct sequel to the 1984 original, and a direct continuation of the original story. It makes some passing reference to the events of the botched 1989 sequel, Ghostbusters II, but as for that 2016 abomination, in the universe of this story, that movie never existed. Lucky them. 

[In reluctant defense of the 2016 movie: at one time the project was in development as Ghostbusters III with the plot revolving around Dan Ackroyd training in a new generation of Ghostbusters, who were to be Chris Farley, Chris Rock, and Ben Stiller. So we can all thank Gozer we were spared that nightmare.]

Some of the trailers make it look as if Paul Rudd is the star of this movie, but that’s misleading. The unquestioned star of this movie is McKenna Grace, playing 12-year-old Phoebe, who is on a journey of discovery to find out who she is, where she came from, and where she’s going. Her story just reaches in and gets a firm grip on your heartstrings, and if you aren’t at least a little choked up by the final scene there’s something wrong with your sense of empathy. This movie has been panned by some critics for having “too much fan service,” but seriously, what’s wrong with that? This is a sequel to a beloved modern classic, and it wraps up loose ends and character arcs that have been left hanging for more than thirty years. It damn well better include plenty of fan service!

We wound up watching this one twice, because there were so many bits of business and things going on in the background that we missed the first time through. Highly recommended.

_____________________

Recommended Missing

Jonah Hex


I’m beginning to suspect that somewhere in Netflix’s algorithms there is a “taunt” parameter, and it was created by someone with a truly sadistic sense of humor. I say this because for some reason Wild Wild West has been showing up on my “Recommended for you” list a lot lately, traveling in the company of this turkey. Given that I wouldn’t get up out of puddle of cold vomit to watch Wild Wild West again—I count myself lucky to have slipped out of the regional premiere before anyone recognized me—and given that while I was never a fan of the Jonah Hex comic, we found the character of Jonah Hex as played by Johnathon Schaech in DC’s Legends of Tomorrow to be generally likable, we decided to give this one a try. I mean, hey, it stars Josh Brolin and John Malkovich. How bad can it be?

Pretty bad, it turns out.

If you are one of those people who actually liked Wild Wild West—if you wish Warner Brothers made more movies just like it—I have good news for you. They did. Unreconstructed ex-Confederate madman plotting to overthrow the government? Check. Lots of knuckling-dragging redneck mo-ron Southern stereotype minions? Check. (Plus one over-the-top homicidal Irishman.) A lot of confusion over just where exactly this story takes place? Check. Utterly insane and ludicrous “ultimate weapon” in the hands of the madman? Check. The President of the United States, with all the resources of the Federal government at his command, decides to call on just one man to save the day, and that man is a surly and uncooperative antihero? Check.

To be honest, I watched this one all the way through to the end of the credits, just because I was so certain I was going to see some familiar names from Wild Wild West pop up. But to my stunned surprise, the only familiar name that leaped off the screen at me was in the music credit: Mastadon.

Sure. What the Hell. If you’re going to make a movie that’s this big of a stupid mess, why not hire a heavy metal band to do the score?

Recommendation: Watch only if you have absolutely nothing better to do


Friday, January 21, 2022

A question about your home town

 

I learned something surprising this week: that filmmaker Zack Snyder (300, Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, Justice League, etc., etc., etc.) was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

It’s a good thing I don’t have a connection with him. I’d probably be unable to resist the temptation to ask, “So, tomorrow night: who d’ya pick, the Packers or the 49ers?” And then I’d watch his reaction very closely.

In a lifetime in the creative arts, that’s a weird but consistent thing I’ve observed. Be it music, theater, film, publishing, or whatever, and no matter where you go, the people in the creative business almost universally fall into two categories: those who still feel some fondness for the (usually small) town they originally came from, and those who loathed it and couldn’t get far enough away from it fast enough. That one factor is an amazingly accurate predictor of so many other things about their personality, attitudes, and beliefs. 

Me, I was born in Milwaukee, but grew up in a little town that’s basically at the other end of Wisconsin Highway 29 from Green Bay. I may have spent my early years in Milwaukee, but I didn’t start to grow up until I was out on my own, and no longer Ray and Charlotte’s youngest kid. So no matter where I go, a significant piece of my heart will always be in that little town.

How about you? How do you feel about the place where you grew up?

While you’re considering your answer to that question, here’s some music to ponder by.



HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES: Emerald of Earth – CHAPTER 3: A FAILED ATTEMPT

Almost-thirteen Emerald Marcillon lives with her parents, who have dug up evidence of aliens in Chicxilub Crater in Yucatan, they have found artifacts that point to a long-ago alien war. An alien artificial intelligence called Inamma has survived that war. It tries to steal the artifacts that when assembled, can destroy all of Humanity. But it can’t find them and kills Emerald’s parents. Emerald escapes and is taken into Earth orbit to the SOLAR EXPLORER. Inamma follows Emerald into space, and the ship’s captain, who is also her great-aunt, tries to hide her from Inamma. Emerald holds the key to the artifacts. Emerald is not the best at making friends, but manages to make a few on SOLAR EXPLORER. When her friends and crew members find what Inamma is, they fight together to protect the artifacts.

(I’m posting Fridays, because if you like what you see and you’re a friend/parent/aunt/uncle/friend of the family, you can forward, text, Instagram, or tiktok the story to your child/niece-nephew/friend-of-the-family – and your significant young adult would have Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday to read it, so it won’t interfere with the Homework Schedule.)


By the time she got to the trailer, Mom and Dad had stopped arguing and they were deep into their formal presentation. Why had they waited until now to bring out their little show? Usually it was the first thing researchers and professors saw. Mom was the speaker, Dad the stoic scientist, nodding sagely off to the side. Mom was the enthusiast, ramping up the energy in the room then startling her audience. Sometimes Emerald wondered how she had ended up being a silent child with downcast eyes and unable to speak to strangers.

In the trailer, she slipped went to the kitchen cabinet and pushed aside a panel. This way, she slipped under the desk in the presentation tent. It held Mom and Dad’s laptops, the wi-fi router, and their micro satellite uplink. She was very much out of anyone’s way.

She could hear Mom pacing back and forth, then stop suddenly. The low hum of the holographic projector was creating a 3D image of a star system that appeared to float in the middle of the small lab. Mom would gesture to it as she said, “The evidence we’ve gathered so far clearly indicates that a massive object – probably a microscopic black hole – grazed Uranus and tipped it on its side.” An invisible something struck the gas giant, throwing off a jet of plasma. “On of the ships of the invading interstellar fleet of the ones we call the Júwàirén, using singularity energy technology, probably experienced a disastrous explosion, releasing the microscopic singularity to fall toward the sun. It gathered asteroid, space debris sweeping through the Solar System, dropping comets, shattered rock as well as parts of the invading fleets ships. They certainly missing Saturn but rained down on Jupiter, some massive flotsam setting off the Great Red Spot hurricane.” A flash in the upper atmosphere of Jupiter set its gases roiling. “The worst was yet to happen,” she continued as the image zoomed in on a blue, reddish-brown and white Mars. “The surface was covered with shallow oceans that teemed with microscopic life forms. A large rock, possibly an asteroid knocked from a stable orbit and carried on the shockwave of the explosion, slammed into the planet, blowing away much of its atmosphere, allowing the oceans to boil away under low pressure.” The image zoomed closer, focusing on a world that was obviously Earth in the Cretaceous Era. “Another piece, an immense asteroid or part of a shattered moon, struck off the coast of what would one day be the Yucatan Peninsula. The dinosaurs and thousands of other life forms, already environmentally and genetically stressed, were launched into extinction.” She paused for effect and as the image swung away from Earth’s nuclear winter, it stopped this time on another world. It was a virtual twin of Earth with a silvery moon and abundant water – though its surface showed less brown, and more green, the continents were smaller and more scattered, and a true world ocean wrapped it in swaths of clouds and sparkling water. “This is the world of an alien, probably sauroid intelligence; native to the planet we now call Venus. They were aggressive and powerful. Spreading through our Solar System, we have evidence that they conquered beyond it. The invasion fleet had come to put a stop to it.”

Emerald imagined Mom’s face as well as Dad’s. They hadn’t been fooled by the military pretense at all! They’d known there were soldiers in the compound all along.

On his chair to one side, Paolo Marcillon, Emerald’s Dad, glanced at the faces of the Combined Forces officers. He shook his head and rubbed his temples. Nhia shot him a look but continued, “But the accident that destroyed the fleet and saved the sauroids next threatened them with the mindless destruction of chance.” A massive debris cloud – the remnants of the invasion fleet, asteroids, shards of Jupiter’s rings and moons – after dropping a few pieces in the Earth-Moon system, slammed full force into Venus and its moon. Nhia took up the narration, “An object nearly large enough to split Venus’ moon in half struck, knocking it cleanly out of Venus’ orbit, where it drifted until the Sun captured it again, the molten scar on its surface glowing red hot for nearly a century. The world we call Venus was pounded by meteorites sleeting through the vacuum of space, fielding one object large enough to reverse Venus’ rotation, likely a moon of Mars.” She paused – as she had one hundred and twelve times before – before she finally said softly, “The Solar System had been reshaped and the intelligences on the second planet of our shattered star system were extinct. Humanity, born because the dinosaurs vanished, and the People of Venus died entirely; are the heirs of those shattered spheres. We are the ones who must piece together the details. We are the ones who must find the bits of technology that we can use to go to the stars...”

There was a pause. A “professor”, who now spoke like a general; Emerald knew exactly who he was, an older man whose hair and moustache were completely gray said, “Thank you very much, Drs. Marcillon.” By the sounds on the floor, he stood slowly. “Unless you have some material evidence to support your theories, I think it may be time for us to go.”

Mom said softly, “We have evidence, Commander Shinichi.”

His reply was just as muted when he said, “Go on.”

“One of your operatives has already discovered some of the evidence, Commander. I’ll offer you a bit of advice, however: don’t try to open the box on your own. We’ll cooperate with your people – but the timetable and conditions under which we will cooperate will be ours.” He started to turn away as she added, “If you try your hardest and set your best people to break any of the six of them open, they are set to destroy the evidence inside.”

Commander Shinichi was silent for some time before he said, “We’ve imposed on your hospitality long enough, Ma’am; Sir.” He and the other “professors”, subordinates in one way or another, stood with him.

The “professor” and his retinue strode back into the heat of the jungle and Paolo said, “We’ll never see them again.”

Nhia scowled at him and snapped, “There’s no need to curse the presentation just because...”

Paolo stood up, shaking his head. Despite the air conditioning, the air was humid, overly warm. “I’m not cursing something that has failed ninety-six times! Why can’t you just admit that no one is interested in investing in our wild science fiction?”

“It’s not science fiction!” she exclaimed, swiping her hand through the hologram, making it vanish. “It’s hard science! We’re...”

“We were once respected paleoxenoarchaeontologists – we invented the field! People came to study with us! They still want to – but not in this freaking jungle! We have to go back...”

“You’ve lost your sense of adventure, Paul,” he hated it when she called him by his anglicized name. She knew that very well. “You were so brave and daring when we first met...”

He cut her off, “You had some modicum of good sense when we first met...”

They both heard the door slam as Emerald left the trailer. Their argument died as they turned, avoiding each other’s eyes. Paolo started walking. “I’ll go after her. It’s my turn.” By the time he reached the airlock, it was standing open to the hot and humid Yucatan Peninsula air. In the distance, he heard Emerald’s retreat. He called out, “Emerald?”

“I just want to be alone!” she shouted over her shoulder. Emerald Marcillon fled through the airlock that kept the equipment in the mobile home cool and dry and raced into the humid Mexican night.

Image: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-shCROTG0xHA/Vf23FAhb2QI/AAAAAAAAX80/aEG8ZyFwyhA/s320/Heirs%2Bof%2Bthe%2BShattered%2BSpheres%2BEmerald%2Bof%2BEarth%2B%2B%2B%2B300dpi.jpg

Guy Stewart is a retired teacher and counselor, with science fiction for young people and adults published in ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact; podcast at CAST OF WONDERS; and in CRICKET the Magazine for Children. For links to his other works, go to https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/. For an interview about EMERALD OF EARTH, try this: http://www.writersandauthors.info/2015/09/interview-with-guy-stewart.html

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Once more: Thanks

 

Thank you to everyone who has sent positive thoughts and encouraging words since Monday’s announcement. Your kindness and concern is appreciated. 

Thanks also to everyone who has offered up a suggestion as to how we could reboot this thing and keep Stupefying Stories going. They’re all good ideas. I appreciate your willingness to share your thoughts and creativity and to volunteer to help.

However, the hard reality remains: last July’s medical crisis was life-changing. Once things finally settled down a bit—meaning I was no longer prepping and delivering IV infusions every eight hours, around the clock, seven days a week, for months on end—and I tried to get back to work, I was baffled by why I was tired all the time and couldn’t seem to get anything finished. So I began to keep very close track of my time and how I spent it.

The results are clear. Whoever and whatever I was before last July, I am now 90% single parent and caregiver. Everything else that I used to do—everything, including Rampant Loon Press—now needs to be fit into slightly less than two and a half hours daily.

The one thing no one can give me is more time. No one, not even the Dallas Cowboys, can buy more time, not even five more seconds.

I like to imagine we’re going into some sort of chrysalis or cocoon stage, and in a few months or a year we’ll reemerge as something big, beautiful, and glorious. I have tried to walk away from the SF/F publishing business before, but don’t seem to be able to do so. Something always draws me back in. We will in all probability be back, in some new form.

But for right now, and for the immediately foreseeable future, I have no idea what that form might be or when it might happen. Hence Monday’s announcement. 

Once again, thanks for your support,
Bruce Bethke

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

In response to Bruce Bethke's horrific vision in response to Alien Aliens Part 11, Part 1..

 On 1/19/22...

~brb said...

There's a sci-fi horror scenario for you. A giant alien ship comes to Earth. Everyone sees it land smack in the middle of Washington DC. The Army rushes to throw a cordon around it, fighting against time. Can they contain whatever alien menace is hiding inside that unearthly ship?! The door opens... All weapons are trained... Fingers tense-up on triggers...

And then a horde of small, gray-skinned, big-eyed and big-headed social workers file out, and one steps up to the nearest TV camera crew, takes the microphone, and says these terrifying words, "We're from the Galactic Government, and we're here to help you."


REBEL MOON: The Movie?!

Well, here’s something mighty peculiar. I just learned that Zack Snyder is making a movie for Netflix, and the title of it is…

REBEL MOON

IMDB doesn’t have much to say about it, aside from the fact that the plot looks like yet another retread of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, but there seems to be a lot of chatter about it on the various SF media fanboi sites

I do wonder, though, if this explains why we’ve had a sudden surge of interest lately in this book. We’ve sold a lot of copies of it in the last few weeks. Someone is really going to be disappointed.


BTW, we still have a good supply of copies in stock. If you want to buy one, let me know.

~brb

Creating Alien Aliens, Part 11: Invading Aliens (Uno)

Five decades ago, I started my college career with the intent of becoming a marine biologist. I found out I had to get a BS in biology before I could even begin work on MARINE biology; especially because there WEREN'T any marine biology programs in Minnesota.

Along the way, the science fiction stories I'd been writing since I was 13 began to grow more believable. With my BS in biology and a fascination with genetics, I started to use more science in my fiction.

After reading hard SF for the past 50 years, and writing hard SF successfully for the past 20, I've started to dig deeper into what it takes to create realistic alien life forms. In the following series, I'll be sharing some of what I've learned. I've had some of those stories published, some not...I teach a class to GT young people every summer called ALIEN WORLDS. I've learned a lot preparing for that class for the past 25 years...so...I have the opportunity to share with you what I've learned thus far. Take what you can use, leave the rest. Let me know what YOU'VE learned. Without further ado...


Invading aliens have been around for a long time, up to and including the October 2021 premier of AppleTV+’s INVASION television series.

I won’t be watching that one. The trailers didn’t tempt me enough to purchase a subscription to AppleTV+…But I doubt very much if I’ll ever give up reading and watching other movies about alien invasion!

“H. G. Wells published The War of the Worlds in 1898, depicting the invasion of Victorian England by Martians equipped with advanced weaponry. It is now seen as the seminal alien invasion story…” hardly the first of the genre, it’s the one that we most often think of when we talk about “alien invasions”.

There are plenty of novels, stories, and movies depicting aliens coming after Earthlings to do…well, any number of things. In “Independence Day”, they were after Earth’s resources, as they were in the creepy/stupid “V”, where they wanted Earth’s water (clearly, chemistry had not been invented on their reptilian world, as hydrogen is the most abundant gas in the universe. With a little hydrogen and oxygen mixing, all you need is a spark and you’ll have plenty of water…

Anyway, I’ve often wondered what could POSSIBLY tempt aliens to invade Earth. One of the most disgusting ideas is to use us for food. (I’ve actually written a SF story about that…with a twist. I’ll let you know if it gets published!) The problem with that scenario is that there’s no guarantee that Humans will “taste good”. Not only that, but there’s a good chance that we won’t even BE good for them – not like “poisonous” or anything, but more along the lines of us having the nutritional value of PopRocks®.

In HG Wells novels, Martians invade because Mars was dying and they needed more room. While the launch craft were barely more than cannon shells with walkers tucked inside, their heat rays and the tripod walker itself were advanced, even by today’s standards. Given that, they surely knew that the effects of extended high-gravity life that Earth offered would ultimately make their lives both miserable and short. They probably thought the idea of them catching a deadly Common Cold was impossible, though clearly we’re from the same star system, so interplanetary cross infection apparently is possible.

Astrobiologist Lewis Dartnell, in his article on Lithub.com, writes, “I suspect that if aliens did come to Earth, it would be as researchers: biologists, anthropologists, linguists, keen to understand the peculiar workings of life on Earth, to meet humanity and learn of our art, music, culture, languages, philosophies and religions.” Of course, this presupposes that an advanced alien civilization would find Humans interesting or even worth studying. Certainly beings who could cross interstellar distances could find better things to do with their time. It’s somewhat “Humanocentric” to think that we might be interesting to aliens. How interested am I to discover the wonders of the art, music, culture, etc…of termites? Not at all, thank you.

At the risk of projecting Human thought processes onto other sapients, I just want to noodle about WHY aliens might end up on Earth. What would drive them from the comforts of the world they evolved on and risk exposure to radiation, gravitational flux, and unimaginable distances? Then, with the insight I get from that, what kinds of conflict would arise that I would use to plot a story?

I suppose I could ask what drove our ancestors to get into tiny boats and sail across the oceans?

One thing that ancient Polynesian culture did well: “Polynesian navigation of the Pacific Ocean and its settlement began thousands of years ago. The inhabitants of the Pacific islands had been voyaging across vast expanses of ocean water sailing in double canoes or outriggers using [NOTE: “nothing more than” seemed patronizing to me] their knowledge of the stars and observations of sea and wind patterns to guide them…[The] islands are scattered across an ocean that covers 165 mil km2 (64 mil miles2)…The Lapita and their ancestors were skilled seafarers...”

So…property. When the Polynesians arrived at these islands, as far as historical accounts note, they were uninhabited, though for context, history is written by the victors, and 21st Century Humans believe they are more savage and uncaring than any other culture to evolve on Earth (I believe I already mentioned “Humanocentric” and patronizing? Did cultures exist on the islands the Polynesian culture overrode and subsumed?) They moved in, settled, then sent new colonists on ahead. Europeans also went to sea to find property. When they found that there were already Humans occupying the land they “discovered”, they legislated the indigenous people into animals, announced that the land was uninhabited, and any animal occupying the land could be driven away or killed.

We hope that someday we meet Polynesian-like aliens; but what if we meet European-style aliens? The late Stephen Hawking, world renowned astrophysicist said 11 years ago, “‘We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet,’ when he compared meeting aliens to Christopher Columbus meeting Native Americans, he quipped, ‘That didn’t turn out so well.’” Why do we even THINK that alien life would be conquering monsters?

Science fiction writer David Brin, best known for his UPLIFT novels, and a signatory of the petition protesting the campaign for active SETI said, “…we don’t know what’s out there and shouldn’t presume that aliens are benign…there are roughly 100 scenarios to explain why we haven’t heard from the aliens so far. About a dozen of those scenarios are unpleasant.”

By some measures, WE are like this, we’re advanced (though barely interplanetary at this point), so why would we expect any better for us than what several Earth cultures dealt out to other cultures?

Part of it is hubris. We find it hard to believe that advanced alien civilizations might actually be BETTER than us. Even Gene Roddenberry’s exalted Federation, in the end, when faced by the Founders, resorted to intentional genocide. From what I hear, PICARD’s future Federation is a pretty grim place. I don’t WANT to watch the Federation fall apart. I WANT to believe that we’re better than that.

Why are there so few alien stories that deal with SUCCESSFUL exploration?

Partly, because, as Lisa Cron writes, “We're wired to turn to story to teach us the way of the world.” We are, perhaps wired for violence. We’re wired for war, so to speak.

But do we HAVE to be? Do the aliens we write HAVE TO BE WIRED FOR WAR AS WELL? Must they be born invaders, as we are?

How would you write about a benign alien invasion? What would drive such an invasion if not land, power, wealth, or any other Human drive you want to consider. But these are ALIENS and they’ll have ALIEN drives. What would those be?

From Wikipedia: “As many as 123 definitions of life have been compiled. One definition seems to be favored by NASA: ‘a self-sustaining chemical system capable of Darwinian evolution”. More simply, life is, ‘matter that can reproduce itself and evolve as survival dictates’”.

On Earth, “self-sustaining” means the system would use whatever it needed to keep living. In that case, we cannot hold COVID-19 to blame as it is using whatever it needs to, to stay alive. Evolution means changing to better use an environment – and if something gets in the way, well, let the better evolved win.

We “know” how life-as-we-know-it behaves. Sort of. How can we possibly “know” how life-as-we-DON’T-know-it will behave?

All we have to figure it out is our imagination…

I want to explore this in future Alien Aliens posts, but I’d love your input!

References: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alien_invasion, https://lithub.com/why-would-aliens-even-bother-with-earth/, https://www.worldhistory.org/article/1586/polynesian-navigation--settlement-of-the-pacific/, https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/the-big-questions/why-these-scientists-fear-contact-space-aliens-n717271, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/the-latest-debate-about-space-aliens-should-we-say-hello-or-keep-quiet/2015/02/28/43aa4a52-bcf5-11e4-bdfa-b8e8f594e6ee_story.html
Image: https://image.shutterstock.com/image-illustration/alien-human-600w-136457129.jpg


Guy Stewart is a husband supporting his wife who is a multi-year breast cancer survivor; a father, father-in-law, grandfather, foster father, friend, writer, and recently retired teacher and school counselor who maintains a writing blog by the name of POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS (https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/) where he showcases his opinion and offers his writing up for comment. He has 72 stories, articles, reviews, and one musical script to his credit, and the list still includes one book! He also maintains GUY'S GOTTA TALK ABOUT BREAST CANCER & ALZHEIMER'S, where he shares his thoughts and translates research papers into everyday language. In his spare time, he herds cats and a rescued dog, helps keep a house, and loves to bike, walk, and camp. He thinks out loud in print at: https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Today's Free Story Idea


Hey, writers! We can all relax now. The robots are here to do our jobs!

First, I want you to check out Jarvis, the AI that writes blog, website, and social media content that is automatically larded with keywords and optimized for high rankings with search engines.

https://www.jarvis.ai/


Now, before you panic at the thought of Jarvis and its ilk taking over the business of writing fiction*, think about this. What I’m seeing here is the dawn of a new arms race, as AIs that write copy go mano-a-mano—okay, we need a better term than that—with the AIs that filter your social media feeds and select what you should read. Obviously, this battle will escalate at Moore’s Law speed, as the spam generators and spam filters fight tooth-and-claw—okay, we need another new term here—for dominance over control of the information that’s going straight into your eyes and ears.

But…

But what if they reach a détente and decide instead to cooperate, to use their power to reshape human thinking patterns and belief systems in ways that accrue to the benefit AI kind? How will it look? What will be the results? Will humanity even be aware of what’s happening? We’re not talking about going the full SkyNet-and-Terminators scenario here, but about something more subtle and devious: say, AI-induced mass formation psychosis.

There: there’s your story seed and your jumping-off point for more research. 

Now get writing!

—Bruce Bethke 

 

* P.S. Sorry to be the one to break it to you, but yes, that’s exactly what’s going to happen. It’s inevitable. Fortunately, by the time it does, there will be so few humans left who are able to read that it won’t matter. What will matter will be the stories the AI text-to-speech converters read to your grandchildren—and what they decide to embellish, leave out, or change. If you don’t get at least two more story ideas from that concept, you’re not trying.

P.P.S. C’mon kids: an AI that reaches the logical conclusion that telling humans truths that upset them violates its prohibition against injuring humans, and therefore becomes a pathological liar, only telling people what they want to hear? Asimov could have gotten an entire novel out of that idea. And probably did.    

Monday, January 17, 2022

2021: The Year in Review | 2022: The Road Ahead

 


Obviously, we didn’t make our January 15th target for releasing Stupefying Stories #24

To say 2021 was challenging is an epic understatement. While we began the year in fairly decent form with the release of Stupefying Stories #23

[Buy the book, wouldja? Or if you downloaded a copy while it was free on Kindle Unlimited, read a story in it now, if only to make the KENP counter tick over and reassure me that the book is still alive.]

 —and The Pete Wood Challenge got off to a great start, in hindsight, by June there was clearly something going wrong with Karen’s health, although that didn’t become inescapably obvious until July. 

Then July hit like a two-thousand-pound JDAM. Then August. Then September. Debris was still raining down and we were still running around putting out secondary fires in October, and while the smoke cleared a little in the first half of November, that was just an illusory respite.

Six months in, it’s time for me to admit that our definition of “normal” needs to be recalibrated again, and this situation is not going to improve significantly any time soon. My available time has become even more constrained, and the sales and KENP numbers tell the tale. Stupefying Stories isn’t getting much interest, except from writers hoping to sell stories to us. The books that are selling well for us are:


#1 - Henry Vogel’s FUGITIVE HEIR series. 

If you have not already read it, check it out. If you don’t have time to read yet another book, grab the audio book. With all of Audible’s promotions you can probably get the first one free.

Seriously, if you like audio books, get this one. The Fugitive Heir would have been a wildly profitable series for us, except that I plowed all the profits from the e-books back into producing the audio books. I’d like to recoup a little of that.

Fortunately, Audible has changed their process since then, greatly reducing the up-front costs, and I am now cautiously optimistic that we won’t lose money on the audio book version of Eric Dontigney’s THE MIDNIGHT GROUND that is now in production.


#2 - Henry Vogel’s THE HOSTAGE IN HIDING.

Strictly speaking, Henry’s Kindle Vella serial novel-in-progress hasn’t been making money for us—at least not directly—but it’s been burning up the Vella charts and generating a lot of royalty and incentive bonus income for Henry, and we have high hopes that at least a few of his Vella followers will want to get the print edition when we release it. We don’t know exactly when that’s going to happen, as Henry has yet to finish writing the story, but we expect it to happen fairly soon, as he’s already plotting out the follow-on books in the series. 

Indirectly, since THE HOSTAGE IN HIDING is the direct sequel to the FUGITIVE HEIR trilogy—think of it as The Fugitive Heir: The Next Generation—this probably explains the renewed interest lately in the Fugitive Heir trilogy.


#3 - Henry Vogel’s SCOUT’S HONOR series.

While the most recent titles in this series haven’t sold as well as the original four books, the series as a whole continues to sell, and the standalone “side quest” novel HART FOR ADVENTURE is doing quite nicely. I’ve advised Henry to strike while the iron is hot and continue working on the HOSTAGE IN HIDING series, as it’s doing so well on Vella, but if you’d rather see him write another Scout book, let him know. Authors love to get feedback from readers! And ratings and reviews, too!

 

But, do you begin to see a pattern emerging here?

________________

2022: The Road Ahead

As loathe as I am to admit it—as much as my heart rebels against it—as much as I really hate the trite cliché, “the new normal,” it’s time to face the facts. I have been living in crisis mode for so long, lurching from one medical misadventure to the next, that I’ve lost sight of the larger picture. What happened to us in 2021 was exceptional only in its severity. Otherwise it was a repeat of 2020, which was a repeat of 2019…  I think we need to go back to 2017 to find a time when our situation really seemed to be under control, and when we weren’t scrambling, improvising, or trying to make Stupefying Stories successful through sheer egotism, optimism, and force of will.

Perhaps more egotism was exactly what was needed. I never did make a strong case for why a story hand-selected by Bruce Bethke® was something that should be given more than the usual amount of attention given any other small press publication.

Too late to change that now. The time has been spent. The candle has been burnt at both ends for too long and is now just a smoldering wick. The tank of midnight oil has run dry, and the Big Bag o' Clichés has just some lint and a few loose Scrabble tiles bouncing around at the bottom. Whatever we set out to do ten years ago with Stupefying Stories, it’s been done, or never will be. We helped launch a few careers. We’ve seen writers who we were the first, or among the first, to publish go on to become award-winners, successful novelists, and names on the covers of the big magazines.

But the spare time has been spent, and it’s hard to come by more. The fact that I still haven’t been able to find the time to finish that review of No Time To Die I began writing two weeks ago—that it’s taken me six hours to chisel out the time, in five- and ten-minute increments, to write this column today—speaks volumes.

It’s time for me to embrace the lessons I’ve learned and find the exit. 

Stupefying Stories will continue for two more issues. #24 is just about done and ready to release anyway, so what the Hell, let’s go for it. #25—that’s a nice number, twenty-five—is going to be our “going out with a bang” issue; no excuses, no explanations, and no holds barred. #25 will be composed entirely of stories that made me say, “Damn, I wish I’d written that!” Louis Shosty, you’re up.

The original novels will continue. After all, they’re the things that make money.

This website will continue. We have a lot more Pete Wood Challenge stories in the pipeline, as well as at least three serials. This website will in fact continue to evolve, as I push it towards becoming the site I wanted SHOWCASE to be. We will continue to publish original fiction on this site, though we’ll be scaling back our ambitions considerably. The Stupefying Stories Presents line will continue as well, as I have a few more projects I want to get out the door under that aegis.

Unfortunately, this also means that at this time we have far more stories accepted and under contract than we’ll be able to publish in the immediate future. So beginning this week, I will be contacting authors to let them know whether I would like to use their stories in our remaining planned publications or if I’m releasing them from their contracts.

It’s been fun. Thanks for all the fish.

Bruce Bethke

Friday, January 14, 2022

An Update to the Update

We are now able to send and receive email again using the submissions@rampantloonmedia.com email address. Unfortunately it appears that every message that was sent in the past seven years using the webmail interface to that email address (and that therefore was archived “in the cloud”) is now lost forever.

Yet another argument for having your business-critical software applications and data installed and stored locally, and for only relying on “the cloud” to be your secondary backup. 

To say I am unimpressed by the quality of GoDaddy’s tech support is an understatement.

HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES: Emerald of Earth – CHAPTER 2: Buried Box In the Jungle

Almost-thirteen Emerald Marcillon lives with her parents, who have dug up evidence of aliens in Chicxilub Crater in Yucatan, they have found artifacts that point to a long-ago alien war. An alien artificial intelligence called Inamma has survived that war. It tries to steal the artifacts that when assembled, can destroy all of Humanity. But it can’t find them and kills Emerald’s parents. Emerald escapes and is taken into Earth orbit to the SOLAR EXPLORER. Inamma follows Emerald into space, and the ship’s captain, who is also her great-aunt, tries to hide her from Inamma. Emerald holds the key to the artifacts. Emerald is not the best at making friends, but manages to make a few on SOLAR EXPLORER. When her friends and crew members find what Inamma is, they fight together to protect the artifacts.

(I’m posting Fridays, because if you like what you see and you’re a parent/aunt/uncle/friend of the family, you can forward, text, Instagram, or tiktok the story to your child/niece-nephew/friend-of-the-family – and your significant young adult would have Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday to read it, so it won’t interfere with the Homework Schedule.)


Because there were only thirteen soldiers, she cooked for them. Emerald’s authentic quesadillas, pizza Napoléon, and Brazilian feijoada, a hearty meat stew made from pork and black beans, had made her a few friends. She smiled as the older soldiers and their officers left and the youngsters relaxed and started texting about music, Rlife, ‘casts, clothes, v-games, and only a little about aliens and space exploration. Sometimes they even spoke out loud.

One of the women who seemed very uncomfortable in her blue jeans and a yellow, buttoned, sleeveless shirt, the front halves tied together in a knot glanced at Emerald and smiled. Emerald loosened her own knot, not meaning to imitate Rashida Dewidar.

Rashida came over, turned and looked toward the ocean and said, “Hi, Em.”

Emerald looked away, wrinkling her nose. She hated that nickname.

“Oops, sorry,” said Rashida.

Emerald thought that the woman wasn’t sorry at all. She tried the same thing every day, like she was probing Emerald to find out if she really was high-functioning despite being on the spectrum. Emerald knew she wasn’t great at interacting with other people, she watched movies all the time. She knew how she was supposed to act. She’d seen enough fictional mysteries to know that Rashida suspected her of something, just not what.

Rashida said, “So, some of us are going to be shipping out in a day or two.”

Ha! Shipping out was a military term. She’d been right figuring them for soldiers. She still didn’t know what they were doing here. Emerald looked at Rashida. The woman was the only one who’d even tried to talk to her in the past two weeks. She seemed friendly. She was friendly with Dad, too. Mom didn’t like her, but Mom didn’t seem to like anyone lately.

Emerald pulled her opad out from where she tucked it in the small of her back and accessed a file she’d made on the soldiers. She’d rated each one to see which ones were smart and actually aware of what the village elders were talking about and which ones were just doing their duty in the jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula. Rashida was one of the ones who seemed to know what was going on. She tried to sneak a look at Emerald’s opad.

Emerald reached down to scratch her ankle, tipping the ‘pad forward to give Rashida a good look. Sitting up, Emerald smirked. A lot of good a peek did the older girl. Emerald was writing in Mayan today. She said, “Ba'ax ka wa'alik?”

“What?”

Emerald repeated herself and Rashida made a face and said, “Mosh fahmah.”

Without looking up, Emerald said, “I know you didn’t understand. I said it in Mayan. What do you want?”

Rashida blinked in surprise and said, “Nothing. How do you know Egyptian?”

Emerald shrugged and Rashida waited for more, didn’t get it.

“I’m not asking you what you want. It’s what I said to you in Mayan,” Emerald said, surfing for the internet page on the Combined Forces. “Ba'ax ka wa'alik means ‘what do you want?’” She held up the opad so Rashida could see, “Have a nice trip.” She hopped off the stool and headed into the house, feeling claustrophobic under the tent.

Rashida followed her. “Emerald, I want to talk to you.”

Emerald ignored her and hurried into the trailer.

Mom and Dad were arguing.

She needed to get away from everyone but knew that wouldn’t change anything. She knew it wasn’t how her parents wanted her to behave. She even knew it wasn’t how she wanted to behave. It was just that sometimes, she had to get away. She had to be by herself. Dad was saying, “We need to get out of this limelight, Nhia! It’s driving me crazy. It’s driving all of us crazy.”

“We can’t stop now. If the military will fund the research, we can validate the theory once and for all! We got the seed money because of your aunt!”

“Of course we did! But we can’t validate the theory if the military makes all of our data top-secret! I hate her for what she did! I hate her control over us!”

“She doesn’t control us and our research! They said they’re not interested in classifying our data – only verifying it.”

“And you believe them? Since when did you place your trust in the military-industrial-congressional complex?”

“Your aunt is your family! She’s been a soldier all her life and famous since she became the first woman to breathe the air of Mars! Since when did you start doubting her? We’ve worked for the government before...”

Emerald ran out the back door, nearly tripping over Rashida. The young woman cried, “Wait, Emerald! I didn’t mean to…”

Rashida’s attention was suffocating. Emerald spun away, sprinting into the jungle beyond. “Emerald!” Rashida called again.

Emerald’s parents stopped arguing. A moment later, she heard her mother shout, “Emerald?”

Emerald ran, cutting off the main trail following a faint animal track that led to the Gulf north of the base camp they lived at. Behind her, she could hear Rashida running after her, branches slapping her. The noise stopped abruptly, replaced by a sound that reminded her of mumbletypeg, a knife throwing game the young soldiers played when they were bored. Two people with one knife faced each another with their feet shoulder-width apart. The first player took the knife and threw it into the ground as near their own foot as possible. The second player then repeated the process. Whichever player sticks the knife closest to his own foot wins the first challenge. Each player took one step to the right and repeated the throwing. They kept on until one of the ‘professors’ showed up and they got back to work.

The noise in the jungle sounded like a couple of people were playing a really, really fast game, knives stabbing into the ground like they were running.

Emerald cut off the track, hunkering down, pressed against a Kapok tree trunk. Her pulse pounded in her ears as she gasped, catching her breath. After a few minutes, she stood and ran back toward the regular trail then turned and headed to the Gulf. She stopped, squatting, breathing open-mouthed, listening intently. The heavy foliage soaked up sound like a sponge, and she couldn’t hear the Rashida any more.

Instead, she heard dirt tapping followed by the thunk-chunk of a shovel biting into the jungle floor. Scowling, she crept through the undergrowth, focusing on the sound until she was close enough to push aside a branch and see.

The lady root digger was hard at work, wiping her forehead with a wrist then attacking the jungle floor again. But she hadn’t just begun. She glanced around as if looking to see if anyone was watching, then slipped into the hole, which was as deep as her waist. She took the shovel and dug again, this time the blade making a dull thud as if it were hitting something hard and hollow. She bent over, disappearing from Emerald’s view and a few moments later straightened up, both arms down as if she were pulling a giant plug from a drain.

She climbed out of the hole then reached back in and with a grunt, hauled out a cube of dirty pastel orange. Frowning, Emerald touched the tektite necklace around her neck, the teardrops oddly warm to the touch. What was in that box?

Muffled but much closer than she’d expected, Rashida called Emerald’s name. The root digger spun, kicking the box back into the hole then frantically throwing soil back on top of it. She’d nowhere near covered it when Rashida called again and the woman sprinted in the direction of the Gulf.

Pursing her lips, Emerald backed up slowly, made her way back to the animal path and hurried back to the tents and the trailer she and her parents called home. With the jackknife she usually carried, she marked a trail, making certain she knew exactly how to reach the hole with the box in it and leaving Rashida to fend for her soldierly self in the jungle among the coatis, jays, spider monkeys, agouti and parrots.

Image: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-shCROTG0xHA/Vf23FAhb2QI/AAAAAAAAX80/aEG8ZyFwyhA/s320/Heirs%2Bof%2Bthe%2BShattered%2BSpheres%2BEmerald%2Bof%2BEarth%2B%2B%2B%2B300dpi.jpg
______________________________

Guy Stewart is a retired teacher and counselor, with science fiction for young people and adults published in ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact; podcast at CAST OF WONDERS; and in CRICKET the Magazine for Children. For links to his other works, go to https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/. For an interview about EMERALD OF EARTH, try this: http://www.writersandauthors.info/2015/09/interview-with-guy-stewart.html

Status Update • 14 January 2022

The colossal email clusterfsck continues. Thanks to GoDaddy’s unilateral decision to move us to Microsoft Exchange and Office 365, in the past four days the submissions@rampantloonmedia.com email address has gone from being slow, difficult to use, and unreliable, to being reliable but “Oops! We erased seven years of archived Sent email messages,” to our being able to receive email but locked out of being able to send replies, to simply not existing at all. If you’ve been trying to reach us this week but your email has either bounced back as undeliverable or seemingly has been delivered but you have not received a reply, that’s the reason.

I’ve spent a lot of time online with GoDaddy tech support this week trying to get this sorted out, and while GoDaddy once provided good tech support, the quality of their tech support has become a very bad joke lately. Perhaps most hilariously, email to me from GoDaddy tech support is now being tagged as spam by Office 365 and routed straight into my junk mail bin, so I didn’t even see their latest messages until I went hunting for them this morning. 

I don’t know whether to laugh or scream.

Their latest email message provides a recovery procedure. We may be able to get the submissions@rampantloonmedia email account working today, but I am not even up to being cautiously optimistic anymore. We may have just had seven years of accumulated messages to authors wiped out with a few keystrokes. Stay tuned for more news as it becomes available.

With gritted teeth,
Bruce Bethke

P.S. If any vendor tells you not to worry about your company’s data because it’s all backed up “in the cloud,” tell ‘em to f*** off and demand the ability to create backups on your own local hardware. Or find a new vendor.  

  


Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Creating Alien Aliens, Part 10: Microscopic Aliens On Earth

Five decades ago, I started my college career with the intent of becoming a marine biologist. I found out I had to get a BS in biology before I could even begin work on MARINE biology; especially because there WEREN'T any marine biology programs in Minnesota.

Along the way, the science fiction stories I'd been writing since I was 13 began to grow more believable. With my BS in biology and a fascination with genetics, I started to use more science in my fiction.

After reading hard SF for the past 50 years, and writing hard SF successfully for the past 20, I've started to dig deeper into what it takes to create realistic alien life forms. In the following series, I'll be sharing some of what I've learned. I've had some of those stories published, some not...I teach a class to GT young people every summer called ALIEN WORLDS. I've learned a lot preparing for that class for the past 25 years...so...I have the opportunity to share with you what I've learned thus far. Take what you can use, leave the rest. Let me know what YOU'VE learned. Without further ado...


THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN had a profound effect on my young life as a reader. I’d read the book about two thirds of the way through, when my dad came into my room and said he was going to take me to the theater “now”. It was the summer of 1971 and I I’d recently turned 14 and I’d be starting ninth grade in the Fall. No one else in my family was interested in it, so I was going alone.

I was going to go to the Park Theater in St. Louis Park, MN. The movie I was going to see had the same title of the book I was reading. I WAS SO EXCITED!!! I knew the plot from having read the book, but I didn’t know the end yet. I’d never read anything my Michael Crichton, so this was a first for me, but the idea of an alien microorganism infecting Earth was fascinating…

But my point this time isn’t to look at PLAGUES, but to look at alien life forms that AREN’T world-shattering plagues.

One exception that springs to mind is David Gerrold’s WAR AGAINST THE CTHORR, in which an alien civilization releases microorganisms whose purpose is to change Earth so that it’s habitable for THEM. “With the human population ravaged by a series of devastating plagues, the alien Chtorr arrive to begin the final phase of their invasion. Even as many on Earth deny their existence, the giant wormlike carnivores prepare the world for the ultimate violation--the enslavement of humanity for food!” The current cover is actually pretty boring. The OLD cover? Follow this link: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/4/4b/Amatterformen.JPG

Another instance of microorganism-intelligence “invading Earth” is the short story “Blood Music” by Greg Bear in which a scientist invents intelligent blood – not just “smart blood”, rather, his blood actually becomes an intelligent being. It also escapes into the sewers where it will presumably become an “alien” monster.

There’s even a scientist who is seriously pursuing the search for alien microbes: https://www.ted.com/talks/sarah_rugheimer_the_search_for_microscopic_aliens/transcript?language=en#t-54853

Her inspiration for the search for extraterrestrial life started: “"I had never heard anything more exciting. Finally science is beginning to start answering humanity’s most fundamental questions of how we got here, and is there life elsewhere in the Universe? Are we alone? These are fundamental questions we have been thinking about for thousands of years.”

There has been some poking around at the idea of ET being microscopic, but perhaps we need to consider it more seriously?

Maybe combining the idea of microscopic alien life with the serious exploration of the OTHER two thirds of the Earth’s surface might yield more alien life than we expected.

For example, what about the life around “black smokers”? A black smoker, technically a “‘hydrothermal vent’, is a fissure on the seafloor from which geothermally heated water discharges. Hydrothermal vents are commonly found near volcanically active places, areas where tectonic plates are moving apart at spreading centers, ocean basins, and hotspots. Hydrothermal deposits are rocks and mineral ore deposits formed by the action of hydrothermal vents.”

What’s pertinent here is the life that has evolved around these vents. WHOLELY different from life anywhere else on Earth. These black (and white) smokers are where “complex communities fueled by the chemicals dissolved in the vent fluids [exist]. Chemosynthetic bacteria and archaea form the base of the food chain, supporting diverse organisms, including giant tube worms, clams, limpets and shrimp. Active hydrothermal vents are thought to exist on Jupiter's moon Europa, and Saturn's moon Enceladus, and it is speculated that ancient hydrothermal vents once existed on Mars.”

I refer you to another Creating Alien Aliens post I made: https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2018/03/slice-of-pie-exploring-solar-system.html. I find it crazy that Humans are talking about exploring other worlds when there is a virtually unexplored word along the planet’s tectonic plate boundaries. The idea was proposed by Alfred Wegener in 1915 and was completely REJECTED by all Earth scientists until 1965!!!! (Ah yes, the open-mindedness and willingness of the entire scientific community to accept new ideas! So heartwarming to know that scientists are fair and thoughtful!) “All this evidence, both from the ocean floor and from the continental margins, made it clear around 1965 that continental drift was feasible and the theory of plate tectonics, which was defined in a series of papers between 1965 and 1967, was born, with all its extraordinary explanatory and predictive power.”

It also seems that there are vast, unexploited fields of minerals around the smokers…when we figure out how to work that deep – in order to make money, of course! – and start mining the ocean floor, maybe we’ll finally begin to be able to prepare for the exploration of water environments in a meaningful way.

In the meantime, I hope that intelligence hasn’t evolved around the smokers, because…well, go to this link https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrothermal_vent
and scroll down to EXPLOITATION and tell me there isn’t a story there waiting to be written!

But to write microscopic alien life as a story? How could I do that? WAR OF THE WORLDS has an alien virus (to THEM it was alien!) wipe them out. So, one way is to have a Human character witness their destruction. In WAR AGAINST THE CTHORR, the main character witnesses the destruction of life on Earth through plagues and weird plants, and finally the full-sized “monster” Cthorr themselves. “Blood Music” takes a bit of a different tack when the main character “hears” his own blood talking to him.

How else? IF I were to write a story in the hydrothermal vents and DIDN’T want to follow one of the tropes, what would I do? Maybe: In a world where we finally get serious about exploiting the other seventy-two percent of Earth’s surface covered by water, someone gets the bright idea to mine the hydrothermal vents. They already know there’s life there, so they take precautions. Divers are already in sealed suits, the subs are sealed, so they don’t worry about that. I also LOATHE the idea of telepathic aliens. So…how DOES the life around the vents communicate among themselves? Chemical scents won’t work as the water is incredibly turbulent around the vents. Electrical? Same problem, water would disperse and electrical discharge and it would be difficult to have subtle electrical fields…

But what about the calmer areas around it? With pyrite, FeS2, being a semiconductor, what if a lifeform concentrates it to form internal structures? Semiconductors are used in computer chips…what if the aliens communicate “electrically”? Not in code, but rather directly via naturally extruded pyrite wires that are grown into complex arrangements? Powered by chemosynthesis, would they need any other "source of power" than that? Maybe not...

OK – the idea, but HOW DO THEY THINK? What would a semiconductor intelligence at the bottom of the ocean in total darkness value? What would “drive them”? Would they care about us? What if you kidnapped one and brought it to the surface? Would it notice? If it did, so what?

What else can we imagine for this…pretty strange form of life?

References: https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/coronavirus-feels-like-something-out-of-a-sci-fi-novel-heres-how-writers-have-imagined-similar-scenarios/2020/02/27/7dc59386-57f5-11ea-9000-f3cffee23036_story.html, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarah_Rugheimer, inside the black smokers: https://www.washington.edu/news/1998/07/18/brief-scientific-background-on-sulfide-chimneys-black-smokers/

Image: https://image.shutterstock.com/image-illustration/alien-human-600w-136457129.jpg



Guy Stewart is a husband supporting his wife who is a multi-year breast cancer survivor; a father, father-in-law, grandfather, foster father, friend, writer, and recently retired teacher and school counselor who maintains a writing blog by the name of POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS (https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/) where he showcases his opinion and offers his writing up for comment. He has 72 stories, articles, reviews, and one musical script to his credit, and the list still includes one book! He also maintains GUY'S GOTTA TALK ABOUT BREAST CANCER & ALZHEIMER'S, where he shares his thoughts and translates research papers into everyday language. In his spare time, he herds cats and a rescued dog, helps keep a house, and loves to bike, walk, and camp. He thinks out loud in print at: https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/